KING’S FEAST

Some­thing for ev­ery­one in third Cava­liers-War­riors NBA Fi­nals

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

Fi­nally, the Fi­nals are here. NBA fans have waited a long time for this matchup. Since Kyrie Irv­ing put a 3-poin­ter in Steph Curry’s mouth to win the ti­tle for Cleve­land last year. Since Kevin Du­rant’s July 4 an­nounce­ment that he was headed to Golden State. Since the Cava­liers and War­riors cruised through the reg­u­lar sea­son and three rounds of play­offs like Usain Bolt coasts in qual­i­fy­ing heats.

Now, af­ter a week-long de­lay caused by the teams’ post­sea­son ef­fi­ciency, we can dig in. Thurs­day night’s Game 1 of Cavs-War­riors III should be a scrump­tious hoops feast, of­fer­ing tasty treats for ev­ery­one no mat­ter their pref­er­ence.

Like the pace-and-space game that’s rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the NBA? The War­riors’ of­fense is one of the best when it’s click­ing, chock-full of cut­ters, jumpers and soar­ing al­ley­oops when for­mer Wizard JaVale McGee runs the floor. Like box­ers throw­ing punches in bunches, Golden State can flurry in a hurry, chal­leng­ing the score­board op­er­a­tor to keep pace.

Want to see scin­til­lat­ing oneon-one moves? Irv­ing has an ever-ex­pand­ing reper­toire that can em­bar­rass the clingi­est perime­ter de­fend­ers. He put on a clinic in Game 4 of the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals against Bos­ton, serv­ing the Celtics 42 points that in­cluded 9-of-10 shoot­ing in an 11-minute span. Curry had night­mares af­ter watch­ing that.

Speak­ing of Curry, he’s there for fans who love the long ball. As in way-way­be­hind-the-line 3-point­ers. He was lim­ited by a knee in­jury in last year’s Fi­nals but he’s back to his mad-bomber ways, av­er­ag­ing 4.4 treys per game this post­sea­son while con­nect­ing at a .431 clip. His in­side game is hum­ming as well, ev­i­denced by his .592 shoot­ing per­cent­age on 2-point field goals.

In­ter­ested in watch­ing the world’s two best play­ers, pe­riod? Du­rant ar­guably is the top can­di­date to join LeBron James in that dis­tinc­tion. Be­sides, KD is the main char­ac­ter in one of the league’s big­gest sto­ry­lines. The drama over his de­ci­sion to leave Ok­la­homa City clearly hasn’t af­fected his play; he’s av­er­ag­ing 25.2 points in

the play­offs, with an ad­justed field-goal per­cent­age (.619) that trails only James (.625) and Curry (.622) among the post­sea­son’s lead­ing scor­ers.

Scor­ing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of James. But there he is, av­er­ag­ing 32.5 points in the play­offs, sec­ond-high­est in his ca­reer. Along the way, he be­came No. 1 on the all-time post­sea­son scor­ing list, pass­ing Michael Jor­dan last week. James’ pres­ence makes the Cava­liers a real threat, de­spite Las Ve­gas peg­ging them as huge un­der­dogs.

Like reach­ing the Fi­nals — this is his sev­enth con­sec­u­tive ap­pear­ance — he’s used to the odds be­ing against him. Ac­cord­ing to ESPN Stats & In­for­ma­tion, James will be an un­der­dog for the sixth time in eight ca­reer trips. But has he ever faced a chal­lenge as big and scary as the 2016-17 Golden State War­riors?

“It’s prob­a­bly up there,” he told re­porters re­cently. “I mean, it’s up there.”

He men­tioned fac­ing the San An­to­nio Spurs with five likely Hall of Famers — Kawhi Leonard, Tim Dun­can, Tony Parker, Manu Gi­nobli and coach Gregg Popovich. He also threw in East­ern Con­fer­ence tilts against Bos­ton with Paul Pierce, Kevin Gar­nett, Ray Allen, Ra­jon Rondo and coach Doc Rivers.

But these War­riors play at a dif­fer­ent level. They’re 27-1 since March 11 and are the first squad to start the post­sea­son 12-0. “It’s go­ing to be very chal­leng­ing,” James said. Those guys are go­ing to chal­lenge me, they’re go­ing to chal­lenge our ball­club. This is a high-pow­ered team.”

Not that James is headed into bat­tle with Irv­ing and a bunch of blanks. On the wing is vin­tage Kevin Love — the 20 points-10 re­bounds ver­sion who made All-NBA teams with the Tim­ber­wolves. On the block is Tris­tan Thomp­son, a vac­uum cleaner on the of­fen­sive glass and a sur­pris­ingly ag­ile de­fender against smaller play­ers. Off the bench are a re­ju­ve­nated Deron Wil­liams, sharp­shooter Kyle Korver and tena­cious Iman Shumpert.

No, the Cavs don’t fare well on pa­per against the War­riors. But that was true last year, too, and all Cleve­land did was make his­tory, over­com­ing a 3-1 se­ries deficit to cap­ture the ti­tle with a road win in Game 7.

Curry was dinged, Dray­mond Green was sus­pended and what­ever.

The year be­fore, when Golden State won, Irv­ing played just one game, Love missed the en­tire se­ries and blah, blah, blah.

There are no ex­cuses this time. Both teams are rested, healthy (pray for An­dre Iguo­dala’s knee) and ready for the rub­ber match. The se­ries’ four best play­ers (James, Du­rant, Irv­ing and Curry) are at the top of their games. Noth­ing left to do ex­cept sit back and watch.

The Fi­nals won’t be much fun if the War­riors ride their hot streak to 16-0 con­clu­sion by sweep­ing. And the se­ries will leave us crav­ing for more if the full seven games are nec­es­sary to de­ter­mine a cham­pion.

Ei­ther way, this thing took long enough to ar­rive.

Let’s en­joy while it lasts.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Golden State War­riors for­ward Kevin Du­rant is ar­guably the top can­di­date to join Cleve­land Cava­liers for­ward LeBron James in the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the world’s two best bas­ket­ball play­ers. With Thurs­day’s Game 1, the Cava­liers and War­riors will have met in three straight NBA Fi­nals, but the first two were be­fore Du­rant joined Golden State.

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