NBA Finals Preview

No regular season team dominated like the Golden State Warriors. They only had a little adversity this postseason when they trailed the Memphis Grizzlies by a game in the conference semifinals, but they passed that test with three straight convincing wins. It’s been Golden State’s year since October. They deserved to win the West. They benefited from injuries in Oklahoma City, incompetence from the Clippers and whatever happened with Tony Parker and the Spurs, but in spite of all those teams’ shortcomings, the Warriors deserved a shot to win their first championship since 1975. They won 67 regular season games. They’re 12-3 in the postseason. They have the depth because of smart drafting and even smarter coaching.

In January the Cavs had a 19-17 record, and had recently lost to the Philadelphia 76ers without LeBron James when Cleveland made two season-changing trades. Since acquiring J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, along with Timofey Mozgov, Cleveland and Golden State have been the leagues two best teams, and even though they had similar offense success, these two teams couldn’t be any different in terms of how they’re constructed.

Cleveland has been brilliant this postseason on defense, but they didn’t face an offense like Golden State. Atlanta was supposed to be an issue, but they fell apart down the stretch, and as Zach Lowe wrote in his column last weekend, coach Bud couldn’t pin point exactly what went wrong with the Hawks in March and April, and their struggles continued in the postseason. The Cavs toughest match-up was Chicago, but the Bulls had too many issues with their interior play to win that series. People thank the Knicks of kindly trading Smith and Shumpert, but I think the Cavs would’ve won the East if LeBron played with his 07 Cleveland team. LeBron will actually need Kyrie Irving, Smith, Shumpert and Mozgov and everybody else against an actual NBA great team.

Watching Stephen Curry play this postseason has been an absolute joy. I don’t know where Curry ranks as the best player on the planet, but I do know he’s undoubtedly the best shooter ever. He and LeBron have been the co-MVPs of the postseason, and I’m very intrigued on who Cleveland will have cover Curry. Curry doesn’t need much room to get his shot off. He’s fantastic off the dribble. He’s not afraid to pull from wherever. He’s deadly passing the ball, too. He’s a complete offense stud, and Cleveland will have a tough time figuring him out, especially with a limping Irving. Cleveland has held opponents to 28 percent shooting from deep this postseason. Golden State has shot 38 percent from deep this postseason. The three-point shot has played a vital role in the last four NBA Finals, and this year isn’t an exception. The Spurs killed the Heat last season with their 3-point shot, and also they were just a step ahead on offense and defense in that beatdown. The Cavs have better wing defenders than last year’s Heat team. Ray Allen could barely get up and down the floor, and Dwyane Wade didn’t provide much on D. Shump and JR should make Cleveland fans more confident about defending Golden State. But Golden State’s offense might be even better than San Antonio’s last year. The Warriors love making the extra pass for the open three. There will be a game or two this series that the Warriors will look unbeatable, just like they did at times against Houston. But in games one and two, the Rockets were only a few possessions away from winning both games. The Warriors are beatable, but they also have more than one guy capable of trying to cover LeBron James, something Atlanta and Chicago lacked, which could play a factor if Cleveland can limit Golden State’s offense.

Last series against Houston, Golden State had Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green cover James Harden. Harden struggled, at times, getting what he wanted. He settled for more long jumpers than he did in the regular season. Don’t get me wrong, Harden absolutely torched Golden State in three of the five games, but only one of those three games ended in a win, and the other two, Harden was badly exposed by Golden State’s defense. LeBron’s a much different offensive player than James Harden. And with how LeBron has shot from deep this postseason (17 percent), the Warriors should sag off LeBron; similar to how the Spurs covered him the last two seasons. LeBron leads the Cavs in point, rebounds, assists, steals and ranks second in blocks this postseason. He hasn’t been efficient, but he’s been incredibly aggressive attacking the rim, dishing the ball to teammates and fighting for rebounds. No matter how many different guys Golden State can throw at LeBron James, he’s still LeBron James. Golden State won’t mind if LeBron averaged 27 points a game, as long as he doesn’t average eight assists. If LeBron’s passes aren’t resulting in three-point makes, the Warriors will be fine with LeBron scoring. Similar to the Super Bowl a couple years ago that saw the Seahawks defense destroy the Denver Broncos incredible offense, I think the one-week break benefits Golden State’s defensive game plan. Golden State’s had the no. 1 defense for much of the season, and with this week of no games, they can implement the necessary strategy to contain LeBron James.

Paul Millsap can stretch the floor a little bit, but he’s no playmaking four like Draymond Green. Cleveland has a decision on having Tristan Thompson cover Green. That’s a match-up worth watching. Thompson has been a mad man on the boards, and he has scored a nice contract this summer with his play in Kevin Love’s absence. Green has been a Swiss army knife for Golden State all year, but especially this postseason. He hasn’t shot efficiently (43 percent from the field), but he’s passed very well (he’s had six games with at least seven assists), boarded hard (10.8 a game) and has been his typical great defensive self. Green hasn’t made the three at a consistent rate, but he’ll take that shot when he’s open.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry are the two best players in this series. Tristan Thompson and Draymond Green might be the two X-Factors. The supporting casts (Smith, Shumpert, Mozgov, Delly) and (Harrison Barnes, Barbosa, Livingston, Iguodala, Andrew Bogut) heavily favors Golden State. Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson are the third and fourth best players in this series. Irving hasn’t been the same since his injury, but if he can get a better lift on his jumper, and score like he did so many times during the regular season, Cleveland has a major chance in this series. Cleveland has two of the five or six best Iso scorers in the World, but that won’t matter if Kyrie’s not 100 percent. Cleveland won’t have enough offense to overcome the Warriors league-leading defense without Irving. Smith can hit eight threes every game, but the Warriors can outscore the Cavs every night. Klay Thompson was rolling before he was kicked in the head during game 5. Cleveland could have major issues if they let him score a few early points. Thompson, more so than even Curry, thrives on momentum (e.g. his 37-point third quarter against Sacramento).

This series has lots of potential to be a great one. With so much offensive firepower and storylines, it has to go seven games, right? NBA fans deserve seven overtime games each ending in game-winning baskets after the conference finals we had to endure, and that could happen given how well both played during the postseason. Golden State in 7.

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