by Jim Feist
The last two years a pair of veteran teams met in the NBA Finals, with Miami winning its second straight title in seven games against the Spurs and then San Antonio thrashing the Heat a year ago. But the winds of change have blown, with LeBron bolting Miami for his hometown and the Spurs losing in the first round in seven games to the LA Clippers.
Now the Golden State Warriors have exploded with a historical season, tops in the NBA in field goal shooting and three-point shooting, plus No. 1 in FG defense allowing just 42% shooting. And he gets to face LeBron, making his fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance, his first with Cleveland since 2007.
Throw in the fact that Cleveland has young Kyrie Irving as a young star, has a new generation of young players finally emerged on the NBA Finals stage? Three years ago it was supposed to be the time the kids stepped up in Oklahoma City. OKC came close, winning Game 1 of the Finals before Miami won four in a row. The previous year a younger Miami team came close, carving out a 2-1 series lead before collapsing, as it was those old fogies in Dallas who came away with the title - another veteran team winning the whole thing.
Overall, veteran NBA teams have been on a roll, with the Celtics winning it all in 2008, the Lakers in 2009-10, the Mavericks in 2012 out of nowhere, and the Heat twice under LeBron and the Spurs last year, with Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich. This year young teams from Boston, Atlanta, Washington and Memphis made the playoffs but are gone.
This year the NBA's Final Four had a pair of teams with a lot more youth than veteran leadership in the Rockets, Hawks, Cavs and Warriors. While the NBA is more of an athletic game, primed for young legs, the experience of the Mavericks certainly helped them three years ago, while the Spurs had a terrific blend of young and older players last season.
But at some point age can work against a team, breaking down from injuries. There really haven't been many youthful teams winning the NBA title lately. The Celtics and Lakers were veteran teams that clashed in the Finals in 2008 and 2010. The experienced Lakers topped the young Orlando Magic in 2009, blowing out the kids in Game 1, 100-75. Prior to that veteran teams like the Spurs, Pistons and 2006 Miami Heat won titles.
LeBron James is 30 and has been in the league 11 years. Another thing that stands out with the NBA's Final Four of 2015 is defense. Golden State (No. 1) and Atlanta (No. 6 were in the Top six in field goal shooting defense allowed during the regular season. Houston (12th) was decent, too, while the Cavs ranked 20th, though that’s a bit misleading as they added key defensive personnel in mid-season and have been a strong defensive team the last two months.
A year ago the NBA’s Final 4 (Thunder, Pacers, Spurs and Heat) all finished in the Top 10 in the NBA during the regular season in either points allowed for field goal shooting defense. Oklahoma City was tops in the West in FG shooting defense, while the Pacers were best in the NBA.
This shouldn't surprise. Three years ago Miami was sixth in points allowed during the regular season, Dallas was 10th. So how did the mighty Golden State Warriors do against the best of the East? The Warriors whipping the Cavs at home (112-94) in January, then lost at Cleveland in February (110-99), its seventh road game in eight contests. Golden State lost 124-116 at Atlanta in February when the Hawks were rolling, then won at home, 114-95 in the rematch. A lot of blowouts! That’s not something the NBA wants to see over the next week. Are the kids from the West ready to take over? Or will we see LeBron hoist the trophy again? Let the games begin!