Mark Price played for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1986 to 1995. He was a four-time All-Star, a first-team All-NBA selection and led the Cavaliers on several nice playoff playoff runs.
But they never quite got to the NBA Finals.
Now, thanks to LeBron James, they have. The Cavaliers beat the Hawks, 118-88, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Tuesday to sweep Atlanta and advance to their second NBA Finals since 2007.
“The city of Cleveland, they’ve been hungry for a chance at a championship for a long time,” Price said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I’m very happy for the franchise and happy for the city of Cleveland.”
Price, who recently became head coach of the Charlotte 49ers, has been impressed with Cleveland’s progression throughout the season. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the Cavs were 19-20 and people were calling the Big Three a failure.
“I think the midseason moves that they made were just tremendous,” Price said. “Getting (Timofey) Mozgof and J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert – you knew that was adding great depth to their team. That was even before you lost guys like Kevin Love to injury and Kyrie Irving. And so those moves, I think, have come to really benefit the Cavaliers during this stretch.”
In fact, some people believe Love’s injury was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed Tristan Thompson to get more minutes. Thompson averaged 11.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game against Atlanta.
“He’s played great,” Price said. “He’s an energy guy. He’s a guy that brings it every single play. It seems like he gets every offensive rebound that there is on the floor. He just brings an energy to their team that I think was missing when he wasn’t out on the floor. So he’s gotten the opportunity when Kevin went down and he’s taken full advantage of it.”
The Cavaliers will likely face Golden State in the NBA Finals. The Warriors can close out Houston in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday.
Golden State went 67-15 during the regular season and is 11-3 in the playoffs.
“They’ve had an unbelievable season,” Price said. “When you got two guys that can shoot the ball like Curry and Thompson, it just puts so much pressure on the defense. For the most part, they’ve been injury-free and stayed healthy. When your main guys do that, you got a great shot. Steve Kerr’s done a great job of coming in and adding to their progress that’s been made the last few years and put his own stamp on it. They just play at a tremendous pace and they’re just so difficult to guard. It take so much energy out of you trying to get a stop against those guys that I think it really plays into their hand.”
Price thinks the Finals could go either way.
“I don’t really think they have an answer for LeBron, and I don’t know that Cleveland has an answer for the two-headed monster of Thompson and Curry,” Price said. “So I think it’ll be really intriguing from game-to-game to see what kind of adjustments would get made.”
Curry and Thompson are prime examples of what the NBA game has become. The Warriors have made 31 three-pointers in their last two games. That really wasn’t the norm in Price’s heyday in the 1980s and 1990s.
“The style of the league has changed quite a bit,” Price said. “When I played, it seemed like every team had a legit 7-footer, (a) low-post scoring player that you could put the ball into. It was much more of an inside-out type of game than you’re seeing now. The amount of three-pointers that are being shot per game now, it’s just off the charts. It’s definitely a perimeter-oriented game – much more so now than it ever has been.”
And yet for all those three-pointers, certain players – such as Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan – still can’t hit free throws.
“To be a professional basketball player and not to be able to make a free throw, it’s just mind-boggling to me,” said Price, who hit 90.4 percent of his attempts. “Obviously that was something I was able to do very well, so I can’t relate to that at all. I always looked at those as free points, man. You got to go up there and take them.”