The Cleveland Cavaliers made short work of the Toronto Raptors, cruising past a team that many perceived as their toughest challenger in the Eastern Conference. Seemingly on cue, the Golden State Warriors accomplished a similar feat, needing only the four-game minimum to dispatch a deep, talented Utah Jazz team and advance to the Western Conference Finals. In fact, both the Cavs and Warriors needed only eight games to reach the NBA’s “Final Four” and, well, it would be impossible to ask for more than that from either side.
Led by arguably the best 11-game stretch (dating back to three slightly important NBA Finals games) of LeBron James’ career, the Cavaliers currently sport a video game-like 117.0 offensive rating in the postseason. In short, Cleveland has been utterly unguardable, and while the Indiana Pacers did not present much of a fight, the same cannot be said about the Raptors from a talent standpoint. James, when surrounding by bench shooting, has been unstoppable and the Cavaliers have been more than able to overcome mediocre defensive effort when boasting an uber-elite offense.
On the Warriors side, it has been two-way dominance, much in the way that it has been all season long. Golden State entered the playoffs as prohibitive favorites to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy and there is no reason to move away from that belief now. Kevin Durant has been fully reintegrated, the trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is cooking and the Warriors have presented (easily) the best defense in the league during the postseason.
Throw in the usual force of Golden State’s offense and not even the highly unfortunate absence of Steve Kerr has slowed down the 67-win favorites.
Ironically, it was Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan that may have put it best with regard to their obstructed path in the East when he simply said, “If we had LeBron on our team too, we would’ve won.” That is a sentiment that has plagued every single Eastern Conference team since this ridiculous run from James that began in Miami and it is even more so the case now. It would be (very) unfair to suggest that the ongoing battle between the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards “doesn’t matter,” simply because both teams are playing extremely hard and with effectiveness at times.
Still, the Cavs will enter the ECF as overwhelming favorites and it would be nearly impossible to make a credible case against them.
In the West, things are slightly less clear, if only because the NBA world seems to respect the work of the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets more so than the Celtics and Wizards. Gregg Popovich, Kawhi Leonard, and company have earned that love over years and years of excellence, while Houston’s explosive offense can put the fear of God in anyone over a one-game sample.
Will anyone in the world pick the Spurs or Rockets against the Warriors if both sides are healthy? Probably not, but there isn’t quite the track record of dominance in the West that LeBron can boast in the East.
The end result, however, is that the Cavaliers and Warriors appear to be on a collision course and, frankly, it has felt that way since early July when Kevin Durant arrived in Oakland and it was clear that neither team was willing to cede control of their respective conference. Something crazy could happen, whether it be injury or suspension (hello, Draymond) but until it does, those covering and consuming the NBA Finals might want to go ahead and make hotel reservations in Oakland (for Games 1, 2, 5 and 7) and Cleveland (for Games 3, 4 and 6) to beat the rush.