NBA Finals: Uncovered

Justin Prakaiphetkul, Contributing Writer

Everyone marked the first week of June as Part Three of this ongoing NBA Finals feud between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. The NBA’s best player, LeBron James. versus the resident, villain Kevin Durant; the point guard clash between Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry.

However, with the events that have transpired over the past two months, I believe there is a legitimate chance that neither of those teams will be playing in June.

Before I go on, if Durant returns at full health and does not re-injure himself, it’s not even a question that the Warriors will make the Finals. After all, the Warriors have four all-stars in Durant, the Warriors’ best scorer; Curry, one of the most skilled offensive guards in the league; Klay Thompson, a top two-way guard and Draymond Green, the team’s best all-around player.

But what if he doesn’t? What if Durant’s injury lingers into the postseason?

My pick to come out of the West would be the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have possibly the best coach in NBA history in Gregg Popovich, a potential MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Kawhi Leonard, a fringe all-star in LaMarcus Aldridge, and a skilled offensive center in Pau Gasol to bring off the bench. For the year, the Spurs have the NBA’s best defense, boasting a defensive rating of 100.9 according to

Unlike the Warriors, who simply have to plug a healthy Durant back into the equation, the defending champion Cavaliers would have to fix their entire defense to have a realistic shot of repeating.

Last year, James had to tap into his inner “God Mode” to bring a championship to Cleveland. Even then, it took a historical choke job by the Warriors and seven games. This year, that won’t be enough. Post All-Star break, the Cavaliers rank 29th in defensive rating and for the season, they rank 22nd. The last team to win a championship with a defense in the bottom twenty was the 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, but the Cavs don’t have Shaq to carry them. The Cavaliers should be able to reach the finals in their current state if James replicates his 2016 historic Finals performance, but it certainly won’t be enough to top the Warriors or Spurs.

So if not Cleveland, then who? As much as it pains me to say as a die-hard Lakers fan, I lean towards the Boston Celtics to come out of the East. For half the season, the Celtics have played without their preferred starting lineup of all-star Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford due to various injuries. Yet, they finished first in the East.

The 5’9 Thomas has come a long way since he was drafted last in the 2011 NBA Draft. Thomas has transformed himself from an overlooked second round pick to an MVP candidate. The combination of Bradley, Crowder, Johnson and Horford complement Thomas well, offensively and defensively. The Celtics also have one of the NBA’s best defenders with Marcus Smart coming off the bench. Like the Warriors, the Celtics have their own “death line-up” that can wreak havoc on opposing small-ball teams.

If Durant is not at full health and the Cavaliers cannot fix their defense, I wholeheartedly expect the Spurs and Celtics to be the final two teams at the mountain top.