Jun. 13, 2017
2017 NBA Finals Preview/Prediction
The trilogy, the clash of the titans and whatever else you want to call this matchup; it’s here. We know the story well at this point. The Golden State Warriors won the 2015 NBA Championship, but the Cleveland Cavaliers were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. So in the mind of Cavaliers and LeBron fans, that doesn’t count. The following year, the historic 73-win Warriors went up 3-1 only to see LeBron and Kyrie go berserk and lead the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history. But if you ask a Warriors fan, they’ll tell you the combination of Draymond Green’s suspension and injuries to key players cost them the series. Meanwhile in the Warriors front office, they completed their master plan and brought Kevin Durant into the fold. Now there are no excuses. Both teams are as healthy as possible and have had cakewalks to the Finals. So Cavs and Warriors fans, please do us all a favor and take your loss with honor when your team falls. No excuses.
Team notes and interesting stats can be found
Keys for the Cavs
Defense: The Cleveland defense will face it’s toughest test yet in the Warriors. Last year, the Cavaliers kept a body on the Splash Brothers at all times. The Cavs were physical, they trapped and had the luxury of cheating off of Harrison Barnes and provide extra help. This year, Barnes has been replaced by Kevin Durant. Furthermore, the Warriors offense is a fluid well oiled machine. While they have guys who can score off the dribble, that's not their aim. They utilize a flurry of off the ball screens, ball movement and man movement to rip defenses apart. Everyone seems to be under the assumption that the Cavs can flip the switch on defense when the time comes for them to do so. They better do it in this series or they'll be in trouble.
LeBron and Kyrie Staying Aggressive: Cleveland is at their best when their two best players are in attack mode. Go rewatch last season’s NBA Finals if you’re in need of a reminder. LeBron and Kyrie are devastating enough on their own, but all but unbeatable when they’re clicking at the same time. They’re combined assault on the paint forces teams to collapse down and gives LeBron opportunities to find open shooters. It’s these opportunities that will get the role players involved in the offense and greatly balances the total team. Kyrie can finish in just about any scenario no matter who is contesting him. Applying pressure on the splash brothers while they attempt to guard him can wear them down on the other end. And finally, we’ve seen what happens when LeBron goes passive; the Cavs lose. And against these Warriors, any passive behavior from either LeBron or Kyrie will result in embarrassing blowouts dealt to them by Golden State.
Kevin Love: Remember last year when Love could barely get minutes and lost his starting job for a few games to Richard Jefferson? It feels like an alternate reality at this point because he’s played so well this season. It’s really simple for the Cavs and the performance of Love. They’ll win the series if Love continues to knock down shots, be a force on the glass and continues throwing down the court bombs to LeBron. Love has been sending some light trash talk back at the Warriors. Draymond will definitely be waiting for him come Thursday.
Adapt to Warriors Rotation: The fourth and final key for the Cavs to secure a repeat is to adapt to the Warriors rotation. One strength everyone easily hands to the Cavs is the advantage of their bench and depth. Depth is certainly a weakness of the Warriors, but it is well hidden because of their star power. If you watch closely, you’ll see that the Warriors bench are rarely on the floor alone. At the very least, the Warriors will have two of their big four on the floor at all times. That can be deadly for the Cavs depending on who the Warriors leave on the floor. The Warriors normally pair off Draymond/Klay and Steph/KD. So the Cavs will have to get slick and leave some firepower on the floor when the Warriors begin flipping their rotations around. Against the Death Lineup, the Cavs have an advantage because of Andre Iguodala’s health and cold shooting. They can use this opportunity to apply pressure on the Warriors shooters like last year if they treat Iguodala like Harrison Barnes of 2016.
Keys for the Warriors
Turnovers: This is the most glaring weakness the Warriors have, but they have gotten away with it time and time again. I doubt they’ll be so fortunate if they turn the ball over against the Cavs. The Warriors are often times too cute and loose with the basketball. A Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard didn’t have the firepower to take advantage of these outrageous turnovers, but a team with LeBron and Kyrie will turn those chances into points. Golden State should know they have to tighten up on the turnover seeing how this crucial stat helped cost them Game 7 of last year’s Finals (remember Steph’s idiotic behind the back pass?). So this needs to be preached constantly to a Warriors team that often times let their ego get the best of them.
Rebounding: Weakness number two of the Warriors is their perceived softness inside. While the Cavaliers haven’t been beast on the offensive glass thus far (8.3 offensive rebounds per game), we have to remember how Tristian Thompson and LeBron James dominated the paint. Last year, the Cavs averaged 11.7 offensive rebounds and 16.3 second chance points per game. Even with their good defense, the Warriors cannot allow the postseason’s best offense to get extra looks. They have to close out defensive possessions and get the ball out on the fast break. Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale Mcgee must help Draymond on the glass. for them to find success. In fact, that should be the only thing on their minds.
Being Smart on Defense: In the last two NBA Finals, LeBron James has averaged 32.5 points, 12.2 rebounds, 8.8 assist, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He’s not going to stop now. The Warriors can throw a lot of bodies at him like Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green. But it won’t matter in the long run because LeBron is LeBron. The most you can hope for is an unproductive 30 point performance. What will matter is the production of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cavalier players. Kevin Love had trouble getting playing time in last year’s finals, but this year he is averaging 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds while throwing full court passes all over the place. He’s not a liability anymore. Kyrie Irving needs no introduction and the Cavs are loaded with shooters. Since Draymond will likely spend most of his time on LeBron, KD will have to guard Love on the perimeter and keep him off the glass. Stifling Kyrie (the best one on one player in the league) will be an even tougher task that Klay and eventually Steph (when forced to switch) will have to figure out. Going at him on offense (like Kyrie did to Steph last year) is an option to wear him down. Most importantly of all, they have to eliminate the Cavs shooters. The Warriors could’ve blown Game 7 open last year, but JR Smith hit key three-pointers in the third quarter. Golden State would be wise to make sure no unsung heroes appear to aid the Cavs effort.
Klay Thompson: Last but certainly not least is Thompson’s shooting. He's always been streaky, but he’s been more cold than hot for the majority of the playoffs. To his credit, that hasn’t been a negative on his defense (which has been underrated in the playoffs), but eventually he’ll need to start knocking down the looks he’s getting. I’m sure the Cavs won’t take a chance leaving him open, but he cannot risk becoming a negative on offense any longer.
So will it be repeat or revenge for this third installment? I’ll side with revenge for the second straight season and pick the Warriors in 6 games. I believe Golden State has already seen the best defense they’ll play in the postseason. I don’t believe the Cavs defense will consistently be able to rise to the occasion. I’ll let Kobe Bryant explain the intricate details of the Warriors offense.
Now while the Cavs defense has improved during the playoffs, consider who they were playing and compare them to what the Warriors bring to the table. They don’t compare. And even if the Cavs manage to smash apart the Warriors offensive strategy, it becomes a matchup of LeBron and Kyrie vs. KD and Steph. But don’t forget that KD and Steph have two other all-stars in their back pocket. Finally, the Warriors defense is very underrated and will have something to say about this series. They won't stop LeBron or Kyrie outright, but I expect them to limit the amount of help they gets from their teammates.