The Cavaliers are overwhelming underdogs against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, which begin Thursday at 9 p.m. at Oakland’s Oracle Arena.
Opening betting lines in Las Vegas had the Cavs plus-$650 to win the series and the Warriors minus-$1,000. That means a $100 bet on Cleveland would earn $650 if the Cavs won the series, while a $1,000 wager on the Warriors would be needed to win $100 if they prevailed in the series.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, whose team also opened as a 12.5-point underdog in Game 1, doesn’t care about any of the odds.
“Our main focus, main objective, is to win a championship,” Lue said Tuesday on a conference call before the Cavs left town. “We can’t worry about what the outside guys are saying and who’s being picked. We know what we have here and what we’re trying to do.”
The Cavs and Warriors are the first teams in league history to meet in four straight NBA Finals. Golden State won in six games in 2015, when Kevin Love was out with a shoulder injury and Kyrie Irving went down with a knee injury in Game 1, and in five games a year ago after adding Kevin Durant. Cleveland won in seven games in 2016, when it became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in The Finals.
This year is also the first time since 1979 that both Finals participants were extended to seven games in the conference finals. That year, the Seattle SuperSonics, behind coach Lenny Wilkens, Finals MVP Dennis Johnson and the 28.6-point scoring average of Gus Williams, beat the Washington Bullets of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes 4-1.
“They’ve been tested, we’ve been tested,” Lue said. “We’ve been to Game 7, they’ve been to Game 7. We’ve won championships, they’ve won championships. They’ve been in a lot of positions, but you can’t count us out. We’ve been in every possible position you can be in in the playoffs.”
The Cavs, who went 12-2 in the East playoffs in 2015, 12-2 in 2016 and 12-1 in 2017, were 12-6 this year, having been extended to seven games by Indiana in the first round and by Boston in the conference finals.
Golden State went 4-1 in each of the first two rounds this year, but had to overcome a 3-2 deficit in the conference finals against Houston. In doing so, the Warriors became the first team in league history to win back-to-back elimination games when trailing by double figures at halftime of both.
“I was thinking of resigning,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said when asked about his halftime mood Monday during Game 7. “That was my first thought. I walked in at halftime and I said, ‘I don’t even recognize this team.’ We’ve been together for four years, but I didn’t recognize the group we were seeing.”
The Warriors, who have become increasingly prone to bad stretches, trailed by 11 when Houston’s Eric Gordon went coast to coast for a layup right before the halftime buzzer, and the Golden State locker room was not a fun place to be.
“There was actually a food fight,” Kerr said. “People were throwing stuff. It was really one of the most bizarre first halves of basketball that we’ve played since I’ve been here. We were so scattered that every part of the game plan went out the window in the first 45 seconds, basically.”
After shooting guard Klay Thompson picked up three quick fouls at the start of the game, the Warriors ultimately survived because the Rockets missed 27 straight 3-pointers. Houston ended up shooting 7-for-44 from deep in a 101-92 loss, while the Celtics were 7-for-39 on 3-pointers in their 87-79 Game 7 loss to the Cavs.
“This is what happens in Game 7s,” Kerr said. “Everybody’s scattered. (Sunday) night’s Game 7 in Boston, same thing. Shot are harder to make, (it’s) tougher to execute. Defenses have the edge over offenses because everybody’s tense.
“But we just lost our composure in that first half. The main message in the locker room was, ‘We’re down 11. That’s about two minutes for us if we execute.’”
The Warriors did that behind superstars Durant and Stephen Curry, while the Cavs, who trailed by 12 in the second period of Game 7 but got it down to four at halftime, rallied behind four-time league MVP LeBron James and a big offensive night from Jeff Green.
Green started in place of Love, who was still in the league’s concussion protocol when the Cavs left town Tuesday afternoon, while Golden State’s Andre Iguodala has missed four straight games with a left knee injury. Both were listed as questionable for Game 1.
The Cavs, who granted Irving’s trade request in the offseason, still have James, but the Warriors are huge favorites because they have former league MVPs in Durant and Curry and All-Stars in Thompson and Draymond Green.
“I don’t think we need that as motivation,” Lue said of his team’s underdog status. “Any time you’re playing for a championship, that’s enough motivation.”
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