It has all the makings of an NBA classic. Two teams with so much on the line will play in the first Game 7 since the two most successful organizations in professional basketball, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers, renewed their championship rivalry for the 12th time in 2010.
But the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers showdown Sunday seems to have more storylines and more up for grabs than when the Lakers and Celtics met. It will be LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry. It will be the anxious City of Cleveland, hoping for a halt to decades of professional sports misery, against the weary Bay Area, desperate their historic 73-win season won't be remembered as the championship that got away.
While the Warriors are in danger of becoming the first team to lose a finals after leading 3-1, there should be optimism springing in Northern California. Here are three reasons why the Warriors should hold off the Cavs at Oracle Arena.
Curry With A Chip On His Shoulder
After fouling out in Game 6, and then proceeding to lose his cool and throwing his mouth guard, Curry should bounce back and come out firing. The sharpshooter has been uncharacteristically inconsistent in the finals, but it seems a given he will find his stroke with so much riding on this game.
When the Warriors had their backs against the walls against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, Curry proved why he was named the first unanimous MVP, knocking down 13 of his 24 shot attempts for 36 points, his highest point total of the series.
Don't be surprised if Curry goes on a tear in front of a raucous home crowd. The 28-year-old thrives in important situations, and this is the biggest game of his life. Except Curry to do a better job of shaking his defender, and finding better looks.
Improved Defense On James, Irving, Thompson, Smith
The Cavs shot 51.9 percent from the field in Game 6, and much of their success had to do with some sluggish defending on four prominent scorers. James, who may deserve the finals MVP award no matter who comes out on top, is clearly the most difficult scorer to contain. However, Andre Iguodala has often been a thorn in James' side, and should be up to the challenge of limiting Cleveland's go-to guy to under 43 percent shooting, as was the case for the first two games of the series. James will almost certainly score a minimum of 25 points, but another 41-point effort might be a stretch, even for one of the all-time greats.
Then there are James' teammates. The trio of Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson are capable of being slowed after a string of impressive performances. Irving, a highly skilled threat as a penetrator and outside shooter, made only 12 of his 36 total shots in Games 1 and 2, and forcing him to take a few extra bad shots shouldn't be too arduous a task for Golden State's perimeter defenders.
Meanwhile, Smith and Thompson have played above their heads, and a more determined effort by lanky guard Shaun Livingston, who has just two blocks and two steals in the entire series, and hard-nosed Draymond Green, who received a rest by missing Game 5 due to suspension, should be enough to prevent complimentary players like Thompson from getting easy baskets.
There are few better defensive minds in basketball than Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams, and he should prove his worth against a Cavs squad that seems overdue for a cold streak.
Don't Forget Klay
Klay Thompson has shaken off some rather uninspiring performances. Since averaging 12.6 points per game in the first three games, Thompson has averaged 27 points in the next three games.
Thompson has a knack for knocking down clutch shots, and his hot streak should carry over into Game 7 after averaging 27 points in the Warriors' previous three deciding games this postseason.
In Game 5, the last time the two teams met at Oracle Arena, Thompson scored 37 points and converted six of his 11 shots from beyond the arc. But he is also capable scoring in other ways, and his ability to create his own shot attempts might be a key reason the Cavs defense won't be able to hold off the Warriors' potent offense.