It’s not often that a team that’s made three straight NBA Finals, led by a player who’s made seven in a row, gets to cast itself as the underdog. But that’s just what the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers are heading into their third consecutive matchup with the West-best Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals, and Cavs general manager David Griffin will be damned if he’s not going to milk that status for all it’s worth.
From an interview with FOX Sports Ohio after the Cavs knocked off the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, as detailed by Joe Vardon of cleveland.com:
"I hope everyone says we have no chance."
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) May 26, 2017
“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night […]
“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”
On one hand, it would be a little difficult to take seriously any suggestion that the Cavs have battled significant adversity to this point in the season. Cleveland has been pegged as the No. 1 team in the East since the second LeBron James announced he wanted to come back to Northeast Ohio, and has won the conference three years running. Yes, the Cavs did face injuries this season — Kevin Love sat a month after knee surgery, J.R. Smith was on ice for more than two months following thumb surgery, Kyle Korver missed two weeks with an inflamed tendon in his right foot, etc. — but, for the most part, the defending champs adopted a laissez-faire attitude toward defending for the bulk of the 2016-17 regular season, and nearly every NBA pundit and prognosticator still picked them to waltz through the Eastern playoffs. Which, y’know, they did, decimating the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors and Celtics en route to a third straight Finals trip.
That said, the Warriors do represent a significant leap up in level of competition for the Cavs, just as they did last year. And we all remember how LeBron and company responded to falling into a 3-1 hole against Golden State last June. I’d submit that constitutes a pretty decent response to seemingly insurmountable odds.
This time around, though, the Warriors aren’t just led by the All-Star troika of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. This time, they’ve also got Kevin Durant — excuse me: Kevin Freaking Durant — and they, too, enter the Finals having demolished their conference to the tune of three straight sweeps and the highest average margin of postseason victory ever rolled up by any team entering the NBA Finals.
Which is to say: there’s a reason that LeBron, who twice called Golden State as “that juggernaut out West” in the moments following the Cavs’ conference-clinching win and obliquely referred to the Dubs as “that beast of a matchup that we’ve got next round” — didn’t seem especially eager to discuss the Warriors.
“I’m not in my right mind to talk about Golden State. It’s too stressful and I’m not stressed right now,” James said after beating Boston in Game 5, according to Anthony Slater of the Bay Area News Group. “I’m very happy about our accomplishment. Golden State has been the best team in our league for the past three years and then they added an MVP. That’s all I can give you right now because I’m happy. And I don’t want to be stressed. They cause a lot of stress.”
Yeah, they do. But so does a Cavs offense that enters the Finals as far and away the most potent in this postseason — Cleveland has averaged 120.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs, bombing away from 3-point range and getting remarkable performances from LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — and that doesn’t need to look back too far to recall a scenario in which they bounced back from near-certain doom to shock the world.
You’re never an underdog when you have LeBron James, but when LeBron feels his back against the wall, special things can happen. As the team he assembled gets ready to head to Oakland, that’s what Griffin’s counting on.
More NBA coverage:
– – – – – – –