Playoffs: 12-5 (9-1 HOME)
Playoffs: 12-2 (5-2 ROAD)
June 2, 2016
|Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA
|ABC | KNBR 680 AM
|Blog Buddy: Fear the Sword
|Harrison Barnes / Andre Iguodala
|No injuries reported
It's the same, except it's different
It's the same teams with largely similar rosters as last year, but the stakes are higher in the 2016 NBA Finals. Despite a record breaking 73 regular season wins, among a host of other records this season, a seemingly endless list of players, teams, fans, and idiot broadcasters continue to dismiss the Warriors as lucky and undeserving of the 2015 title. Make no mistake, the 2015 Golden State Warriors earned a title as the best team in basketball. Another title in 2016 would add to their legacy and put an end to the ongoing disrespect directed at this emerging dynasty.
Golden State's roster hasn't changed much since winning the title last year, other than the departure of David Lee and signing of Anderson Varejao after he was released by Cleveland during the season. But the returning players are anything but the same, exhibiting a champion's swagger with the grit to fend off the challenge from every team placing a bull's-eye on their backs all season long. The Warriors have grown even stronger since last year.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are optimistic that changes in head coaches and personnel can bridge the gap between the two teams since last season. Tyronn Lue took over the coaching reins from David Blatt (and player-coach LeBron James) midway through the 2016 season with hopes of getting Kevin Love more involved in the offense, with some success. The mid-season signing of Channing Frye improved Cleveland's three-point shooting and spread the floor on offense, which has moved away from big man Timofey Mozgov in favor of Tristan Thompson, rebounder extraordinaire.
Lineup challenges for Cleveland
Ty Lue is talking a big game about staying true to a "big" lineup, but that seems counter to what has been working for Cleveland in the playoffs. They have had great success on offense with lineups that include LeBron, Love, and Frye, which lead to better three-point shooting opportunities. Mozgov hasn't been playing at all lately, so how big is Lue suggesting that he'll go?
The challenge for Lue will be keeping Love on the court as the Warriors expose his less than remarkable defense, particularly when Kyrie Irving is also on the court. The Warriors will use the pick and roll on those two relentlessly. It sounds crazy, but Lue may need to consider giving more minutes to Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert over Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith to emphasize defense over offense.
Potential lineups for Golden State
The Warriors have lineup questions of their own. In 2015, the Warriors beat the Cavs in three straight games after replacing Andrew Bogut with Andre Iguodala in the starting lineup. Will the Warriors start the series with the heralded small ball death squad? Alternatively, will they go with the same starting lineup as in Game 7 versus the Thunder, replacing Harrison Barnes with Iggy? Nobody will know until closer to game time, not even Harrison Barnes.
Beyond the starting lineup, the Warriors must make some decisions as to how to use their centers. Steve Kerr prefers to use small lineups for five minute segments because they drain energy from Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes as they typically defend much bigger players.
When the Warriors bring a big man into the game, who will it be? Andrew Bogut struggled mightily in the Finals last year, unable to box out Tristan Thompson when battling for rebounds. Festus Ezeli seems better suited to wrestling with Thompson, but Festus is a liability on offense and falls prey to the Hack-an-Ezeli strategy.
If Kerr decides that he needs to play a center other than Bogut or Ezeli, he can count on Anderson Varejao for incredible energy but lower levels of skill (aside from this amazing stretch in Game 7). Marresse Speights generally plays with the second unit and is not known for his rebounding prowess, so it would be surprising to see his role change dramatically.
With the question marks remaining at the center position, expect Iggy and Shaun Livingston to see increased minutes if the traditional centers prove to be ineffective. Carry on the Don Nelson tradition of small ball!
Let's get it on
The Warriors dealt with injuries to the league's back-to-back MVP while battling the talented Western Conference this Spring while a healthy Cavaliers squad cruised through the weaker Eastern Conference. The setup couldn't be any better for Cleveland. The time for excuses are over - here's your chance, Cavs. Show the world what you can be with all of your stars. The defending NBA champion Dubs are up for the challenge.