I was in awe, fans in arenas were in awe, bet you were in awe watching the Golden State Warriors pile drive its way through the league a year ago with brilliant ball movement, beautiful switching on defense and breathless skill putting the ball in the basket.
The team easily became the darlings of the league; I mean who would hate on the reigning champions led by an MVP who could easily pass off as the guy next door and whose personality and back story endeared him to the masses. He wasn’t a 6 foot 8 inch physical specimen who had been in the spotlight way before the Progressive People’s Party was formed for starters.
In summary, Golden State blitzed the entire league to win 24 straight games and set the best start record in the NBA’s history. 49 more wins followed over the course of six months to get the team ahead of Michael Jordan’s 1996 Chicago Bulls team that Warriors Coach Steve Kerr played on in regular season wins.
However, the fairy tale run got countered by another fairy tale as Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a 1-3 deficit to win the NBA Finals Series and end the city’s 52 year trophy drought at the expense of the Warriors. The new champions on the block, Cavaliers, have started the season on an equally blistering note by winning all four games played thus far in the season in commanding fashion.
Last season’s Eastern Conference Finalist Toronto Raptors made life a bit uncomfortable but Canada’s team aside, LeBron James and Co. are fairly enjoying themselves. Its’ not everyday you get to see Kevin Love boogie down the way he did before stepping on the court to deliver 25 points and nine rebounds in a 128-120 home win for Cleveland over Houston Rockets.
Much like last season’s surprise package Portland Trailblazers, the Cavs have gone through a pretty tricky run of games to start the defense to its title. First there was the New York Knicks and its’ newest attempt to bring back the Triangle Offense, on opening night. Long celebrations after the ring ceremony resulted in a 29 point win over the Knicks which got encouraging performances from former and youngest Most Valuable Player in league history, Derrick Rose.
The Knicks, safe to say is an experiment right now as new trainer Jeff Hornacek is getting his influence through to the team. And the numbers back this assertion up. In three games played, New York ranks 14 in the league in pace; a far cry from the 26th position it ranked least season. The sample size for the season is small but a closer look at the team’s play point to greater opportunities for runners like Rose to blossom. Next, was the Orlando Magic and a routine win was always going to get overlooked but not the two games that have followed since. In playing Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors, Cleveland faced two Conferences finalists capable of dislodging any team in the league on any night.
But the Cavs handled both without bending too far to reach for the win. In its latest win, elements that made Golden State so good in the regular season came to fore as Cleveland’s bench made a huge impression which lessened the load of starters. LeBron aside, no starter played more than 35 minutes. James, himself stayed on the court a few seconds more for the second unit to chip in healthy production. Last season’s golden run by the Warriors was possible due to its unmatched bench that featured ample cover for starters when they sat.
Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Festus Ezeli, Mareesse Speights were depended on as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and undersized Center/ Forward Draymond Green rested. It also helps shots are falling for Cleveland through this period with the team ranking second in offensive rating in the season’s opening week. Needing seven “All-In” games to beat the Warriors, Golden State’s crisp ball movement looks to have been adopted by members of the “Land”. Quasi Guard James is finding more teammates open as opposing teams double up on him which retorts in action with a whipping passes from one end of the court to another to find them.
Everyone defending, everyone scoring proved to be the winning formula for the record setting season for Golden State and in what looks like a perfect replica of what happened last year, the Cavs are really pulling it off greatly. Next up, The Boston Celtics. How the team deals with the Isaiah Thomas led group especially in the rebound category, where Boston has been simply bad, will go a long way to determine how far the streak to equal Warriors’ start will go.
Besides, team leader LeBron James surely wouldn’t want to miss out on another record tying feat like it did during stay in Miami where the Heat was just six games away from equaling Los Angeles Lakers 1972 winning streak record.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah