At long last, the NBA Finals are upon us, and unsurprisingly, we have a rematch of last year’s championship. Yes, once again, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors will square off. Can the Warriors put the cherry on top of their historic season, or can LeBron finally deliver a title to his championship starved hometown?
(1) Golden State Warriors (73-9)
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)
Last year, the Cavs jumped out to a 2-1 series lead before the Warriors figured things out and won three straight to clinch the title. Cleveland was missing Kevin Love, and after Game 1, Kyrie Irving. This year, both of them are healthy, which will take the burden off of LeBron James, who seemingly did everything for the Cavs last year. With his squad at full strength, LeBron hasn’t had to expend as much energy in this year’s Playoffs, and the Cavaliers have looked fairly unbeatable for most of their Playoff run. Of course, the competition in the East is quite paltry compared to what Golden State had to go through to get here, not to mention the Warriors themselves, who will provide the Cavs with their greatest challenge of the season.
Last year, there were some who believed the Warriors just got lucky to win the Finals, and didn’t face any real challenges or adversity. Apparently these people forgot that the Playoffs themselves are two straight months of challenge and adversity, but never mind that. This year, anybody with an ounce of sense has to acknowledge that the Warriors path to the Finals was not easy. From the injury overcome by MVP Steph Curry, to the worthy opponents they’ve had to face, the Warriors have passed every test they’ve faced so far. In contrast, the Cavs are certainly the more rested of the two teams, and their place in the Finals was never in doubt.
So, how do these teams actually stack up against each other? Both probably play better with smaller lineups, and both are especially adept at attacking their opponent’s greatest defensive weaknesses. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how their starting lineups, and benches, match up.
Center: Andrew Bogut vs Tristan Thompson
Not a lot of offense is going to be expected out of this matchup. With Thompson, Cleveland gets a great offensive rebounder that will make Bogut work hard as he tries to keep him from snatching up extra rebounds. Meanwhile, Bogut knows his role well, and never does anything beyond his capabilities. He’s a great passer, and is an extra person for the Warriors to run some offense through. He’s also a great defensive presence in the paint.
Despite what these two bring to the table for their teams, I think they’re actually going to get fewer minutes than usual. Neither of them stretch the floor or shoot threes, and that’s what both teams are really going to be looking to do, so let’s call this matchup even.
Power Forward: Draymond Green vs Kevin Love
Love’s had an interesting Playoffs for the Cavs. He finished the Eastern Conference Finals strong, but we’ve also seen him benched for entire fourth quarters. He’s also not a great defender, so look for the Warriors to go at him early, and often. Unless he’s nailing his threes, which he’s been doing at a solid 44.6% rate in the Playoffs, he might also see his minutes diminish. His saving grace in this series will be his shooting, and his rebounding. It’s easy to forget what a monster he can be on the boards, since he no longer puts up the massive rebounding numbers he did in Minnesota, but keep in mind that he leads Cleveland with 9.6 rebounds a game this postseason.
As for Draymond Green, he’s a defensive menace who’ll be tasked with shutting down not only Kevin Love, but also LeBron James at times. That could bode well for Love if LeBron can wear Green down, although, it does seem that Draymond is incapable of wearing down. He’ll bring his trademark energy and showboating to each and every game in the Finals. One wild card with him is that he’s one wrong move away from getting an automatic one game suspension, so he’ll have to be careful and lay off the technical and flagrant fouls. That won’t be easy for him, as the same attributes that make him such a dynamic and disruptive player on both ends of the floor also lead to those unfortunate foul calls.
I have a bad feeling about Kevin Love in this series. I can already see a bunch of missed threes on one end of the floor, and a bunch of Draymond Green muscle flexing on the other end. I give the Warriors the edge here, but don’t count out Love if he can get hot from downtown.
Small Forward: Harrison Barnes/Andre Iguodala vs LeBron James
Both Barnes and Iguodala are listed here because they’ve both started here in the Playoffs. Iguodala started the second half of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, and he was out there for the opening tip of Game 7. In last year’s Finals, Warriors coach Steve Kerr made the same change, and that’s when the Warriors won three straight to win the series. I like the idea of continuing to start Iguodala, the stronger defender of the two. In fact, he’s one of the better defenders in the league, and having him start off on LeBron James is as good an idea as any as far as trying to combat him goes. Also, having Barnes come off the bench could bolster an already strong second unit, and he’s likely to find more success against the Cavs reserves.
