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NBA Finals Are No Surprise


While markets can be unpredictable, the NBA on the other hand, is pretty predictable. The NBA Finals start tonight. No surprise who is playing for a fourth straight year. It is the Golden State Warriors taking on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, Golden State has won two of the three previous meetings. They are heavy favorites to win again. NPR's Tom Goldman has more on these usual suspects who actually are not that usual this time around.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Tired of the same old matchup? How about this to pique your interest - it's historic. This is the first time in this country's major pro sports two teams have competed against each other for a championship four straight times. Still, enough people are grumbling about it that LeBron James was asked to weigh in yesterday in Oakland.


LEBRON JAMES: Teams have had their opportunity to beat the Cavs over the last four years, and teams have had opportunities to beat the Warriors over the last four years. I mean, if you want to see somebody else in the postseason then you've got to beat them.

GOLDMAN: Fair point. And here's another one. It is the same two teams, but as this season and the playoffs unfolded, their fourth finals meeting hardly was inevitable.


TRISTAN THOMPSON: It's been a whirlwind season. I like to call this season the growing pains for me.

GOLDMAN: That's Cleveland forward center Tristan Thompson.


THOMPSON: This is the first year where we've had, you know, some major adversity.

GOLDMAN: And he's not even talking about the tabloid scrutiny of his relationship with Khloe Kardashian. There was star point guard Kyrie Irving's exodus to Boston. There were injuries. There was a roster overhaul in February prompting one NBA analyst to call the Cavs at that point a dumpster fire. Meaning, guard J.R. Smith's one-game suspension for throwing soup at an assistant coach, that fit right in. The constant through soup and bad basketball was James. He held the Cavs together as they barely slipped into the finals. And slipping may be a good way to describe the Warriors, as well.


GOLDMAN: The Warriors' practice session yesterday on their home court was loose but focused. That's Golden State head coach Steve Kerr's way. Let them improvise like jazz musicians, but don't forget the sheet music, too.

RON ADAMS: You know, that's a tightrope at times.

GOLDMAN: And assistant coach Ron Adams says the Warriors have fallen off that tightrope more this season. Turnovers, defensive lapses, one-on-one basketball replacing Golden State's beautiful ball-and-player movement. It was as bad as it's been just a few days ago when Golden State clinched a spot on the finals despite a horrible first half against Houston.

ADAMS: Well, I think familiarity breeds a little bit of contempt for the process at times. I think that happened.

GOLDMAN: The process is a grinding, 82-game regular season that begets, if you're good like the Warriors, a grinding, two-month long postseason. And, Adams says, you do that four straight years, and it's human nature to tune out at times. Which is why the Warriors guard Shaun Livingston is thrilled the finals are here.

SHAUN LIVINGSTON: Been in this marathon, and then you're turning the corner and seeing the finish line. That right there is a breath of fresh air, right? And so it's like I got one last sprint, you know?

GOLDMAN: So we're going to see flawless Warriors basketball?

LIVINGSTON: (Laughter) Right. Exactly.

GOLDMAN: The Warriors against the Cavs is where the NBA was supposed to be when the season began. It's where the NBA ended up. Connecting that beginning and end was as hard as it's been for these historic rivals. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Oakland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.