The NBA Finals are finally upon us. From the Eastern Conference, we have the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by NBA superstar LeBron James. And from the Western Conference, we have the Golden State Warriors, who won 67 games this year and were the class of the NBA this season. Both teams have had some things happen to them along the way that have made them stronger teams. But only one team will be at full strength coming into the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors. The Cavs are playing without power forward Kevin Love and have a gimpy Kyrie Irving scheduled to play in Game 1. But with that being said, the Cavs have found a way to make it happen and persevere. The Warriors, in the meantime, had a couple bumps and bruises to their Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Both looked to have concussions but only Klay was determined to have one as a result of an inadvertent knee to the head from Rockets guard Trevor Ariza in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The series starts on Thursday and there will be plenty things to talk about, but what it may ultimately come down to is a couple different things for each team.
We all know that LeBron James is the best player on the planet right now. But we also know that it is almost impossible to stop him from get where he wants to go on the court. With that being said, the only thing the Warriors can hope to do is slow him down. In doing that, the Warriors have an advantage because of their depth. LeBron will probably get his numbers, but if the Warriors want to win, they have to take advantage of their depth and wear on LeBron. A rotation of Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and possibly Andre Iguodala will more than likely be the main competition guarding James. Draymond Green has his hands full in keeping Tristian Thompson off the boards and that could limit the time he has to guard LeBron. But as for Thompson and Iguodala, they have the size to deal with LeBron along with the defensive prowess. Both of these two along with Green could make it harder on LeBron to get to the basket and put pressure on defensives. And when the defense collapses, that is when LeBron is even more dangerous. At that point, LeBron will then starting picking through the defense to make pinpoint passes to his teammates. And when the supporting cast is contributing and hitting shots that could be serious trouble. The best bet of the Warriors would be to force James to make perimeter shots and offer just a little bit of a show regarding defensive help. The more he has to score and go at it with his teammates less involved, the more he will have to feel he has got to win the game by himself.
Another big thing for the Warriors versus the Cavs is rebounding. The Cavaliers absolutely killed the Atlanta Hawks on the boards last series and this series they have potentially an advantage with Tristian Thompson on their team. With Thompson, the Cavaliers are posting the third-best offensive rebounding differential in the NBA playoffs (+2.2) along with the best rebounding differential in the playoffs with +6.5. Thompson has been a bull in a china shop with his relentless pursuit of the basketball reminds some of Dennis Rodman and his rebounding wizardry. He, along with Timofey Mozgov, can cause some problems with the Warriors inside. Golden State has depth, but they would rather stay out of foul trouble when it comes to the likes of Thompson and Mozgov. With the Warriors, they must use Draymond Green to match up with Thompson. These two are both versatile players and they are also both barometers for their team’s success beyond the usual suspects. And Green has the great ability to defend taller players no matter what size. And in the case of Mozgov, it will be interesting to see how the matchup between Mozgov and Andrew Bogut swings. Bogut was and still is a great defender after making 2nd team All-Defense, so he will more than likely hold his own down there. And the best thing about Green and Bogut is they don’t have to do it all by themselves. The Warriors also have center Festus Ezeli, power forward David Lee and others that will be there reinforcements to help.
For the Cavaliers, they have to have their team slow down the basketball game. The best way for the Cavs to do that is to slow down the basketball game just a little bit. The Cavs are more of an isolation team at times, so doing this could be a problem. But it also could be a problem if they play a little bit too fast and get hammered by the Warriors in transition. The best way to slow them down and keep them out of transition is to make baskets. Players like Kyrie Irving, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert will need to stay hot when shooting the threes and jump shots. When you shoot well against Golden State, the tempo is right there in your hands and you control the pace of the game. The more your team controls the tempo, the more Golden State has to run halfcourt offense. The Warriors are more than capable of running halfcourt offense, but they are also more prone to turning the ball over because of getting too flashy or just not valuing the basketball. And the other main thing that slowing the game down does for Cleveland is makes it easier for them to set their defense. The Cavaliers have been very good defensively in the playoffs, only giving up 92.6 points per game. The more they are able to get back and defend the Warriors, the better the Cavaliers choices are in defending the Warriors.
Another thing the Cavs must do to win is keep the Warriors out of the paint. You would not think a team that is perceived as a jump-shooting team would need to be kept out of the paint, but the Warriors do it in an unusual way. They use movement and penetration to make things easier to get to the basket. For Cleveland, the trade for Mozgov game them a rim protector and someone that could deter guards from coming inside at times. He will have to be big for the Cavs this entire series for them to win. But not only he will have to be big, but so will the rest of the Cavaliers defense. One guy that could defend Draymond Green this series could be James Jones. The veteran wing player has been playing some power forward this season and he could help deter Green from shooting that three he tends to shoot off penetration and in transition because of his length and his ability to guard on the perimeter. Now he will be at a disadvantage on the block and rebounding, but he will have help there as well in Mozgov and Thompson perhaps as well. And speaking of defending the three, the Cavaliers would like to force the Warriors to shoot them more because they are only giving up the three at a 28.1% clip. That is by far the best of the teams that were in the NBA postseason.
The Cavs and the Warriors is a battle that many wanted to see in this postseason. The case of the former MVP in LeBron James versus the reigning MVP in Steph Curry. Both will have impacts on this series along with the usual players, but in regards to how this series will go, these points along with the depth of the Warriors and lack of depth of the Cavs will have an impact. In the end, the depth of the Warriors will prove too much for the Cavs and LeBron James. The Warriors win this series in six games and will prove there truly is strength in numbers.