What: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors (series 0-0)
Where: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA
When: Thursday, June 1st, 6PM PST
There is no “little guy” in this upcoming battle of juggernauts. The historically great Golden State Warriors will try and dethrone the defending NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are helmed by perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, LeBron James, who coincidentally happens to be playing some of the best ball of his career.
After another amazing season and a quick romp of sweeps through the Western conference, we finally get the opportunity for redemption that the Warriors players and their fans have been itching for. Ever since the Cavaliers brought last season to such a painful, unsatisfying end (and opened the door to Kevin Durant joining our team) we’ve all been waiting for this second shot.
Beyond that, the result of this series will reverberate stories and narratives down through the years. This is the first time in the history of the NBA that two teams have faced off in three consecutive NBA Finals. And heck, it may not even be the last time these teams see each other with the trophy on the line — so, let’s go make some history!
Why the Warriors can win this
I know we added a big name free agent in Durant, but let’s start off with the man who drives the offense — Stephen Curry.
Curry, if you haven’t noticed, is having a very good post season, even as he copes with a lingering sore elbow. He’s shooting a post-season career high 28.6 points per game on .675 TS% (also a career best). And make no mistake, Curry takes this seriously. He’s been stewing over the end of last season, and (as always) finding a way to use the doubters as motivation. As he told ESPN’s Chris Haynes a few days ago:
“Just having an opportunity to rise to the occasion knowing this is when things matter most,” he said. “But I’ve been playing pretty solid all year. Whether people notice it or not, want to talk about it or not, or praise it or not, it doesn’t really matter. Now in the bright lights is when you got to continue to do it, and that’s what I’m trying to do...
Locked in. The two-time MVP notices what he needs to do and I think he can do it.
His defense is also on point, and it will need to be. As our venerated Eric Apricot broke down the other day, Curry and the Warriors have added a wrinkle that helps solve one of the biggest recurring problems — James initiating the pick and roll against Curry. We’ll see if it can hold, but it’s good to have options.
Curry is a heady defender, with a nose for the ball. Of course he leads the post season with 53 three pointers made, but he also leads the league this post season (by a lot) in loose balls recovered. Making both Lebron and Kyrie Irving uncomfortable with the ball and (hopefully) inefficient will be a critical job that starts with Curry’s busy hands. But not too busy! We need him to stay out of foul trouble.
Speaking of busy hands
Durant and Draymond Green are also having excellent runs in the post season, both offensively and defensively. We are at the point in the season where we have now met Durant’s raison d'être with the Warriors — make the Cavaliers pay for giving too much attention to Curry. I already talked about it a bit, but I really do think Durant is going to break down the Cavaliers defense by the end of this series. It’s a testament to Curry that Durant is the second leading scorer for the Warriors in the post season, but Durant is a significant weapon in his own right.
So far this post season Durant has averaged about 25 points and eight rebounds per game on a lofty TS% of .673. For a team that runs such a short rotation, it will behoove the Cavaliers to try and keep James away from chasing Durant around. But Durant will inevitably get free and force the Cavaliers to look long and hard at their wing rotation as the series goes on.
Green may not be averaging as many points as Curry and Durant, but his 14 points per game are coming via an insane 42% from beyond the arch. He’s also the only player to rank in the top 10 in post season offensive and defensive rating. We don’t need him to keep shooting that well, and he probably won’t, but his defensive presence alone could swing the series.
A worthy opponent
Ugh, the Cavs. They’re better than they were last year. They may not have added a player anywhere near the caliber of Durant, but their incumbent super star more than makes up for it. I’m not going to heap any more accolades on the guy, but suffice it to say that slowing down James is priority number one.
And it will be a tough challenge. The 13 time all-NBA player ravaged his way through the Eastern conference playoffs after coasting through the regular season. Averaging 32 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, 2.2 steal, 1.4 blocks, James is doing everything; and all at the very top of the NBA echelon.
It’s not just about James though. Irving and Kevin Love are finally settling in as Robin to James’ Batman. Neither will necessarily carry a team on their own, but with all the attention James garners, both of these players can be brutally effective offensive players.
Bottom line is that both teams are mostly healthy. But it’s the “mostly” that we should discuss.
On the Warriors side, Andre Iguodala is struggling with some sort of knee issue. It’s a little concerning, given his history with knee problems and the lack of media presence. But, he has said he’s good, so here’s hoping! It’s been nine full days off which should be sufficient time to heal.
As Bram covered, there is an outside chance that Steve Kerr could return to the sidelines in this series. Way outside, if you ask me. He went out saying he wouldn’t come back till his health was right, and as he himself said on Wednesday, that’s not now.
Irving is really the only Cavalier with a slight whisper of an injury. He rolled his ankle pretty badly (by my eye) but soldiered through and delivered what was an undeniably great performance. I wouldn’t anticipate any lingering effects, but if Irving does re-roll that same ankle, as we saw with Kawhi Leonard, it can be devastating.
Oh, I love this part!!
OK, so I’m calling a bunch of really close games within single digits. But Warriors pull out both of the first two games (with game 1 being the most sphincter-clenchingly close). Then we split at Cleveland to return home with the series at 3-1.
Warriors in 5.