Meanwhile, LeBron James is LeBron James. He’s going to make life miserable for whoever you throw at him. He’s thrived in this year’s Playoffs without having to shoulder the entire offensive load like he did with all of Cleveland’s injuries last year. As always, the best defense against him is to make him shoot as many jumpers as possible, but that’s easier said than done, even for a skilled defensive team like the Warriors. He’s also been content to let Kyrie Irving do a lot of the scoring this time around, so even if you keep him from getting to the hoop, he can still wreak havoc with his great passing as Cleveland’s offensive facilitator. I haven’t even mentioned his defense yet, and I’m sure he’ll be used all over the court against Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and maybe even Steph Curry. Obviously, this is where the Cavs hold their biggest advantage.
Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson vs JR Smith
I think it’s safe to say we’re going to be seeing a lot of three pointers out of these two. Thompson’s been magnificent in these Playoffs, averaging 26.2 points a game and setting a Playoff record for three pointers in a game. Meanwhile, JR Smith is quite capable of unleashing a record setting barrage of three pointers himself. I’m giving the Warriors the edge here, because Thompson is a much bigger aspect of their offensive attack, and the more consistent player. Although, it should be noted that JR Smith has slightly better shooting percentages than Klay Thompson here in the Playoffs.
Point Guard: Steph Curry vs Kyrie Irving
Here’s a loaded matchup. Irving has often led the Cavs in scoring during this Playoff run, and Steph Curry is, of course, the MVP. I don’t think either of these guys are going to be able to stop each other from scoring, so we could be in for quite a duel. These guys arguably have the best handles in the league, so expect a lot of fancy dribbling and footwork as these two go head to head. I expect to see dueling 30-point games from these two, because neither of them are going to be able to stop the other from scoring, without the help of their teammates. Obviously, the edge has to go to the reigning two time MVP and his Golden State Warriors.
For the Warriors, Iguodala/Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbossa, Marresse Speights and Festus Ezeli round out the rotation. Barbossa and Speights mostly just look to score, while Livingston provides a taller backcourt defender to throw at Cleveland’s guards. If Barnes comes off the bench, he’ll be able to provide further scoring punch, and Festus Ezeli will either provide a quick spark, or immediately get into foul trouble.
As for the Cavs, they’ve got Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson and Matthew Dellavedova to compliment the starters. Frye has been a key component to the Cavs three point attack, as he’s been shooting the lights out and stretching the floor. Shumpert provides defense, and veteran Richard Jefferson has been giving them solid minutes as well. Of course, Matthew Dellavedova is there to irritate the opposition.
With the way some of the Cavs reserves have stepped up this postseason, I’m going to go ahead and call this an even matchup, with each bench squad capable of providing a scoring punch, or a defensive stand.
So far, the Warriors have seemed a bit beatable at times, getting a spirited effort from the Trail Blazers, then getting all they could handle from the Thunder. The important thing is, each time things have gotten tough for them, they’ve come roaring right back, and they’ve really given us no reasons to believe that they’re about to falter. The same can be said for the Cavs, who, for the most part, have breezed their way to the Finals. They’ve been doing it with the Warriors favorite weapon, the three pointer, and they too, have given us no reasons to believe that they can be stopped. This series is going to come down to who can do things just a little bit better. When it comes to three point shooting, there’s no telling from night to night who’s going to be hotter, so we should be in for a roller coaster of a series with lots of small lineups, and lots of threes. There’s not much left to do at this point except make the big prediction.
The Big Prediction
We here at The Bonus believe we’re in for a seven game, knock down, drag out series, and that the Warriors will hang on for their second consecutive championship. We made the mistake of picking against them in the Western Conference Finals, and until somebody takes them down, we’re not doing it again. The Cavs have finally run into an opponent that can match, and counter, their high-powered offense, and while these teams have been playing similarly throughout the Playoffs, the Warriors do it a little bit better.
Now it’s time to shut up and let these teams do their thing. Enjoy the Finals, everybody.