LeBron James has spoiled his fan base for five straight seasons, advancing to the NBA Finals every year. The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, are back in the Finals for the first time since 1975 – when Gerald Ford was in office.
Forty years is a long time. But this year was worth the wait.
“This team has been special really for the last three playoff seasons, but this year was ridiculous,” Warriors TV play-by-play announcer Bob Fitzgerald said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “You’re talking about the fast-paced and highest-scoring and best-shooting team also being No. 1 in opponents field-goal percentage defense. So that’s never really been done where the up-to-speed, great three-point shooting, nice-offense team also can grit and grind and play the defense like the Warriors do with (Andrew) Bogut and Draymond Green. So if they’re able to win it, that really would be something – that you don’t got to play slow, you don’t got to play Pat Riley tackle ball, and yet you don’t have to play Mike D’Antoni seven seconds or less. You can do both and be a good team.”
The Warriors knew they’d have to contain James Harden to win the Western Conference Finals, and for the most part, they did. Harden couldn’t get a potential game-winning shot off in Game 2 and had horrible shooting nights in Games 3 and 5, combining to shoot 5-of-27 (18.5 percent).
Golden State mixed its match-ups on Harden, letting Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and even Green put pressure on the MVP runner-up.
“Harden, if he was a jazz musician, he’d be a soloist,” Fitzgerald said. “They didn’t put Iguodala on him for most of the series. He had the one bad 3-of-16 shooting game and they kind of saved that up for game 5. Steve Kerr said, ‘Hey, he kind of reminds me of Scottie Pippen.’ Iguodala, his job isn’t to score. His job is to play that type of defense. They figured once he’s getting those rhythm dribbles and getting ready for either the step back or cross you over, as soon he started the rhythm dribble, they attacked him. That kind of threw Harden off his game. So you saw the turnovers, then I think he started pressing. I think as he started having a poor game, then he was trying to do too much. It was just a brutal game.”
Harden had 14 points on 2-of-11 shooting and committed an NBA playoff record 13 turnovers.
“He crushed them in the previous game with 45,” Fitzgerald said. “And as good as that was, the Game 5 was just as ugly the other way.”
Looking ahead to the NBA Finals, Fitzgerald believes Cleveland presents a lot of problems. He feels Kyrie Irving might be the only player in the league with a better handle than Steph Curry, Timofey Mozgov is a beast in the paint, Tristan Thompson is a high-energy guy who plays great defense and rebounds with the best of them, and, oh yeah, LeBron James is approaching Michael Jordan territory in terms of greatness.
If Fitzgerald were Steve Kerr, he’d let James get his offensively and hold everyone else in check.
“It sounds weird,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d almost rather see LeBron get 50 every game and not get all the ancillary guys involved. I think when he’s triple-double LeBron – 30 points, 14 assists and 10 boards – then he’s getting everybody involved and Cleveland becomes a super handful. I don’t see this being a short series. I see the Warriors giving them everything they have and LeBron and Cleveland playing their best basketball right now. And with the seven-day build up, man, this is going to be a titanic matchup that probably is a seven-gamer.”