I have a confession. This is the most excited I’ve been for an NBA Final series since the late 1990s when the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz were involved in two classic series to determine the world champions. This final between Cleveland and Golden State has the potential of matching and even topping those great Bulls/Jazz series. I do believe this has a chance of being the best NBA Final of all time. (I hope I didn’t jinx it.)
This series features the current MVP, Stephen Curry against arguably the best player in the game today, LeBron James. While these two won’t match up against each other, they are the vital cogs for each teams’ success.
Let’s start with Curry. Simply put, he’s probably the best pure shooter the NBA has seen since Larry Bird. His regular season numbers were excellent as he averaged 23.4 points, 7.7 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.
The scary thing is Curry has been even better in the playoffs where he’s averaged 29.2 points, 6.4 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. Curry has been deadly from downtown, shattering the record of three points made with 72 in 15 games. The old record was set in 2000 by Reggie Miller who made 58 three pointers in 22 games. Curry has an astonishing 44.3% success rate from three-point range which is better than most players from two-point range.
What makes Curry so difficult to guard against is that he’s multi-dimensional. He has terrific vision and instincts and is simply a magician with the basketball. Curry has speed to burn and his shooting release is so quick, it’s virtually impossible to block. An excellent passer, Curry isn’t worried about getting double-teamed as he can spot the open man through the trees.
Curry’s backcourt partner and fellow Splash Brother, Klay Thompson is another dynamic player for the Warriors. Thompson is putting up solid numbers in the postseason, averaging 21.7 points while shooting 43.9% from three-point land. However, Thompson suffered a concussion in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against Houston after taking a knee to the head from Trevor Ariza. The good news for Warrior fans is that Thompson has been cleared to play in Game 1 after a week layoff between the Conference Finals and Finals.
Golden State won’t score from inside the paint that much but they will need a post presence if they want to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. Andrew Bogut will have to put his stamp on this series. The 7-0 Australian centre has only averaged 5.3 points per game but he can distribute the ball from the post as his 2.0 assists per game can attest. Bogut does lead the Warriors with 1.2 blocks per game which has propelled the Warriors vaunted transition game.
But Cleveland does have an answer for the transition game and his name is LeBron James. The King is having a marvellous postseason (which isn’t a surprise) averaging 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game.
Golden State will have a difficult decision in terms of who will guard LeBron. Draymond Green is probably the best option but LeBron will counter by staying on the perimeter. Green leads the Warriors averaging 10.8 rebounds per game. If LeBron sees that Green is on him, he will sit on the outside and hope for second chance points as well as slowing down Golden State’s fast break.
The Warriors may use Harrison Barnes to defend LeBron but his 6-8, 210 pound frame can be posted up by the hulking James. Green, Thompson or even Bogut could come over to help Barnes but that creates issues as well. If Thompson helps Barnes, it leaves the perimeter open where LeBron can feed either Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith or Matthew Dellavedova for an open three. If either Green or Bogut comes over to double up LeBron, that leaves the paint open for emerging star Tristan Thompson to receive the lob from James.
Another option for Golden State is using Andre Iguodala off the bench to guard LeBron. It can be advantageous if either Barnes or Green get into foul trouble, Iguodala can be inserted into the game and go against James. But there are issues as well. If no one is in foul difficulty and James is lighting it up, who comes out of the game? The other problem is Iguodala can be posted up by LeBron because James does have the size advantage. There are no easy solutions to defend LeBron for Golden State.
But for Cleveland to win, they need their supporting cast to show up.
Kyrie Irving is a great player but health is a concern. The Cavs point guard returned to the lineup in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta after suffering tendinitis in his left knee. Irving’s mobility is limited and is still questionable for the opener against Golden State. If Irving plays, he will matchup against Curry and that is trouble for Cleveland. Irving’s wonky knee won’t catch up to the swift Curry which in turn will mess with Cleveland’s rotation on defense.
With Kevin Love out for the remainder of the playoffs, Tristan Thompson will be the key man in the paint for the Cavs. The University of Texas alum is starting to come into his own this postseason, averaging 9.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Thompson will pose problems in the paint for Golden State with his shot blocking ability (1.3 blocks per game) and his penchant for offensive rebounds to set up second chance points (4.0 offensive rebounds per game.) The Warriors will have to be aware and effectively box out Thompson near the key.
Matthew Dellavedova is what you call an antagonist. The Australian shooting guard is a master of getting under his opponents’ skin. In the second round versus Chicago, Dellavedova used a leg lock to take down Taj Gibson in which the Bulls forward responded by kicking the Cavs pest which resulted in Gibson’s ejection.
In the Eastern Conference Final against Atlanta, Dellavedova was at it again. In Game 2 versus the Hawks, Dellavedova got tangled up with Kyle Korver who ended up with a sprained ankle and missing the rest of the series.
Game 3 provided a major moment as Dellavedova fell on the ankle of Al Horford. The Hawks power forward responded with an elbow smash that would have made Randy “Macho Man” Savage proud. Horford was ejected from the game and the Hawks were promptly swept by Cleveland. If Dellavedova can use his pugnacious antics on the likes of Curry or Thompson or Barnes and get them off their game, Cleveland will be in a great spot.
The Warriors are a deeper team that can use up to 10 players in a game. Cleveland goes 7 deep max on the bench so a long series could wear down Cleveland. Another thing to remember is Golden State have an incredible home court advantage, losing only 3 times at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors love to play an up-tempo game, running game while the Cavs want to play a slow, half-court game. Whomever can control the pace will win the series.
With home court advantage in Golden State’s favour, that might be enough. LeBron is a great player and he will give the Warriors fits, but Curry is the man this year. Expect a great series that will go the distance. Expect Golden State to end their 40-year championship drought. Warriors in 7.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973