This is the matchup we all wanted. Even before pre-season began we wanted to see the Cleveland Cavaliers face the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. This is the first time that two teams have met in the NBA Finals three straight years. After a bunch of lackluster playoff series which featured many blowouts, I hope this NBA Finals is something special.
After blowing a 3-1 lead the Warriors added Kevin Durant. They managed to win 67 games which gave them the best three year run in terms of regular season wins. They struggled for a bit when Kevin Durant first got injured but they have recovered and are 27-1 in their last 28 games. They had the number one offense in the league and were 2nd in defense. They are 12-0 this postseason and never faced a real challenge.
Well why are the Warriors playing so well? Steph Curry has increased his production in the playoffs. He’s at 28.6 ppg, up from his 25 in the regular season. Curry has also increased his FG% and 3pt%. He’s making the dazzling plays that we saw him make all last season. Just think about game 1 against the Spurs in the WCF, even before Kawhi Leonard got hurt Steph Curry was going off in that 3rd quarter.
Despite missing the first two games of the playoffs, Kevin Durant is in a nice groove. Averaging 25 ppg on just 16 shots per game. He’s also improved his FG% and 3pt% in the postseason. Draymond Green is still the elite defender that does all the little things. The Warriors have also received good play from their role players including the biggest surprise JaVale McGee.
Even with all the positives the Warriors have some issues heading into the Finals. Klay Thompson has struggled all postseason. His points are down to 14.4 after averaging 22 ppg in the regular season. He’s only shooting 38% from the field. His defense has been solid but the Warriors are going to need all of their fire power to beat the Cavaliers. Andre Iguodala has also struggled in the playoffs. He’s been hobbled and actually missed a game. He is probably the best matchup for LeBron James and if he’s not 100% it will be a long series for the Warriors. On the other side of the ball he is only shooting 11% from 3pt range. In the two previous postseasons he shot at least 35% from 3pt while making at least 25 3-pointers as the Warriors made back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals. He’s 3-27 this postseason.
As the Warriors cruised in the regular season the Cleveland Cavaliers stumbled their way to just 51 wins. After going into Boston and punishing the Celtics to wrap up a four game winning streak while holding on to the number 1 seed in the East, the Cavs then lost four games in a row and ended up as the 2-seed in the East.
It has been a question all year if the Cavs could reach another level in the playoffs and it didn’t look like it during the first round of the playoffs against the Pacers. Sure the Cavs swept them but each game was a single digit victory. LeBron James did hit another level and that was clear when he led the Cavs back from a 26-point deficit in game 3; he finished with 41 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists.
That game sparked a streak for LeBron, he went on to score 30+ points in the next eight games, all Cavs victories. While LeBron dismantled the Raptors he was waiting for his All-Star teammates to catch up to his high level of play.
It took a while but Kyrie Irving has finally found his groove. He wasn’t playing terrible in the playoffs but he could hit another level. In eight games against the Pacers and Raptors Irving shot over 45% in just one game. In five games against the Celtics he shot at least 60% in four out of five games. His big playoff game came in game 4 when he scored a playoff career high 42 points as the Cavs retook control of the series.
Kevin Love was facing the same problem as Kyrie Irving. He had some solid games but he wasn’t at that next level. In eight games against the Pacers and Raptors he only had three games with double-digit rebounds. He also only had three games with 3-made three pointers. In the five games against the Celtics Love grabbed at least 10 rebounds in every game including a playoff career high 17 rebounds in game 4. He also knocked down at least three 3-pointers in every game including shooting 7-13 in a game 3 loss. Love averaged 22 ppg and 12.4 rpg on 48% from the field and 53% from 3-point range in the Eastern Conference Finals.
As far as the others go, the Cavs bench played their best game in the closeout game against the Celtics. Deron Williams looked fresh as he attacked the basket and knocked down 3s. Kyle Korver managed to get free and knocked double a couple of 3s as well. He has to knock down shots just to keep the defense on their toes.
Keys to winning:
For the Warriors they have to continue to be elite on defense. They can do that by taking care of the ball. At times they can be loose with the ball and that will allow the Cavs to get out in transition which could lead to powerful LeBron dunks or wide open 3-pointers. Klay or someone from the 2nd unit has to step up and make some shots. Curry and Durant will draw a lot of attention so someone else will get open looks. They also need to attack Kevin Love whenever he switches onto Steph Curry. We remember Love getting the stop on Curry in game 7 but the Warriors have to attack that mismatch whenever they get a chance. Finally, they have to find a way to make LeBron work for baskets. Easier said than done especially since LeBron is shooting the 3-pointer so well. Outside of that game 3 against the Celtics LeBron has shot at least 50% in every game in the postseason.
For the Cavs they need to defend at a high level for an entire 48 minutes. They gave up a lot of open shots to non-shooters against the Raptors and Celtics. It will be hard to do that against the Warriors. Kevin Love has to continue to play with this confidence, he’s never looked this good in a Cavs uniform. Last year against the Warriors he only had two games in double digit scoring while hitting only three 3-pointers in the entire series. Kyrie seems to love playing against the Warriors so he should be fine; he needs to continue shoot efficiently while still setting up his teammates. LeBron is putting up 32 ppg, 8 rpg, 7 apg on 56% shooting and 42% from 3; can he play even better?
The Warriors x-factor is Klay Thompson. He’s only had two games over 20 points. He’s been held to single digits twice. His points per game have dropped in each series, and he only averaged 11 ppg against the Spurs. He has yet to knock down five 3-pointers in a game this postseason. He did that 10 times last postseason.
The Cavs x-factor is Tristan Thompson. As a team the Warriors have grabbed 97 offensive rebounds. Thompson has grabbed 55 offensive rebounds on his own. Not to mention he’s shooting free throws very well. His attempts have gone up each series and he shot 72% from the line against the Celtics. As a bonus his scoring has increased each series. If he can grab offensive rebounds or at least knock down a free throw when he gets fouled that will be a big help for the Cavs.
It’s an unpopular pick but I’m going with the Cavs in 6. I think LeBron continues his dominance, they split the first two games in Golden State, drop a close game 5 and then finish in 6. Love and Kyrie will be brilliant in this series and Korver will have a game in which he hits 5 3-pointers. Finals MVP will be LeBron James.