NBA Finals Preview
Last night Adam Silver and the powers that be in the NBA had to have been celebrating. With the Golden State Warriors completing their 3-1 comeback in the Western Conference Finals, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88, the NBA got their dream match-up with a rematch of last years Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers Finals.
Last year the Warriors won in 6 over a team featuring LeBron and basically no one else, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love out with injuries. However, that shouldn't take away from what was then an historic season by the Warriors. Of course, the Warriors were able to provide a sequel to that great season by breaking the regular season wins record by going 73-9, an improvement of six wins from last years 67-15 mark, and a game better than the 1995-96 Bulls record of 72-10. So, instead of giving us Jaws II, the Warriors led by repeat MVP Steph Curry, gave us the Godfather Part II.
Do the Cavs have a fighting chance in this series? I would say yes they do, much more than last year, but they definitely have an uphill climb. So what are the keys for each team to win this series?
Starting with the Golden State Warriors:
1. Stay hot from beyond the arc
No matter how much Charles Barkley fights against it, the league today is a jump shooting league and the team that hits the most jump shots from beyond the arc generally wins. Golden State is the best three-point shooting team in history, thanks to the Splash Brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, who both were otherworldly from three this season. In the two games against OKC, the Warriors shot 21/45 and 17/37 from three, good for 38/82 or 46.3 percent from beyond the arc. Again, otherworldly numbers. In order to beat this Cavs team, who can shoot almost as well, they have to maintain a three-point percentage north of 40 percent.
2. Shutdown LeBron's supporting cast
As we have seen in every finals featuring LeBron James, LeBron's success solely depends on the level of play of his supporting cast. When they compete at a high level, they allow him to be the best complete player ever (not BEST EVER, that is Michael Jordan and always will be). When they don't or when the supporting cast is taken out of play LeBron loses, as we saw in 2007, 2013, and 2014. Golden State should allow LeBron to score as many points as he wants and take as many shots as he wants, but when he isn't able to distribute the ball and be a play maker more than a scorer that when he is beatable as we saw last year despite him averaging almost 40 points a game.
3. Do what we do
Final key for the Warriors is to simply, BE the Golden State Warriors. Have that beautiful ball moving, free-flowing, offense. Dominate from beyond-the-arc, never be out of a game. Hit the dagger three as they seem to ALWAYS do. Take advantage of playing small and of their great depth. Play fast and smart, never losing their composure (that's directed at you Draymond). Simply be what could be the greatest team of all-time.
Keys for the Cleveland Cavaliers:
1. Own the paint
OKC had a chance to beat Golden State in the conference finals and before going absolutely frozen from three and totally choking game 6 away, they had an edge on Golden State because they dominated the paint. For the Cavs to win they have to do the same. LeBron has thrived in the past when matched up against Harrison Barnes in the post, so exploit that match-up. Use the post ability of Kevin Love against Draymond Green. Most importantly though they have to dominate the offensive glass. A sure-fire way to get wide-open three pointers is off of offensive rebounds. With great offensive rebounders Tristan Thompson, Love and LeBron, the Cavs can get those second chance opportunities which will be the key to keeping up with Golden State's three point barrages.
2. Strong play from Big Three
The success of the Cavs begins and ends with the play of the Big Three. So far this postseason the Cavs Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love have played the best they ever have together. Averaging a combined 66.2 points per game, the Big Three is leading an offense that has outscored opponents by an averaged of 13.4 points per 100 possessions. When all three are playing at a high level that allows the supporting cast to have the space necessary to hit open shots and add to the already record breaking performance from three. However they also need strong performances from them on defense. Kyrie will have to play the best defense of his life on Steph, and Love will have to prove that he isn't too much of a liability defensively so he can stay on the floor. To have another moment like the one above, the Big Three need to bring their best on both sides of the ball to win this series.
3. Strong supporting cast performances from beyond the arc
As I just mentioned the Cavs have been amazing from beyond the arc this postseason. Shooting a blistering 43.4% from the arc despite a poor Eastern Conference Finals. In order for the Cavs to win this series they have to go shot for shot with the Warriors as stopping them is a near impossible task. The Cavs need a game where Channing Frye and JR Smith combine for 40 points from beyond the arc, plus a consistent 25-30 from them. They need Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavadova and Richerd Jefferson to hold leads and be a part of the killer bench lineup with LeBron against Golden State's second unit. They need to play the series of their lives.
On one side of this match-up, we have a team looking to be the best team of all time. On the other side, we have a team and a city that has waited 52 years for a title. In order for the Cavs to win, the first step would be taking Game One. The only way I can see this team winning is in six games, as a game 7 in Golden State would be an almost guaranteed defeat.The Cavs and LeBron could storm through and play with an unmatched fury and take revenge on this Warriors team. This Cavs team is different under Tyronn Lue and that will help them compete and give them a better chance to win than when they were under David Blatt. Although my heart breaks to say it as a Cavs fan, and I hope I'm wrong, the Warriors will take this series, because eventually, even if down 3-1 like before, the Warriors will start hitting shots. And once they do, they don't stop.
Prediction: GS caps their dream season with a second title. Warriors in 7
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