Warriors vs. Cavs: What’s at stake in these Finals?

June 2, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) with the ball as Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) defends in the first half in game one of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
June 2, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) with the ball as Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) defends in the first half in game one of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot riding on this series as both teams are looking to make history.


It’s a word we’ve been hearing, reading, and saying all season long. The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are looking to make history. They’ve already made some, re-writing the NBA’s record books, and they want to make more. The 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do something that hasn’t been done in franchise history before.

Both teams have a lot on the line in these Finals. What’s exactly at stake?

For the Golden State Warriors, it’s credibility and a secure place in the long list of basketball’s greatest teams. For many, the 73 win single-season record is meaningless unless the Warriors finish the season with a title. It would truly cement them as the greatest time of all-time (sorry, Michael). A win would intensify the “dynasty” conversation, propelling the Warriors to the levels of the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and Boston Celtics. By repeating as NBA champions, they would achieve a feat that not even the San Antonio Spurs have done.

A loss could be debilitating to the Warriors’ credibility. The dominant discourse following the Warriors’ first NBA championship in 40 years was that “the Warriors got lucky that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love weren’t healthy.” It was a notion that the fans refuted and the team disproved during the two regular season meetings. A loss in the 2016 NBA Finals would nearly strip the Warriors of their title last year. By losing to a Cavs team with both Irving and Love, the Warriors would confirm what all their opposition has been saying over the last twelve months, including that 73 wins didn’t mean anything.

On the other hand, the Cavaliers need this win to end their drought. The city of Cleveland has gone over fifty years without a professional championship, suffering heartbreak after heartbreak. This would lift all of the players on the team to an even bigger plateau that championships normally offer. The Cavs want to beat what has been called “the greatest team ever” and erase fifty years of disappointment with four games.

A loss would hurt the city and the organization at every level. First of all, the “Irving and Love” excuse would be invalid. The hypotheticals that both the players and the fans hang their hat on would not be available to them anymore. They would have been beaten, at full strength, by a better team.

The city of Cleveland would continue to be championship-less. A second loss in a row in the LeBron James era would cause the Cavs to make some drastic changes to the roster. James forced the team to trade away the first overall pick Andrew Wiggins for Love who has struggled to fit over the last two seasons. There’s a good chance James, who’s already in his 30s, would make some more changes to the roster.

As a whole, there’s a lot at stake for the teams in this one, but the players also have a lot riding on it. Legacies can be solidified or tarnished.

James, obviously, is one of the greatest players of all-time. There aren’t a whole lot of knocks against him, but his Finals record is one of them. If he were to lose this one, he would drop to 2-5. While I personally don’t think that championship rings and Finals record are the end-all and be-all of determining just how great a player is, there are those that will hold it against him. Compared to the greats that he’s reaching, only having two titles doesn’t seem like enough.

The Warriors have their own superstar trying to place himself amongst the greats. Stephen Curry won his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award this year. He’s already jumped ahead of many of his contemporaries and predecessors. A combination of early series struggles and high-quality play from Andre Iguodala left Curry without winning the Bill Russell trophy. In Game 1 of this year’s Finals, Curry was largely ineffective, scoring just 11 points. Similar to James’ Finals record, I think Finals MVP is an unfair criteria for greatness. Nonetheless, people will turn to it and say that not winning Finals MVP two years in a row is a blemish on Curry’s track record and a confirmation that he is really not the most valuable.

The NBA thrives off story lines and narratives and this Finals series is full of them. In the social media era, people love to overreact. You win and you’re the best; you lose and you’re “trash.” There are so many nuances to greatness in today’s hypercritical world that ether result will have a lot of commentary attached to it.

Both James and the Warriors know these things. They’re smart enough to understand the implications this series has on how they will be perceived throughout history. These NBA Finals are so much more than just the one Larry O’Brien trophy they hand out on the court after the buzzer goes off when a champion is crowned.