Let’s get it on again as Cleveland faces Golden State for an NBA record third-straight time in the finals, game one in Golden State
Serves as the rubber series after the Warriors won in 2015 and the Cavaliers last year for Cleveland’s first title
By Arnie Leshin
Wonder what Greg Oden is doing these days? Well, he’ll probably be in front of his television tuning in to the NBA final that bounces in.
Once the top college player who was the first pick in the 2007 draft, he probably would still be playing if not for injuries after injuries keeping him sidelined. Frustrated and sidelined. The 7-footer out of Ohio State, he played there his standout freshmen season and than decided on pro ball.
And it was money in the bank for him when he was chosen by the Golden State Warriors, moons before this franchise could set its sights on the league championship, and Kevin Durant, too, left the University of Texas following his freshmen season and was selected as the No. 2 choice by Oklahoma City.
It was these two who were the talk of the draft. It was a season-long argument on who was better. But then Golden State general manager Don Nelson thought he’d be better off with a talent like Ogden at post because he wasn’t sure just where Durant would fit in.
Said Hall of Famer Jerry West, than in the front office of the Los Angeles Lakers and now as an executive with the Warriors: “I think everyone felt that there were these two big men who were going to be prominent players, but one thing you can’t count on are injuries.”
And that was what kept Oden from displaying his talent, injuries. Bad knees led the way to many surgeries, never giving him a chance to have a career, while the 6-9 Durant has been even better than advertized. He was an All-Star and the franchise (with help from Russell Westbrook) for nearly a decade, and as a free agent, signed with Golden State last year.
Now he’s in his first NBA final and the reason why the Warriors haven’t slowed down after winning the 2015 title in six games over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now with Durant aboard, they want nothing more than another championship after 6-8 superstar LeBron James paved the way last season for the championship-hungry Cleveland franchise to down Golden State in seven games, tying the series at 3-3 in Cleveland, then winning it with a rousing comeback in game seven at Golden State.
Now the two get it on again for the third straight time, the first time this occurred in NBA history. At one time, it looked like it was the Boston Celtics and the Lakers in each final, but it wasn’t so.
These times have seen the Celts and Lakers going in different directions. Boston arrived in the Eastern Conference playoff as the No. 1 seed, beating out the Cavs by one game, while L.A. has fallen to the basement in its division of the Western Conference.
Once the team-to-beat in the West, the Lakers have turned that advantage over to Golden State. It has an all-star lineup headed by 6-3 sharpshooter Stephen Curry, bruising 6-7 power forward Draymond Green, inside and outside threat 6-7 Klay Thompson, and now Durant, who can also hurt you from inside and outside.
It can bring in off the bench the likes of 6-7 Matt Barnes, 6-6 Andre Iguodala, 6-7 Shawn Livingston, as well as 6-9 veteran David West with his experience and leadership.
Now If you weren’t a Golden State fan, you wouldn’t have cared for Durant leaving OKC to decide on signing with a franchise that could bring him a title that he couldn’t get with the Thunder. But for those that didn’t like his moving on to what was called a selfish move, he couldn’t care less, he has said. Winning puts everything else aside.
And if others think it’s bad for the game to have the same teams meet three-straight times in the final, it’s not. It simply pairs the best from the West versus the best from the East, and there could have been a no-better match-up.
James has proven he’s one of the best to ever play the game. It’s his seventh final in a row. In last year’s final, he scored the most points, brought down the most rebounds, handed out the most assists, came away with the most steals, and blocked the most shots. This was a first, for never before has this occurred.
With all due respect to the elite players through the years, including Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, and the dominating Wilt Chamberlain, it is James who can do it all, and it proves this point just by revealing his statistics from last year’s final.
He can handle the ball like a point guard, control the boards like a post player, swipe the ball like a shifty small man, block shots with a vengeance, and pick up assists in an unselfish manner.
Cleveland also has the 6-10 Kevin Love at full strength for the first time in the finals. It’s the same for point guard, penetrator and outside shooter Kyle Irving, after various injuries kept the swift 6-3 talent from playing full-time in the last two finals.
The Cavaliers have been starting either 6-6 veteran JR Smith or 6-7 outside threat Kyle Korver at guard. At post will be 6-9 Tristan Thompson.They have plenty of depth, with veterans like 6-3 point guard Deron Williams, 6-5 guard Iman Shumpert, and 6-6 guard Dahntay Jones added to key veterans like 6-7 Richard Jefferson and 6-11 Channing Frye.
As for Oden, knee problems limited him to even play part-time, much to the disappointment of Memphis Grizzle star point guard Mike Conley, his teammate in high school and in college.
“I feel for him,” said Conley, the fourth pick of Memphis in the same draft and who also came out after his freshmen year. “Greg was a terrific talent and it would have been neat to see him injury free as a pro. He’s a long-time friend and I always keep in touch.”
But Oden himself acknowledges he goes down as a bust, something nobody could have predicted when coaches were tantalized by him.
And now Durant is in the lineup for a franchise that once viewed him as the No. 2 pick.
Once again, Golden State gets home-court advantage after again finishing with the best record. The final opens there and last year’s proved that both can win on the road. It will be strength against strength. Both can hit from outside, get the ball inside, scrub the boards, play tight, aggressive defense, and can call on capable reserves.
With head coach Steve Kerr having back problems, former Cleveland head coach Mike Smith has been running the show. Kerr has been at practices, but has yet to coach in a game since the playoffs began. Tyroon Lue took over as the Cavs’ head coach midway through the 2015 season. But none of this mattered much, because if you have the players, you should be at the top of the heap, and that is where both franchises are.
And don’t bother with predications. It always comes down to whoever scores the most points and wins the most games. Like other sports, the ball takes funny bounces, injuries can hurt, shabby shooting can, too, and many times these tight games are decided by those that come in off the bench.
Just a reminder, neither of these teams were on top of the heap until Golden State drafted Curry and James signed with Cleveland, his hometown team and where he began his remarkable pro career.
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