History on the Line for Both Warriors and Cavaliers

Once the 2017 NBA Finals are 10 minutes old, in the first quarter of Game 1 between the Warriors and the Cavaliers, LeBron James will eclipse 25,000 minutes of basketball since 2010.

This is, by far, the most minutes logged by any NBA player in that time.

The total includes regular season (19,164) and playoffs (5,826). It is not only a number that dramatically emphasizes LeBron’s dominance of the league as he makes his 7th straight appearance in the NBA Finals, it speaks to his most amazing ability:


And maybe that’s a peek into greatness. We often focus on game-winning moments, signature performances and, of course, championships. But in order to reach that all-time great status, in order for a player to be pushed into the G.O.A.T. conversation, that one critical ability — availability — is just as important as talent.

That has been important to his incredible run of success. But how much does it factor into this year’s Finals? It may if the series goes the distance.

LeBron is criticized for employing the rest strategy during the regular season. The Cavs clearly didn’t prioritize the regular season and were content with yielding the top seed in the East to the Celtics. Why? Because what did we learn last season from the Warriors?

Winning a record 73 games doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t end with a title.

The Warriors failed to finish that season because of Draymond Green’s antics, but let’s not forget how banged up Steph Curry was after he suffered a knee sprain in the first round of the playoffs. Curry was a shell of himself by the Finals (he shot just 40% from the field) and once the Warriors failed to close out the series after taking a 3-1 lead, Curry had little to nothing left in the tank by Game 7 (17 points on 6 for 19 shooting).

The Warriors made winning 73 games a priority and it’s reasonable to ask if that led to the failure in the Finals.

In the first Finals meeting between these teams, it was LeBron’s group that couldn’t get to the finish line. Kevin Love had his shoulder ripped out of its socket by Kelly Olynyk. Kyrie Irving’s kneecap snapped in Game 1. LeBron averaged 45.7 minutes per game in that Finals and pushed the Warriors to a six-game battle.

So here we are, for round three and both teams are as healthy as you can be as the last two teams standing in June. Between the two of them, there are 24 wins and one loss. The average margin of victory for the teams is 14.9 points per game. Neither has been truly tested.

The Warriors should be the better team. They have more depth and also added Kevin Durant, who can go head-to-head with LeBron, but won’t have to on a full-time basis. Therein lies the most critical matchup of this series.

While Green will get most of the assignment against LeBron, KD can provide occasional coverage, as well. That’s two bodies against one.

Will that wear down LeBron, who will almost certainly have to spend time defending Durant?

If the Warriors, who have had nine days off since the Western Conference Finals ended, complete a sweep, it would complete an unprecedented 16-0 run to the NBA title. That, which would include beating LeBron in his prime, could be a more historic effort than the 73-win season.

But if LeBron can overcome this loaded Golden State squad — with two former MVPs in Curry and Durant on the roster — would it not be one of the greatest achievements in NBA Finals history?

And ask yourself this: did Michael Jordan ever face an opponent like this in the championship round?