The NBA Finals Are A Reminder Of How Great New Jersey Basketball Is
This year's NBA postseason has proven to be one full of nostalgia for New Jersey basketball fans.
The way the playoffs began, with Karl-Anthony Towns being named the league Rookie of the Year, made it impossible to not think of the Timberwolves star's central Jersey roots. In his high school days, you might have spotted him working on his game at Rutgers University's Sonny Werblin gymnasium.
The way the playoffs progressed made Randy Foye's inclusion with the Oklahoma City Thunder that much more interesting. What Foye has done is remarkable, regardless of OKC's failure to make the finals.
Here's a guy who's earned a decade-long career in the NBA, and it all started at a public high school in the heart of the state's biggest city, Newark's East Side High.
Even the sight of Richard Jefferson advancing to the Finals would could make Garden State natives nostalgic. His success this year is a reminder of when Jersey had a team of its own to root for in the NBA Finals, and a time when "J-Rich" dunking and slapping backboards was a common occurrence instead of a once-in-a-blue-moon type of thing.
But never mind that. It's Jefferson's younger teammates who are most relevant to this conversation.
J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving are products of two jewels in New Jersey's basketball crown.
Smith, the son of a former player for Monmouth College -- you know, before all the extra stuff -- transferred from Lakewood High before a stint at Newark's St. Benedict's Prep launched him straight to the NBA.
Irving, who grew up in West Orange, made a similar transfer, going from Montclair Kimberly High School to Elizabeth's St. Patrick.
Had rules not mandated he enter college for at least one year, maybe Irving would've entered the NBA instantly, like Smith, instead of heading to Duke.
Both players are from New Jersey powerhouses that are no strangers to national rankings, and both hold the keys to the Cavaliers' championship bid.
The Golden State Warriors are simply an awkward matchup for the Cavaliers, one tailor-made to expose Kevin Love, who is too slow on defense to be trusted in pick-and-roll action with Draymond Green and no better at protecting the rim as a center.
Love could have the biggest series of his life, for all we know. But right now, it looks unlikely. That makes Irving and Smith's performances that much more important.
The onus is on them to maintain the level of shooting from deep that they've established during the playoffs -- Irving has made 45.6 percent of his threes during the postseason and Smith 46.3 percent of his -- even if only to avoid getting out-paced from the three like Oklahoma City.
And then there's the fact that both Jersey natives will be guarding the Warriors' best players. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson caught fire in the Western Finals. Whether or not Irving and Smith can do any extinguishing will probably determine if Cleveland can win.
The task is huge for both of them, but both of them have huge talent, the type of which reminds us how good Jersey basketball really is.