NBA Finals: Warriors, Cavaliers enter series with intense focus, not nerves
OAKLAND, Calif. — No one is caught up in the moment this time.
The Warriors and Cavaliers meet for the third straight year in the NBA Finals, beginning with Game 1 on Thursday, and while some of the participants may be new, there’s less of a sense of excitement as there is of focus headed into what is being called the “Three-match.”
David West is making the first Finals appearance in his 14-year career after so many great teams he’s been a part of fell short. He said he wasn’t feeling any real sense of nervousness or excitement after having been a part of so many big games, but instead commented on how the Warriors have had several days of what he called “serious” practices together.
“I just think it’s our temperament,” West said. We’ve had some serious, serious days, probably a little more serious than coach anticipated in terms of how we’ve been getting after each other.
“I think all that is gone. Now we’re just content on trying to come out and set a positive tone.”
Backup guard Ian Clark said that even the new players, like West, had been around and so are ready for this moment.
“The guys who haven’t been here before have long tenures in the league, so I don’t think anything surprises them,” Clark said.
Shaun Livingston said that while there will be nerves, it feels remarkably different on the third trip as opposed to how thrilling his first appearance in the Finals two years ago felt.
“You understand what to expect,” Livingston said. “First time with anything, you don’t know. You’re wondering what’s going to happen. There’s still a lot of anxiety. It’s still the Finals. Still going to be nerves.”
In the place of those nerves is an overriding sense of this matchup between these two teams, specifically. Golden State and Cleveland both exuded a sense of a tiger warily circling its prey Wednesday.
The Warriors know that what contributed — along with a lot of factors including an unbelievable performance from LeBron James — to their collapse after leading 3-1 last year against Cleveland was a lack of urgency. Whether they ran out of gas or simply lacked the urgency, they let off the throttle.
The same thing happened against the Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and had Kawhi Leonard not gotten injured, it’s very probable that Golden State would not enter these Finals with a 12-0 record.
Instead, the Warriors seem focused on maintaining an edge. They have a sense that if they bring their best effort in focus and execution, no team is stopping them, not even the defending champions.
For the Cavaliers, they are aware of what they’re facing, as the team largely echoed Kevin Love‘s sentiment that the Warriors are a “talented group” and a “great team.” The bad blood and trash talk is sure to begin after Game 1, but for right now it’s largely about mutual respect and reserved confidence.
James spoke of his situation, which is different from previous years as well. After addressing the unfortunate situation in which vandals spray-painted racist graffiti on his Brentwood, California, home, James was asked if he felt he was still out to prove people wrong.
“I’m not in the ‘prove people wrong, silence critics’ people department no more. I got a promotion when I got to the 30s,” James said. “So at the end of the day, I mean, I know what I’ve done and I know what I’m built — I know the way I’m built, my only motivation is to be able to compete for a championship every single year. And I’m sitting here today blessed once again because I put in the work and our teammates have put in the work.”
The Warriors are no longer chasing all-time greatness, attempting to top off a 73-win season. The Cavaliers are no longer trying to shrug off the historic failures of Cleveland. LeBron James is no longer trying to knock off those who have doubted him.
This is about the Cavaliers, Warriors and the title that lies between them, each with a claim to it. The two will begin the tense, highly anticipated battle to sort out that trophy’s rightful owner when the Finals begin Thursday night in the same place this rivalry began two years ago, Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.