Warriors can't rely on this formula to beat LeBron

Warriors-Cavs Preview

ESPN's Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy preview the NBA Finals.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- If you can't relate to the experience of being a great NBA shooter watching your son's quest to become the greatest NBA shooter with a championship crown to boot, perhaps it might be better to liken Dell Curry's experience Wednesday to the jubilation of watching a son graduate from high school mixed with the apprehension of sending him away to college.

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors just went through a right of passage worth celebrating, but they still have to prove they're ready for the next step.

Curry sure noticed something different about his father on the day of Game 5, with the Warriors a victory over the Houston Rockets away from advancing to the NBA Finals: "I've never seen him so stressed."

Even after it was over, after the Warriors overcame turnovers and spotty shooting to beat a Rockets team that fizzled out at the end, Dell Curry looked more drained than elated. He could only advise his son, he couldn't instruct him. In all of Dell's 16 seasons in the NBA, he had never made it past the second round himself. This journey past Memorial Day to the brink of June was new ground for the family, in addition to rarified air for a franchise that had not been this deep into the playoffs in 40 years.

"This game's probably the most emotional I've been all year, watching this game," Dell said. "I know how big it is, how much he wanted it, how much wanted to win tonight."

Stephen's game, much like that of the Warriors, was a greater testimonial to effort than execution. Curry was off, missing 14 of his 21 shots and 8 of 11 3-pointers. Draymond Green was awful, shooting 3-for-15 and turning the ball over three times. And finally, Klay Thompson was out, first with foul trouble, then felled by a knee to the head from Trevor Ariza that had Thompson feeling concussion-like symptoms after the game. (The Warriors are now grateful for the weeklong delay before the start of the Finals, which could give Thompson sufficient time to work the NBA's concussion protocol if necessary).

The Warriors advanced thanks in large part to 24 points from Harrison Barnes and a combined 36 rebounds from Green, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli.

They also benefited from a case of minimizing the moment by the Houston Rockets' James Harden, whose 13 turnovers more than offset the 14 points he scored. He was so awful that it gave credence to The Based God Curse, the supposed hex put on him by rapper Lil B, who was omnipresent at Oracle Arena from the stands to outside the Warriors' locker room, where he held an unlit cigar.

The Warriors can't count on such a dismal performance from the other team's star when they go against the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. Enthusiasm, excitement and even the boisterous Oracle crowd might not be enough in the NBA Finals against LeBron.

"It's going to take more, it's going to take better," Dell Curry said. "I think they realize that. But coming out of the Western Conference, they've faced the best in the league. Clearly the best teams are in the Western Conference, but to be able to come out of here and not be too banged up, but again have time to regroup, get some rest, get [healthy] ...

"They battled all year. To win the Western Conference, [with the NBA's] best record, that's no fluke."

That's what makes the NBA Finals such a fascinating matchup. The Warriors were the best team in the league from the beginning to this point, a dominant team that excelled offensively and defensively. And now they face a dominant player at the top of his game, who just willed the Cavaliers to the Finals even after Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving fell off along the way.

One thing we shouldn't spend much time debating: LeBron is the best player. The father of this season's most valuable player called LeBron the best player. The co-owner of the Warriors, Joe Lacob, called LeBron "arguably the greatest player in the world, maybe ever." Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry likened LeBron to a "freight train going 90 miles an hour."

What's up for discussion is the Warriors' team-wide lack of NBA Finals experience. A team loaded with so many title series newcomers hasn't won a championship since the 1991 Chicago Bulls, who had been forged through the playoff crucible of the Bad Boys Pistons. Stephen Curry tried to counter that with the point that "[LeBron] had to win his first one at some point."

But LeBron won his first NBA Finals on his third crack at it, against an Oklahoma City Thunder team highlighted by championship stage rookies Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and a younger Harden.

For the Warriors to break through they'll need excellent 3-point shooting, defensive discipline with LeBron's passing targets, and better ball control than they exhibited in much of the conference finals. Then they'll have to believe that a superior team trying to reward the support of a basketball-crazed-but-championship-deprived region can end a drought of 40 years against a player driven to end a city's sporting frustration that goes back five decades.

Warriors co-owner Peter Guber, who has written about and frequently tweets testimonies to the power of storytelling, said of the Warriors narrative: "The story is the magic of team, not a collection of players but a great team, led by a great leader, Steve Kerr and his coaching staff, great general manger in Bob [Myers], great president in Rick Welts. When you put all that chemistry together, golden things happen."

In the fairy tale, the magical ride ends with a parade. In the reality, they still have to face the big bad wolf.