NBA Finals 2018

A tall order to beat the Champs

LeBron James has been outstanding in these play-offs so far, averaging 34 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists. But he lacks support and the Cavs need to be defensively strong to stand any chance in the Finals.
LeBron James has been outstanding in these play-offs so far, averaging 34 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists. But he lacks support and the Cavs need to be defensively strong to stand any chance in the Finals.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

James has worked wonders taking underdogs this far but Warriors too strong, say analysts

OAKLAND (California) • Carrying the Cleveland Cavaliers to this year's National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals is among the most impressive feats of LeBron James' career, but the challenge he now faces may be more than even he can handle.

Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, who are part of the ABC/ESPN broadcast team for the NBA Finals that start today (tomorrow morning, Singapore time) at the home of the defending champions Golden States Warriors, are not convinced Cleveland can even win a game in the best-of-seven series.

"It will be interesting to see how competitive LeBron James can make this Finals, but any game they get in this Finals would be a huge upset," former NBA coach Van Gundy told a conference call on Tuesday.

"This is the biggest difference that I remember between two teams heading into the Finals in my time in the NBA."

The Cavs are the lowest play-off seed, No. 4, for a James-led team in a decade. They barely escaped a seven-game, first-round series against Indiana and then, after cruising past Toronto in four games, upset Boston in seven.

James, 33, was particularly impressive when he saved the Cavs from elimination during the Eastern Conference Finals with 46 points against the Celtics to force a Game 7 - which he finished with a game-high 35 points. But next up are a Warriors team who have won two of the last three NBA Finals.

A title would cap the superlatives of an epic career because never has a James-led Finals club been so huge an underdog as the Cavs are now. Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Warriors as the biggest NBA Finals favourites since 2002.

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    Cleveland are the lowest play-off seeds for a LeBron James-led team in nine NBA Finals.

"The Warriors make you pay the price for making mistakes," said former coach and player Jackson.

"So if you are to have any chance of beating them at all, you have to make sure that defensively you're one accord. But they are clearly the favourites, without question."

The Cavs and Warriors are meeting in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year, while it marks the eighth consecutive Finals appearance for James as part of a stretch that dates back to his Miami stint.

He is playing some of the best basketball of his 15-year NBA career - averaging 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists in these play-offs - but that might not be enough considering he does not have much of a supporting cast.

"James is going to have to be great... and they are going to have to be lights out from the three-point line," added Van Gundy, who also said the only chance the Cavs have is if they can keep the high-scoring Warriors from reaching 100 points.

That is a tall order considering Golden State have scored at least 100 points in 13 of their 17 play-off games.

James has seen 164 play-off games from his first Finals run to now. "This has been one of the most challenging seasons," he said, having played all 82 regular-season games in a career first.

"Now we have an opportunity to play for a championship... No matter if we're picked to win or not, let's just go out and play."

The Warriors are seeking their sixth crown overall, and with Kevin Durant dominating inside, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as three-point sharpshooters and Draymond Green inside contributing rebounds and assists, they have been nearly as formidable as last year.

"Somebody asked, it's four years in a row getting to the Finals, do you appreciate it?" Curry said.

"Yes, because it's really hard."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

GOLDEN STATE V CLEVELAND

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2018, with the headline 'A tall order to beat the Champs'. Print Edition | Subscribe