CLEVELAND -- In the playoffs, particularly the NBA Finals, pressure gets ramped up to an intense level as two teams full of prideful players compete with all-out effort for the privilege of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy and forever being known as a champion.
Over the last two years, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors have each attained that level of success, and with the third straight meeting on the horizon, starting with tonight’s Game 1 matchup at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, a cool, calm and collected approach will be a key to success.
And to small forward LeBron James, the Cavaliers have the perfect leader in Tyronn Lue.
“Throughout the postseason, there’s so many different emotions going high, going low from players and things of that nature,” James said. “As a coach, if you’re able to stay even keel throughout the whole thing, it relaxes the group.”
By winning the Eastern Conference Championship with a 135-102 Game 5 victory over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden last Thursday night, the Cavaliers earned the right to face the three-time defending Western Conference Champion Warriors for the NBA title for the third straight season.
The rubber match between the Cavaliers and Warriors marks the first time in NBA history that the same two teams will play each other in The Finals in three consecutive seasons.
The Warriors claimed the title over an injury-ravaged Cavaliers team in 2015, and jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against a much healthier lineup in 2016. However, with Lue and James at the helm, the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the championship.
“There’s so many adjectives and things of that nature,” James said. “I just think it’s his level of calmness, no matter what’s going on. He’s always talking about at the end of the day, he’s already won in life, so whatever happens after this is extra credit, and I feel the same way.
“That’s why I’m able to relate to him so much. Lose here or you win a game here, it’s like, ‘Alright, cool. I’ve already done so much more than anybody ever gave me credit of doing or thought I could do, so there’s no reason to get too high or too low,’ so it’s the even-keel mentality of our coach, and it definitely helps us as players when we’re going out into a war.”
And as for being the underdog, that does not bother James, as he has been favored in just two of his previous seven trips to the NBA Finals.
“It’s just the joy of competing for a championship,” James said. “Can you add more pressure to it? I don’t believe in it.
“At the end of the day, if you left everything out on the floor, then you can be satisfied with it. Are you happy with the outcome if you lose, of course not. You’ll be excited about it, have an unbelievable feeling if you win? Of course so. But if you leave everything out on the floor, everything else will take care of itself.”