Best team v best player
With Durant in their ranks, Golden State should reclaim the NBA title from LeBron's Cleveland
|GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS||CLEVELAND CAVALIERS|
It was the missing piece in the jigsaw.
From the moment Kevin Durant signed his name on the dotted line last July, the Golden State Warriors all but guaranteed that the NBA title would be heading back to Oakland.
All has gone according to plan in the Western Conference play-offs where they swept the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and the San Antonio Spurs to make history as the first team to enter the NBA Finals with a 12-0 record.
Their pursuit of perfection continues in Oakland, California, tomorrow morning (Singapore time) when they open their third straight NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who overturned a 3-1 deficit to win the title last season.
With Cleveland boasting the most outstanding offence in post-season history and Golden State defiant in defence, this promises to be another NBA Finals classic.
It will come down to a battle between the best team - Golden State - and the best player - LeBron James.
The addition of Durant to the Warriors' already lethal All-Star nucleus of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green makes it an almost mission impossible for the Cavs, although Golden State fans are still haunted by memories of last season's collapse in the Finals.
While he had a rocky start to his Golden State career, former Oklahoma City Thunder kingpin Durant is now at the peak of his powers, averaging 25.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.2 blocked shots a game in the play-offs.
The 28-year-old forward is seeking his first NBA title after enduring the heartbreak of his then Oklahoma team losing the 2012 crown to James' Miami Heat.
"It's a little different, definitely. I can't lie," Durant said of his latest trip to the Finals compared to his first.
"I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship.
You can’t stop LeBron... So you’ve got to make him work as hard as he can. He can’t have an easy game.Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown
"So it's a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind. But you've got to enjoy everything, man.
"When we look at it, this is just a blip on the radar in terms of our whole life.
"So every moment is definitely important and you want to embrace it and enjoy it."
If their performances in the play-offs are any indication, Golden State's "Fearsome Four" have found their groove.
Their unparalleled speed and superb ball movement resulted in a play-off average of 9.2 steals, 27.8 assists and 20.7 points from fast breaks.
But they face one major obstacle in the Finals - Cavaliers' King James.
The Cavaliers have also got their act together in the Eastern Conference play-offs, whitewashing the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors 4-0, before outclassing the Boston Celtics 4-1 in the Conference Finals.
This season, James averaged 26.4 points plus career highs of 8.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists as well as a league-high 37.8 minutes on the court a game.
When opponents focus on shutting him out, the four-time Most Valuable Player has the uncanny ability of finding his sidekicks Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
"You can't stop LeBron," said Golden State assistant coach Mike Brown, deputising for head coach Steve Kerr as he recovers from a back surgery.
"He's going to score. He's going to get other players involved in the scoring by passing the ball off.
"So you've got to make him work as hard as he can. He can't have an easy game."
The Warriors have the perfect man in Andre Iguodala to contain James. The shooting guard/small forward was awarded the 2015 Finals Most Valuable Player title for his Herculean effort in stopping the 32-year-old.
Still, nobody could rule out Cleveland's chances given what happened last year.
But, with Durant in their side, the Warriors will take some stopping.