After a year of “Warriors blow a 3-1 lead” memes and “Is LeBron James the greatest player ever” debates, the Warriors and Cavaliers are meeting in the NBA Finals for the third straight time. Which is the first time in which this has happened.
How we got here
What makes this match-up so intriguing is the history it brings. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love out, Warriors capture their first championship in decades in 2015. Then, with a fully healthy roster, Cleveland turns around and wins three straight possible close out games against a Warriors team that had their fair share of injuries and suspensions.
Then Golden State hit the lottery (a couple of times) in the offseason and acquired a former MVP and four-time scoring champion in Kevin Durant. While the Warriors lost a lot of key bench pieces that drove the “Strength in Numbers” motto that has driven their team, getting Durant and a slew of veteran talent more than makes up for it.
It did not take long for Golden State to show just how deadly they could be. After getting thumped by San Antonio in the first game of the season, the Warriors hit the ground running. Beating teams by nearly 15 points a game on any given night. The reigning MVP Stephen Curry took a while to gain traction (even though he hit the second most three pointers in NBA history at 324), but when Durant went down with a injury, Curry reminded the world how he became a two-time MVP, in leading his team to 14 straight wins with Durant out.
Golden State cake waked through the playoffs, winning 12 straight in dominating fashion. The team won each game by a total of 16.3 points a game, which is an NBA record. With last years finals in the back of their mind and the health of head coach Steve Kerr forcing him to miss this years Finals, the Warriors look motivated more than ever to reclaim the championship that eluded them just a year prior.
For Cleveland, it took a clutch three from Irving and a chase down block from James on Andre Iguodala to secure a historic Finals comeback to capture Cleveland’s first franchise title. The Cavaliers climbed to the mountaintop and James reminded the world just how great he really was.
After some key acquisitions in the regular season, such as Deron Williams and Kyle Korver, Cleveland has one of the best shooting teams in the entire NBA, shooting the highest percentage in the NBA this season. While their defense has taken a hit from last years, the Cavs have made up for it on the offensive side of the ball. This may be the greatest offensive team James has ever played on, which has scares nearly every team in the NBA.
Like Golden State, Cleveland ran into little to no resistance in the playoffs, only losing one game in the playoffs. James is playing the best basketball in his career and powering Cleveland on a collision corse with the Warriors. Kevin Love, who was a virtual no show in last years finals, is looking more and more like he did in his Timberwolves days while Kyrie Irving is touching nets night after night.
While this is a completely different Warriors team that Cleveland faced last year, they are playing their best basketball of the year and is ready for the test that Golden State brings.
X-Factors for each team
Draymond Green– While Curry and Durant are the best players for Golden State, Draymond is the heart and soul of the team. His defensive drove the Warriors to the number one defense in the league and his ability to guard nearly every position makes him a vital piece. He will likely draw the task of defending James, Love, and Triston Thompson at times and stopping those three will ultimately either secure Golden States second title in three years or losing their second straight championship (even with a loaded roster.)
Kevin Love– Every thing goes through LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. But not even those two would be enough to take down the stacked Warriors. Yes, Love is playing at a high level and hitting threes at a record pace, he has not been doing that against Golden State. Love will need to continue to be the three point sniper he’s been this entire playoffs, even with Green guarding him, if Cleveland has a chance to win. His defense will need to be at a high level as well. While we won’t have to worry about Green scoring in bunches to much, Golden State will put him through screen after screen until he gets switched on a player like Curry, Klay, or Durant, and when that happens, Love is at a huge disadvantage.
They win if…
Cleveland– If the Cavs can play enough defense to slow GS down. Yes, Cleveland has stormed through the playoffs, their defense is still a huge question mark. Their were games where their defense looked solid (holding DeMar DeRozan to under 10 points one game in the second round and thrashing Boston by nearly 50 in the conference finals) but more than not their defense was not poor. LeBron and Kyrie will get their points and Love will need to score to steady the ship, but do not let it fool you, Golden State is most certainly not Boston, Indiana, and Toronto, so Cleveland will have to lock in the entire series defensively to stop the high powered Warriors.
Golden State– Klay comes to play! It is expected that Durant and Curry will prove their superstar dome, but Klay will be vital to the championship. His shot has been off this entire playoffs and that does not bold well for GS. Thompson will need to regain his sharpshooting status along with drawing the daunting task of guard Irving. If Klay, along with Durant and Curry are all on their game, and Klay is slowing down Irving, it’s had to see a situation where the Warriors do not end the year victorious. Also, Golden State has those games were they turn the ball over at a high level. That could kill them if they do turn it over against Cleveland, the second best fast break team in the league.
LeBron James is the best player in the world. Kyrie Irving is the best finisher around the rim under 6’4 in the world. Kevin Love, when on-fire, is one of the best shooters in the NBA. Cleveland has a bevy of lethal shooters coming off their bench. Ty Lue has coached this loaded team to two straight finals and Tristan Thompson should impose his will on the boards.
BUT NONE OF THAT SHOULD MATTER! Golden State has four all-stars, two of which as former MVPs. Other than Kerr, the team is healthy. Their bench is just as loaded as it’s been in years. And they have the motivation of the loss from last year epic collapse. Golden State has three of the best shooters in the world and they also have the best defensive efficiency in the NBA. A lot will have to go right for Cleveland and wrong for Golden State if the Warriors do not win this.
Golden State was one game away from being two-time champs. Now replace Harrison Barnes (who couldn’t hit the side of a barn last year) with Kevin Durant.
Warriors in win 6.