North Carolina has plenty of connections to NBA Finals

Steph Curry, Quinn Cook among area players competing for league title

Warriors guard Quinn Cook guards Rockets guard Chris Paul during Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. Cook is one of several people with ties to N.C. participating in the NBA Finals. (Troy Taormina / USA TODAY Sports)

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will play for the NBA championship this year.

For the fourth year in a row, the NBA Finals feature a Warriors-Cavs matchup, the longest streak in NBA history.

While the teams haven’t changed, both rosters have seen plenty of turnover in the past four years. Looking back to the 2015 Finals matchup, Golden State featured former Tar Heels Harrison Barnes and James Michael McAdoo, while UNC’s Brendan Haywood and Duke’s Kyrie Irving played for Cleveland. All have moved on over the past four seasons. Former Blue Devil Dahntay Jones came and went from the Cavaliers roster.

So, with the 2018 versions of the teams tipping off on Thursday night, here’s a look at the North Carolina connections on Cleveland and Golden State.

The alumni

Stephen Curry: The Davidson and Charlotte Christian High alumnus has been the face of Golden State since the Warriors took their place at the top of the NBA hierarchy. This season was a tough one for the two-time MVP. Curry battled injuries that limited him to just 51 games, his fewest since ankle and foot problems held him to 26 games in 2011-12. The right ankle cost him two weeks in December, and a sprained MCL in his left knee kept him out for more than a month spanning the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. Curry appears to be back to top form after torching the Rockets in the Western Conference finals. Curry scored 11 straight points to lead a Game 7 comeback, finishing with 27 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists and four steals in the deciding game.

Quinn Cook: The former Duke point guard and lone senior on the 2015 national champions finally got an extended NBA shot after years of bouncing around with minor league teams and cups of coffee in the league. In 33 games with Golden State, which tripled his career total for games played, Cook averaged 9.5 points and 2.7 assists. He has reached double digits in scoring four times in the postseason, including 11 against Houston in Game 3. Cook helps extend Duke’s NBA Finals streak, one which puts Golden State’s and Cleveland’s to shame. At least one former Blue Devil has made it to the NBA Finals for the last seven years. Only Texas (eight) has a longer current run.

Rodney Hood: Duke has a pair of former players in the Finals for the second straight year, as Hood joins his former teammate in representing the Blue Devils. Hood played one year for Duke after transferring from Mississippi State. He joined Cleveland in a trade deadline deal and averaged 10.8 points in 21 games. He’s played sparingly in the postseason, averaging just 4.9 points in 15.6 minutes.

The near-alumni

Shaun Livingston: A holdover from the high-school-to-pro era, Livingston was a Duke commit before choosing to enter the 2004 NBA Draft straight out of high school. Livingston heads to his fourth straight Finals with Golden State. The 32-year-old averaged 5.5 points in 15.9 minutes off the bench this season, but he’s boosted his production and playing time slightly in the postseason. Livingston also has the honor of being the only former Charlotte player in this year’s Finals. He suited up for the 2010-11 Bobcats, averaging 6.6 points in 73 games off the bench.

J.R. Smith: Another high-school-to-NBA player, Smith had signed a letter of intent with UNC before declaring for the draft after the 2004 McDonald’s All-American Game. One of the game’s true characters, Smith is in his fourth straight Finals with Cleveland and is known for his shirtless celebrations following the team’s 2016 championship. He averaged 8.3 points as a starter for the Cavaliers this year.

The high school alumni

David West: The 37-year-old veteran is headed to his second straight Finals with Golden State as part of his 15-year NBA career with four teams. West played for Garner Magnet High School in Garner, N.C., before transferring to Hargrave Military Academy to complete his high school career. As a backup center, West averaged 6.8 points per game this year for the Warriors, boosting his average by more than two points from last season.

On the bench

Larry Drew: The Cavaliers associate head coach took over as interim coach for nine games when Tyronn Lue was suffering from health problems. He’s best known around this state for his son, Larry Drew II, who spent three years as UNC’s point guard, winning an NCAA title in 2009 before transferring to UCLA for his final season.

Mike Longabardi: Another member of the Cleveland staff, Longabardi had a brief stopover in North Carolina, starting his coaching career in 1996-97 as an assistant for Pfeiffer University.