Doing these position by position breakdowns is mostly fun because we all know that they are completely worthless. In all reality — and especially in today’s NBA — rarely are two players on each other for the entirety of a game. Especially with today’s switching defensive schemes, you’re more and more likely to see Stephen Curry end up guarding LeBron James on a pick and roll. Or, you’ll see Draymond Green prowling the court like a hungry tiger, ready to feast. He won’t just be on one player, the player who he theoretically matches up against at his position.
That being said, with the realization that this is all quite silly, I still enjoy breaking it down this way. It lets me get f’ing pumped for the games.
So, here we go! Let’s get up in this thing, Finals edition!
WARRIORS VS. CAVALIERS, PT. 3: OHHHHHHH SNAP, IT’S REALLY ON FOR REAL THIS TIME!
Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving
Lately, Kyrie Irving has been playing out of his mind. I personally cannot remember seeing a player with his combination of natural abilities, feel for the game, redonkulous handles, and ability to finish at the rim while spinning the ball off all corners of the backboard. If Curry’s game is the product of thousands of hours in the gym refining his shooting stroke, working on his ball handling, and working his ass off to prove his detractors wrong, Irving’s game is more a gorgeous birthright of otherworldly talent.
Seriously, what was this?!
Just natural nastiness, in all its pure, unadulterated glory.
In any other match-up, it’d be tempting to give the upper hand to Kyrie. However, this is Stephen Curry — two-time MVP, undisputed king of the three point arc — that we are talking about. Curry is healthy, and he remembers the rage and hopelessness of last year’s collapse. Kyrie is an amazing player, but I have to give the advantage here to Curry.
Klay Thompson vs. JR Smith
Okay, let’s be straight up here. This is basically “The Toaster” vs. “The Pipe,” right? Lol, I kid, I kid. But seriously, Klay Thompson is a VASTLY superior player — both offensively and defensively — than JR Smith. Smith is good for a few heat check moments, but Klay is going to be all over the court swishing threes (hope he gets that stroke back this series) and playing lock-down defense on some of the Cavaliers’ best players. I won’t even dignify this match-up with more words.
Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
Wowzers. Obviously, going against any other small forward in the league other than LeBron, Durant would be far and away the better player. But ............ Man. The funny thing is: I really could see Durant going off in a few games and winning the championship for the Warriors en route to his first Finals victory and first Finals MVP award, and yet LeBron might have an overall more impressive series (a la when Andre Iguodala won Finals MVP basically because of his defense on LeBron, even though LeBron was obviously the most impactful player on the court).
This should be a battle of the ages. I can’t wait to see these two guys go up against each other in an extended series. However...
Draymond Green vs. Kevin Love
Kevin Love has been playing some inspired basketball. In the Eastern Conference Finals vs. a completely over-matched Boston Celtics team, he averaged 22.6 points and 12.4 rebounds per game over the course of the five game series, while posting a total +/- of +107, including a ridiculous +43 in the final, clinching game. His outside shooting has been on fire. For the playoffs, he is shooting 45.7% from the field, including 47.5% from beyond the arc (38-80 so far). After some rocky patches over the years, and after being called out by LeBron a few times, he’s finally — Game 7 had a lot to do with this — found a true home on this Cavs team. He’s a threat from outside, and he’s a beast on the boards.
Draymond Green is much better than him. There’s a reason Draymond was voted to the All-NBA third team, with 134 total points, while Kevin Love did not receive a single first, second, or third team All-NBA vote.
Zaza Pachulia vs. Tristan Thompson
On paper, this is one of the stranger match-ups. Sure, the Warriors will play a lot of small ball against this smaller, fast Cavaliers team. I’m not sure how much we’ll actually see Zaza tilt against Tristan Thompson. But, just physically: Zaza is listed at 6’11”, 275 pounds. Tristan Thompson is listed at 6’9”, 238 pounds. You’d think this would be an unfairly weighted (pun intended) match-up, but Thompson is a crafty beast down there beneath the boards. He knows what he is. He knows he can do. He is going to come into the game, he is going to extend plays by grabbing offensive rebounds, and he is going to demoralize you with his aggressiveness and tenacity.
We’ve seen it before. Every game of the past two Finals, there have been multiple moments where I’ve had to chug a beer or three to quickly erase my displeasure in the face of yet another Tristan Thompson offensive board that keeps the Cavs in the game. Seriously! How does he do it? It’s crazy! It’s infuriating!!
Ugh. Okay. So, even though he is stupidly undersized against Zaza, I have to give him the advantage here, purely from force of history and from the eye test of the past two years.
Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Pat McCaw, Ian Clark, JaVale McGee, David West, Matt Barnes vs. Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, Channing Frye
Andre Iguodala is the best sixth man on the court, even still, as evidenced by his Finals MVP award in 2015. Deron Williams has played well for the Cavaliers, resurrecting his career to a certain extent, but Shaun Livingston is a better player right now. The Cavaliers don’t have anyone to match up with the physicality of JaVale McGee. Richard Jefferson and Matt Barnes will challenge each other to see who can stay relevant in the league for longer. It’s been an amazing run for both players. Kyle Korver could potentially single handedly win a game in this series by himself. He has that fire in his belly.
When it’s all said and done, the Cavaliers are sneaky deep. Channing Frye can ball. He stretches the court in so many different ways. But, also when it’s said and done, the Warriors are the deeper team.
Mike Brown (for now, and possible for good) vs. Tyronn Lue
The Warriors continue to find themselves in a really tough position. Steve Kerr has been healing, but even yesterday admitted that he will not be able to coach in Game 1, nor does he know if he can coach at all in the Finals. It’s crazy, really. (For more, read this interview between Steve Kerr and Tim Kawakami). But, here we are.
Even if Kerr is not on the sidelines, he means so much to this team, and has recently been at practices, shootarounds, and now at games (albeit watching them from the locker room).
Tyronn Lue has handled himself admirably, most notably leading his team back from a 3-1 deficit last year, but until the day Kerr calls it quits for good, Kerr will always be the better coach, even if he can’t handle the in-game stuff.
Plus, the players at this point know his system so deeply that they could run it themselves. They don’t need him there to be able to follow his basketball philosophy, which is namely: Have fun, play free, play with love.
As Kerr himself said in the interview linked above:
Because ultimately we’re better when we have a little hair on fire.
You know. You’ve seen our team now. It’s always a dance. And we want to walk the line.
So, by my tally, the Warriors hold an advantage in every single breakdown other than small forward (LeBron being LeBron), and center (Tristan Thompson being such a sneaky good player). Will that be enough for the Warriors to overcome the defending champions? Will we see Steve Kerr make a triumphant return, especially if the Warriors drop their first game of the playoffs? If they are — say — suddenly down 2-1, like in 2015, will we see him stride out of the tunnel, eyes on fire and fists ready to smash some clipboards?
Man, I hope so. I mean, I don’t hope for them to go down, but I do hope that Kerr finds his way back on-court at some point.
Either way, it’s gonna be a heck of a Finals.
My prediction? Warriors in 5. Kevin Durant MVP. Championship balloons and parades for all.