Act Three: Cavaliers vs. Warriors
For the first time in NBA history, the same two teams will contest the NBA Finals three years in a row. Given the dominance of past teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics in the 1980s, where the two combined to win eight of the possible ten championships in the decade, it is surprising how long it’s taken for two teams to play each other in three consecutive Finals series.
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have reigned supreme in the NBA over the last three seasons and will battle it out to show, for at least a season, who the better team is.
Both sides have been predicted to make the Finals since the days following last year’s series and will now show the basketball world who is the better side.
The Warriors steamrolled through the Western Conference playoffs, not dropping a game as they enter the Finals 12-0 with an average winning margin of 16.3 points.
The Cavaliers dropped just one game on their way to a 12-1 playoff record, scoring 116.7 points per game behind LeBron James’ 32.5 points per game (ppg).
Despite how good both teams have been, none of it matters unless you win the NBA title.
Kyrie Irving vs. Stephen Curry:
Both the Warriors and Cavs have superstar point guards in Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving respectively, however it will be the defensive aspect of each players’ game that will have the biggest impact on the series. Irving and Curry are average defensive players (while guarding someone one-on-one) so their work on when guarding the other will determine which way the series swings.
When Irving is locked in defensively and actively trying, as he did in last year’s Finals, he can be disruptive by using his quick hands and feet to either steal the ball or stay in front of his defender on a drive. Curry was seventh in the league with 1.8 steals per game during the regular season and can be a decent defender, however the Cavaliers will look to attack Curry when on the floor as he’s arguably the Warriors worst defender.
Neither player will shut down the other defensively, but if either Irving or Curry can hinder the impact either one has on the offensive end, even if to just a small degree, it could swing the Finals in their team’s favour.
Kevin Love vs. Draymond Green:
The power forwards for each team could hold the key to how each team fare in the series. Love is scoring over three points more than Green per game (17.2 to 13.9), however Green makes up for his lesser scoring average by contributing almost six more assists per game than his opposite number.
Green is also a far superior defensive player than Love, highlighted by being one of three finalists for the 2016/17 Defensive Player of the Year.
Love’s defence has gotten better since he arrived in Cleveland and he’ll need to be at his best if the Warriors decide to attack him on the defensive end. Green’s ability to guard almost whoever is on the court at any one time could hinder the Cavs and their ball movement, so they’ll need to make good passes and hit more shots than they make (as obvious as that sounds) if they want to limit Green’s impact.
If Love can score consistently when the Cavs run their offence through him or if LeBron or Kyrie aren’t firing on all cylinders, the Cavs stand a chance of hanging with the Warriors and their potent offence.
Bench vs. Bench:
Each bench has former All–Stars; Andre Iguodala (also the 2014/15 Finals MVP) and David West for the Warriors, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver for the Cavaliers. When the stars from each side rest at different moments of each game, it will be those coming off the bench who could determine the winner of the series.
Cleveland’s bench hit form in their last game (Game 5 against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals) as Williams, Korver, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson combined for 40 points.
The Warriors bench scored 32.7ppg in the Western Conference Finals behind Iguodala, Ian Clark and rookie Patrick McCaw.
The Cavs will look to use the deadly shooting of Frye and Korver to score quick points and space the floor for James, Irving and Love, while the Warriors will use constant ball movement and strong defence to get an edge on the reigning champions when their stars are resting.
Both benches are relatively even but the shooting of Cleveland should give it the edge, but if the Cavs offence off the bench falters then the Warriors will take full advantage and swing the series in their advantage.
LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant:
In what could be the best one-on-one battle in the NBA Finals for some time, James, the four-time MVP and reigning Finals MVP, will look to lead his Cavaliers side against the Durant, the 2013/14 MVP.
James has been on a tear this postseason, averaging 32.5ppg, 8 rebounds a game and dishing out 7 assists per contest in what could be his finest playoff run in his career.
Durant has been no slouch either, averaging 25.2ppg, including 33 and 36 in Game’s Three and Four of the Western Conference Finals.
James and Durant will more than likely guard each other, which is where the key to their matchup lies. Durant’s seemingly effortless ability to score could be the biggest hurdle the Cavs will face in winning its second consecutive NBA title as he can get to nearly any spot on the floor and score, thanks in no part to him being 7-feet tall.
James has been shooting a blistering 42.1 per cent on three-pointers this postseason but just 71.2 per cent from the free throw line. If he’s to overcome Durant’s scoring prowess, he’ll need to be able to score efficiently from both inside the key and from behind the three-point arc.
With the loss of Andrew Bogut last offseason, the Warriors are susceptible down low on defence which is where the Cavs will look to hurt them by attacking the rim and grabbing offensive rebounds.
James’ ability to drive and finish inside the key can turn the series and allow Love and Irving to do what they like on the offensive end.
If either player can limit the impact of the other, even by as simply blocking several shots from the other, as James and Durant are too good to be kept in check for an entire game or series, then the series will swing in favour of the player doing better work on the defensive end.
The Cavaliers are the reigning champions and will need every single member of their roster to play at their absolute best if they’re any chance of downing the Warriors. The quadrant of Durant, Curry, Green and Klay Thompson is as fearsome as any four players in one starting lineup has been and I believe that will be the reason why the Warriors will win their second NBA title in three years. If the Cavaliers can limit Golden State’s ball movement then they have a strong chance, but that’s easier said than done and the weapons the Warriors possess will be too much for Cleveland to overcome.
My prediction is the Warriors winning the series 4-2 with Kevin Durant being named the 2016/17 NBA Finals MVP.