So here we are again, for the fourth year in a row we’ll be seeing the Golden State Warriors take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. It is the matchup everyone expected to see at the start of the season, but it took both teams coming back from a 3-2 deficit in their Conference Finals to get there.
One year ago in the Playoffs the Golden State Warriors almost completed the fabled “fo’, fo’, fo’, fo”, only dropping one game throughout the Playoffs. This year has been a different story, a much more testing journey for the defending champions.
Round One – Golden State Warriors vs San Antonio Spurs
While the Spurs looked like they were going to be the first team to really push the Warriors in last year’s Playoffs, that all changed after Kawhi Leonard went down. It was an impressive feat for the Spurs to even make it to the postseason this year, still without their best player, however they were never going to pose a threat to the Warriors, even without Stephen Curry.
Golden State would take the first two games at home, comfortably, never really looking in danger and winning both by double digit margins. Heading out onto the road GSW managed to take the first game, giving themselves a 3-0 lead and effectively eliminating San Antonio from the playoffs. It was a only a spirited performance from the resurgent LaMarcus Aldridge that stopped the sweep, pushing the series to game five.
The Warriors would take the series in game five completing a ‘gentleman’s sweep’, the combined force of; Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant proving to be too much for the Spurs (despite a 30 point outburst from Aldridge).
Golden State Warriors win series 4-1
Round Two – Golden State Warriors vs New Orleans Pelicans
There were a lot of questions going into round two. Would Stephen Curry be ready for game one? How are Golden State going to defend Anthony Davis? How are the Pelicans going to guard Kevin Durant? It didn’t take long for us to find answers to these questions.
The Pelicans had shocked many NBA fans by sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers in a series they were almost expected to lose. New Orleans were coming into this game with a lot of momentum, spurred on by a still young, hungry, MVP candidate in Davis.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans things weren’t as easy against the Warriors as they had been against the Trail Blazers. In a 22 point game one blowout, still without Steph Curry, the Warriors managed to limit Davis to only 21 points. It was a warning sign that the Pelicans would need a lot more than just The Brow if they were going to threaten GSW in this series.
In game two the Warriors finally had their star point guard back. The Splash Brothers were reunited. Steph Curry came off the bench, returning from an MCL injury inflicted by his own teammate, to score 28 points (dropping a three pointer in his first play back). It was a huge return and a game that boosted Golden State to a game two victory, heading into New Orleans.
The Pelicans would fight back in game three, with Davis dropping over 30 points for the first time in the series, helped along by a 21 assist game from ‘Playoff’ Rajon Rondo. It brought the Pelicans back into the series, however they were unable to defend their home court in game four as Kevin Durant exploded for 38 points helping the Warriors on their way to a blowout victory.
Heading back to Oakland, despite the best efforts of Anthony Davis (dropping 34 points) the Pelicans could do nothing to stop the rampaging Golden State Warriors. They were back in full force seeing 20+ point contributions from Curry, Thompson and Durant. The Warriors managed to close out their second series in a row 4-1, heading into the Western Conference Finals, to a showdown fans had been waiting for all year.
Golden State Warriors win series 4-1
Western Conference Finals – Houston Rockets vs Golden State Warriors
This matchup was a long time coming and was widely considered to be the ‘real Finals’. Houston had almost mirrored the Warriors path, winning both of their series 4-1 (beating the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz). The most important thing to note coming into this series was the fact that Houston had won the regular season series 2-1. The question was, how much had the Warriors turned things up since the start of the Playoffs?
The Rockets had managed to secure home court advantage after the MCL injury to Curry ensured that the Warriors had a subdued end to the season. There was a vast amount of tension around game one. Were the Rockets really the team that could finally dethrone the Warriors? Were we going to see a real test, or were the Warriors simply going to step over the Rockets on their path to the Finals?
It was time to find out.
Despite James Harden dropping 41 points in game one he had little support from the rest of his team, this allowed the Warriors to cruise to a 13 point victory. There were signs of struggles for Golden State however, Curry only managed to score 18 points and struggled from deep – warning signs that the Rockets may have found a way to stifle the two time MVP.
Game two was crucial for the Rockets. They needed to win if they were going to stand any chance of taking this series. Win was exactly what they did, by over 25 points. Kevin Durant was the only Warriors player to score over 20 points, as Curry and Thompson in particular both struggled – scoring 16 and 8 points respectively.
Heading back to Oakland the series was still very much in the Warriors hands, they had done exactly what they needed to and headed into game three with home court advantage. This was a massive game for Stephen Curry, who would torch the Rockets defence for a number of sloppy defensive rotations, dropped 38 points – more than he had managed in the first two games combined). The Rockets were never really in this game, and ended up being on the receiving end of a massive blowout, losing by a total of 41 points.
Game four was another must win game for the Rockets, and once again that is exactly what they managed to do, keeping the series alive and taking back their home court advantage, squeaking out a three point win over the Warriors who would miss a number of shots down the stretch.
The Rockets took game five by four points, however one of their star players, Chris Paul picked up an injury which would in turn mean he missed games six and seven. A key point in the series.
Heading into game six the Warriors knew they had to win to stay in the series, the first time they had been in an elimination game since the 2016 Finals. It seemed like the Rockets had things in control at the end of the first quarter, as they held a 17 point lead however an incredibly poor second half performance meant this lead was lost.
The Warriors outscored the Rockets 64-25 in the second half, taking the W and tying the series. The 25 points scored by the Rockets was a franchise low for points scored in the second half of a postseason game.
Game seven. The big one. Everyone knew that the winner of this game would be facing LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers in The Finals. Would it be the Rockets heading to their first Finals in over 20 years? Or would it be Warriors vs Cavs for the fourth straight year?
The Rockets went up by as many as 15 points in the second quarter, taking an 11 point lead into the half. That was as close as they would get to victory however, as a huge third quarter from Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors would put them out of sight and allow them to cruise through the fourth quarter to a nine point victory.
While there were certainly some questionable refereeing decisions in the third quarter, reason for the loss in this game can be strongly attributed to the fact that Houston missed 27 three point shots in a row. The Rockets would often pass up open layups and mid range jumpers, forcing three point shots and eventually costing themselves not only the game, but a trip the the Finals.
So it’s going to be the Golden State Warriors taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fourth year in a row. LeBron James will be looking for his fourth ring, and Stephen Curry will be looking to tie LeBron on three rings. Who will come out on top this time around? It is widely thought that we could see a repeat of last year’s Finals with the Warriors taking the series in four or five games. Can LeBron stop them? Or will beating the Warriors once again prove to be one step too far for James?
We’ll have to wait until Friday to see how game one pans out.