After 7 nights without basketball on television, the NBA Finals are set to kick off Thursday night as the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors look take home the Larry O’Brien trophy. Saying the team’s paths to the Finals were different would be an understatement.
The Warriors clearly had the tougher path of the two teams. The Dubs swept Anthony Davis and the Pelicans in round one (the series was much closer than the word sweep usually means). They then took care of a Grizzlies team in six games that struggled to score from outside the paint, followed by a dismantling of the Rockets where they seemed to play better in Houston than at home.
The Cavaliers played a scarily similar number of games to get the Finals (10 compared to the Warriors 11), but there is no debating the competition they faced was not on the same level as the teams the Warriors faced. The Cavs seemed to toy around with the Celtics, sweeping them in the first round. They then beat a Bulls team in six games that towards the end struggled to score and seemed to be on the verge of exhaustion. The
LeBrons Cavaliers then easily handled whatever was left of the 60-win Hawks team in the conference finals.
These two teams were definitely the best teams from their respective conferences in the playoffs, and actually also from the second half of the season on. Since January 9 when these two teams faced off at Oracle Arena, the Cavaliers and Warriors were the teams with the top two records in the league.
Enough about everything that has happened to this point. Here are some facts: the Warriors are the deeper team, and that became even more important once the Cavaliers lost Kevin Love to a shoulder injury. Even with over a week off, team depth at this time of year becomes one of the most important things a team can have (just ask the Clippers).
Kyrie Irving is also not at 100 percent and it appears he may not be until next year. That means its really LeBron with some above average role players against the Warriors. Klay Thompson has already been cleared to play in Game 1, so I have no reason to believe he will be affected by the concussion he had.
Golden State was the best offensive AND defensive team in the league this season. The Cavaliers have been a team on that level since the calendar changed to 2015. This series has all of the makings of being an all-time good one, simply because it showcases the best player in the world against the best team in the league.
Well…while it has a chance to go seven games and be one of the best ever, my heart is telling me this NBA Finals could get ugly. The Cavaliers are severely undermanned and the Warriors are the exact type of team that can take advantage of that. Their pace of play will eventually wear the Cavs down, it just depends on if the LeBrons can avoid feeling the fatigue until the series is over.
I went nearly 500 words talking about the NBA Finals without mentioning the MVP. No, not LeBron James who is still the best player in the world when he wants to be, but the best shooter I have ever seen in Stephen Curry. The baby-faced assassin (how has that nickname not been used more?) has been playing at a high level all season, and seems to have taken his game to an even higher one in the playoffs.
I think I’ll let LeBron tell you how you can try to slow down Stephen Curry:
That pause though! That was what sold it and made it even funnier. Well played, LeBron. He’s right. When these guys want to they can score on anyone. So they almost cancel each other out in that regard, making the other eight players on the floor that much more important in deciding the outcome of the game.
LeBron has been slowed down by someone this postseason: himself. He is shooting 17.6 percent from 3-point range in this year’s playoffs! Now that is not to say LeBron has not been dominant for stretches when he has had to be. I wonder how much of that is him knowing he has to do so much for this team to win because of the injured players falling around him.
LeBron has to shoot better from deep if that Cavs want to have any chance of winning this series. The Warriors (coached by former Spur and Coach Pop disciple) will almost certainly challenge LeBron early and often to beat them by shooting, just as the Spurs did back in 2013. This means going under screens, something that could affect everyone else on the floor offensively for the Cavs as well.
The other thing to watch is how each team matches up with the other on defense. Where are the Cavs going to hide the less than 100 percent Kyrie? Who is going to (try to) guard LeBron and Steph? The Draymond Green against Tristan Thompson will be a matchup to watch, especially to see how/if Draymond stays out of foul trouble. The Warriors are a significantly better team this postseason with him on the floor.
How each team is going to defend the pick and roll will also be a key this series. Not only how the coaches decide to play the pick-and-roll in Game 1, but also how they make adjustments and change the look as the series goes on.
Every playoff series is just as much about how teams adjust and change as it is the actually players on the floor. That was makes the NBA playoffs so different from the regular season. My heart wants me to bet this series could be one of the most lopsided, least entertaining Finals since last year (Go! Spurs! Go!), meaning statistically speaking the Warriors could sweep the banged up Cavaliers.
I can’t go with my heart again after my heart truly believed the Spurs were going to go back-to-back as a No. 6-seed. My head is telling me that the Warriors are still going to win: better team, more talent, too good on both ends of the floor. That doesn’t mean the Cavs won’t be able to steal one at Roar-acle, where the Warriors are 46-3 this season including the playoffs. I just think too much Curry and Warriors bench and not enough LeBron to make up for it. So my pick is:
Warriors in 6