Warriors Working Through Finals Jitters
As Game 1 of the NBA Finals gets set to tip off tonight at 9 p.m. EST, many players on both sides of the ball will be making their Finals debut.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have plenty of Finals experience with LeBron James, James Jones, Mike Miller, Kendrick Perkins, Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood having all played for a championship before, but the entire roster of the Golden State Warriors will be making their first appearance in a Finals series.
Players from the Cavaliers who have yet to experience the frenzy of the Finals all have plenty of experience to lean on to get through their first trip, but Warriors players will be relying on their coaching staff to prepare them for what they can expect.
“You’ve got to go through the media frenzy and the other distractions that come with being in the Finals, and you still have to focus on your job,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters on Wednesday. “I had [assistant coach] Luke Walton address the team a few days ago about his experiences with the Lakers. I’ve shared a couple thoughts from my own experiences.
“But what I really found as a player was once you get out on the floor, you just start playing, and everything returns to normal. It’s still just a basketball game. But you’ve got to get to that point, and the best way to do that is to try to ignore the chaos as much as you can. But obviously we’re right in the middle of it today, and it’s going to be like that on game days throughout the series.”
For the players, they’re just getting anxious to get back onto the court and play basketball. Each team has had the past week off to prepare and to form a game plan for the opposing side. The week off has benefited both teams as each have their fair share of injuries. The Warriors are expected to have Klay Thompson back after Thompson suffered a concussion in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals when he was inadvertently kneed in the head by Trevor Ariza. Thompson left the game for a brief period of time and was even seen bleeding from his ear but has since passed the NBA’s concussion protocol enabling him to return to the lineup.
“These last few days we really upped the intensity in practice, and got some great five‑on‑five,” Thompson said. “Our scout team did a great job pushing us like they have been the whole year. That’s why they’ve been ready every game and come in and make an impact. It ended up being a blessing for me to have a week off and get my head right. I think we handled it the best way we can possibly handle it. We all worked really hard to try to keep our rhythm as best as possible.”
This season marks the first the Warriors have made it past the second round of the playoffs since winning the championship in 1975. They fell to the San Antonio Spurs two seasons ago in the conference semi-finals and were eliminated in the first round last season by the Los Angeles Clippers. They finished the regular season with the second-best offensive efficiency and were best in the league in defensive efficiency while earning their best record in franchise history.
Their 67 wins ensured the team that they’d earn home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They’ll be in front of their home court to help ease into the Finals, a place they’ve racked up a 46-3 record at through the regular season and postseason.
“I’m really anxious,” Thompson said. “I’m a little nervous just because this is something you’ve been looking forward to your whole life, but more anxious though. I know right when I get on the court there will be some nerves the first couple of minutes. That’s natural. It’s been like that for every series I’ve ever played in. But you shake it off after the first couple minutes and you realize it’s a game you’ve been doing your whole life and you’re here for a reason. It’s a surreal moment, and we’re going to embrace it. I mean, we’ve worked so hard for this. It’s awesome.”
The Finals will bring a look most of these players haven’t yet seen before in terms of the media presence. The Finals will feature nine international players from six countries and will be broadcast globally as media outlets from all parts of the world will be on hand throughout the series. NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry said that the players might see some different people around both arenas leading to different routines, but maintained the preparation will remain the same. Other players on the team have experienced this sort of stage before at other levels of the game.
“It’s probably what I expected,” Andre Iguodala said of the hype. “[I] played in the World Championships in the Olympics and had a lot of media presence, and you see a lot of different things throughout your career as a basketball player. Draymond Green has been in the Final Four a few times [at Michigan State], so he’s kind of seen the media scene and been on a great team in college. As you go through your basketball ranks, you kind of see everything, and nothing really surprises you.”
The hype leading up to Game 1 has grown each day with the teams holding practices and film sessions to get prepared. While the players learn new game plans and get ready for the series to start, several players mentioned how important it is just to have their minds right for when the series starts. Curry told reporters on Wednesday that you do whatever you can to make sure your mindset is right.
“I’m going to get a haircut,” Curry said. “I’m going to hang out at the pool at my house, get some sun and get a good night’s rest and be ready for [Game 1].”
No Regrets for Calipari
As head coaching vacancies open up each season, Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari’s name seems to be among the names that always surfaces as a potential candidate.
Calipari was reportedly offered a 10-year deal with the Cavaliers last summer for $80 million to be the team’s head coach and president. Calipari instead opted to remain at Kentucky and settle for their seven-year, $52.5 million deal.
Calipari was once again linked to a head coaching vacancy just last month after it was reported he was interested in reuniting with Anthony Davis in New Orleans, but he quickly ended the speculation after tweeting that he was happy at Kentucky.
Despite the reported opportunities to leave the college ranks for the NBA, Calipari has no regrets about his decision.
“No regrets,” Calipari said about turning down the Cavaliers. “I’ll be watching [the Finals]. But regrets? No. None. … I’m a guy that’s usually looking through the front window.
“The only thing that was ever serious was the Cleveland thing. Because what happened, and the reason I did what I did, was based on having guys come back who wanted to be coached. I didn’t feel comfortable not being at Kentucky.”
The Cavaliers turned their hiring efforts from Calipari to eventual head coach David Blatt. In his first season in the NBA, Blatt guided the Cavaliers to a 53-29 record and the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
Blatt and Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will become the first pair of rookie head coaches in the Finals since the NBA’s inaugural season in 1946-47.
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