- - Wednesday, May 31, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Finally, the Finals are here.

NBA fans have waited a long time for this matchup. Since Kyrie Irving put a 3-pointer in Steph Curry’s mouth to win the title for Cleveland last year. Since Kevin Durant’s July 4 announcement that he was headed to Golden State. Since the Cavaliers and Warriors cruised through the regular season and three rounds of playoffs like Usain Bolt coasts in qualifying heats.

Now, after a week-long delay caused by the teams’ postseason efficiency, we can dig in. Thursday night’s Game 1 of Cavs-Warriors III should be a scrumptious hoops feast, offering tasty treats for everyone no matter their preference.

Like the pace-and-space game that’s revolutionizing the NBA? The Warriors‘ offense is one of the best when it’s clicking, chock-full of cutters, jumpers and soaring alley-oops when former Wizard JaVale McGee runs the floor. Like boxers throwing punches in bunches, Golden State can flurry in a hurry, challenging the scoreboard operator to keep pace.

Want to see scintillating one-on-one moves? Irving has an ever-expanding repertoire that can embarrass the clingiest perimeter defenders. He put on a clinic in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, serving the Celtics 42 points that included 9-of-10 shooting in an 11-minute span. Curry had nightmares after watching that.

Speaking of Curry, he’s there for fans who love the long ball. As in way-way-behind-the-line 3-pointers. He was limited by a knee injury in last year’s Finals but he’s back to his mad-bomber ways, averaging 4.4 treys per game this postseason while connecting at a .431 clip. His inside game is humming as well, evidenced by his .592 shooting percentage on 2-point field goals.

Interested in watching the world’s two best players, period? Durant arguably is the top candidate to join LeBron James in that distinction. Besides, KD is the main character in one of the league’s biggest storylines. The drama over his decision to leave Oklahoma City clearly hasn’t affected his play; he’s averaging 25.2 points in the playoffs, with an adjusted field-goal percentage (.619) that trails only James (.625) and Curry (.622) among the postseason’s leading scorers.

Scoring isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of James. But there he is, averaging 32.5 points in the playoffs, second-highest in his career. Along the way, he became No. 1 on the all-time postseason scoring list, passing Michael Jordan last week. James’ presence makes the Cavaliers a real threat, despite Las Vegas pegging them as huge underdogs.

Like reaching the Finals — this is his seventh consecutive appearance — he’s used to the odds being against him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, James will be an underdog for the sixth time in eight career trips. But has he ever faced a challenge as big and scary as the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors?

“It’s probably up there,” he told reporters recently. “I mean, it’s up there.”

He mentioned facing the San Antonio Spurs with five likely Hall of Famers — Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and coach Gregg Popovich. He also threw in Eastern Conference tilts against Boston with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and coach Doc Rivers.

But these Warriors play at a different level. They’re 27-1 since March 11 and are the first squad to start the postseason 12-0. “It’s going to be very challenging,” James said. Those guys are going to challenge me, they’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team.”

Not that James is headed into battle with Irving and a bunch of blanks. On the wing is vintage Kevin Love — the 20 points-10 rebounds version who made All-NBA teams with the Timberwolves. On the block is Tristan Thompson, a vacuum cleaner on the offensive glass and a surprisingly agile defender against smaller players. Off the bench are a rejuvenated Deron Williams, sharpshooter Kyle Korver and tenacious Iman Shumpert.

No, the Cavs don’t fare well on paper against the Warriors. But that was true last year, too, and all Cleveland did was make history, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to capture the title with a road win in Game 7.

Curry was dinged, Draymond Green was suspended and whatever.

The year before, when Golden State won, Irving played just one game, Love missed the entire series and blah, blah, blah.

There are no excuses this time. Both teams are rested, healthy (pray for Andre Iguodala’s knee) and ready for the rubber match. The series’ four best players (James, Durant, Irving and Curry) are at the top of their games. Nothing left to do except sit back and watch.

The Finals won’t be much fun if the Warriors ride their hot streak to 16-0 conclusion by sweeping. And the series will leave us craving for more if the full seven games are necessary to determine a champion.

Either way, this thing took long enough to arrive.

Let’s enjoy while it lasts.

• Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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