Not since the Detroit Pistons stunned basketball by winning the 2004 NBA title has collective will usurped individual brilliance. With good reason. You need depth to become a champion, sure. But talent rules, and the more the better.
And despite the presence of LeBron James, victory for the Cleveland Cavaliers over Golden State Warriors in this season’s NBA Finals would be a triumph against the grain and against the odds.
Because, make no mistake, as excellent as the Warriors have been as a group all season long, a look at the roster beyond LeBron illustrates the disparate pieces which have had to be glued together since – and before - the season-ending injury to Kevin Love.
Cleveland has been a defensive goliath, especially in the post-season with a +10 offensive rating over their opponents. But there’s a caveat there. It’s happened in the East, a Conference so weak it could be flattened by a marshmallow.
Kyrie Irving, the Cavs second-best performer, is hobbled by a knee injury which makes him even less of a contributor on D than usual. If that occurs, David Blatt will have to despatch someone else to cover Stephen Curry, a trait that might see Klay Thompson emerge to put up team-leading scoring.
The Warriors have multiple options. Their opponents could end up with one. Golden State don’t have anyone individual who can stop James but they will come in waves and try to at least submerge some of his brilliance.
Chances are he’ll need to put up 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in at least five games to give his team a shot. It’s worth a punt at 3.00 on LeBron to be MVP, win or lose. Then again, he’s been the standout in Finals defeats before. One man isn’t enough alone.
And as we look forward to Thursday’s Game 1, that’s why the Ws are 1.40 to lift the title with Cleveland out at 3.05, and the most attractive series pick is Golden State to prevail 4-2 at 5.00. They might not have the sport’s transcendent superstar but in every other facet, they come out ahead. Bar a virtuoso showing to top anything James has done before, the Warriors should roll.
Best bet: Go under 197.5 points in Game 1 at 2.55.
--The LeBron James Effect: During LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland, the Cavaliers went 349-225 over seven seasons, made the NBA Finals for the first time and had their the first two 60-win seasons. After James left for Miami, the Cavaliers went 97-215 over four seasons, the worst record in the NBA. Now, in his first season back, the Cavaliers went 53-29 and advanced to The Finals for the second time.
--If The Finals go seven games – with the Cavs 8.50 to take the title 4-3 - LeBron James will have played in the same number of postseason games as Michael Jordan (179). Derek Fisher owns the record of 259.
--If the Warriors win, Stephen Curry will have beaten the other four members of the All-NBA First Team in the playoffs: New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (first round), Memphis’ Marc Gasol (second round), Houston’s James Harden (conference finals) and James (NBA Finals). Curry is the first player to ever face all four other members in the playoffs.
--Stephen Curry, 1.43 favourite to win Finals MVP, is the 31st regular-season MVP to appear in The Finals in the same season. The first 30 MVPs went 22-8 in The Finals.