By Frank Pingue
CLEVELAND (Reuters) – An 82-game NBA regular season followed by four best-of-seven playoff series has boiled down to a one game ‘winner-take-all’ title clash on Sunday between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.
“It’s two of the greatest words in the world, and that’s ‘Game Seven’,” gushed LeBron James after his Cavaliers forced the decider on Thursday with a ruthless 115-101 Game Six win over the Warriors.
Far from two of the NBA’s glamor franchises, Cleveland and the Warriors offer more grit than glitter but will play for basketball’s crown jewel in a matchup that features two of the game’s greats, four-time league most valuable player James, and Warriors guard Stephen Curry, the two-time reigning MVP.
Game Seven could be a classic. Betting agencies have the Warriors moderate but by no means overwhelming favorites.
The Cavs will be tipping at historic windmills trying to become the first NBA team to overturn a 1-3 series deficit in the Finals and give Cleveland its first professional sports championship since the 1964 Cleveland Browns of the National Football League.
The defending champion Warriors, after a record smashing regular season (73-9), are rewarded with Game Seven at home at Oracle Arena in Oakland, where they have lost just four times all season.
“We get one game at home to win the NBA Championship, I’ll take it every time,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “So I can’t wait for Sunday.”
Playing on the road does not rattle the Cavaliers, who will ride a wave of confidence into Oakland having taken back-to-back wins from Golden State, including a big Game Five victory there.
James, who returned to Cleveland after winning a pair of titles with the Miami Heat, with the goal of bringing Cleveland its first NBA championship has put the challenge on his massive shoulders, leading the way with two magnificent 41 point displays in back-to-back wins in Games Five and Six.
“I try to be the best player I can be for this team every night, lead these guys out,” said James. “Those guys have home-court advantage but at the end of the day my whole mindset is how I can put myself in position to help these guys be successful.”
The Warriors, who have begun to show frustration at their inability to deliver the knockout punch, will be wary of the Cavs having erased a 1-3 deficit to see off the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals and earn the right to defend their crown.
“It’s a great opportunity for us at home in front of our fans to, again, try to win a championship,” said Curry, who fouled out of Game Six late in the fourth quarter and then, in a rare fit of anger threw his mouthguard into the stands to earn the first ejection of his career.
“We were in adversity the last series down 3-1, and had to rattle off three straight wins.
“The Playoffs hasn’t been easy.
“It’s frustrating, but the work we’ve put in and the opportunity we’ve given ourselves with a Game Seven to win the Finals at home, you’ve got to be excited about that.”
(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Both)