The most anticipated NBA Finals matchup in the last 10-15 years is set to tip-off this evening at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. This will be the third straight Finals matchup, something that has never happened before in the history of the NBA, which is a bit surprising considering the quality of team the Lakers and Celtics had at the same time back in the day.The schedule will lay out like this starting this evening:
Game 1 – Thu. June 1: Cleveland at Golden State, 9 p.m., ABC
Game 2 – Sun. June 4: Cleveland at Golden State, 8 p.m., ABC
Game 3 – Wed. June 7: Golden State at Cleveland, 9 p.m., ABC
Game 4 – Fri. June 9: Golden State at Cleveland, 9 p.m., ABC
Game 5 * Mon. June 12: Cleveland at Golden State, 9 p.m., ABC
Game 6 * Thu. June 15: Golden State at Cleveland, 9 p.m., ABC
Game 7 * Sun. June 18: Cleveland at Golden State, 8 p.m., ABC
*- If Necessary to be played.
When game 1 of the Finals tips-off tonight, the floor will be covered with all-stars, superstars and future hall-of-famers. This will be one of the most star-studded match-ups we will ever witness. For the first time in a very long time we will get the best two players in the world, on teams, going head to head. This will be the first time Lebron James career the he will play the second-best player in the Finals.
When you have so many great players on the floor, strategy can make a big difference in who will have the advantage, so what does each team have to do to take the series, what are each teams strengths and weaknesses what are the keys for each team, who do I think will be the x-factor for each team and who do I think will win?
Golden State Warriors
With 4 players of the caliber the Warriors have, they make it tough on any team. With 4 all-stars, they match-up well with any teams starting 5. With most teams, this creates mismatches all over the floor. Against the Cavaliers, this is not necessarily the case. The two-team match-up pretty well, which is why they are playing for the third straight year, they are a lot better than every other team in the league.
First off, the Warriors have 2 of the top 5 players in the world, 4 of the top 25-30 players in basketball. They create some matchup problems, not nearly as many, playing against Cleveland. They have two of the best shooters in basketball, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who can get heated up quickly. They also have a swiss army knife type player in Draymond Green, who is the driving force of the Warriors. Add the second-best player in the world in Kevin Durant, and you have a great "big 4". This team is extremely unselfish and when they are sharing the ball, they make it extremely hard for teams to play defense against them. They pass the ball very well and share it. Defensively, they are great. They have great individual defenders who can make it extremely hard on players to not only score, but make plays for their team. I could go on and on about things the Warriors do well, but I do not have time to write that and you more than likely do not have time to read that much, so we will keep it simple.
With any team that is playing in the Finals, the weaknesses are few, as you cannot have many to reach that point, most years. The Warriors do have a couple of weaknesses though. They have at times had a hard time running their offense when Durant and Curry are both on the floor. They sometimes get out of sync, going through small stretches where their offense is not scoring at the same rate. The Warriors do not have a natural big man that can protect the rim like they did with Andrew Bogut last season. Draymond Green has picked up some of those duties defensively, but he will be matched up on James at times and will not be able to contest at the rim like he would if he was guarding another option.
Key for Warriors
- Keep Offense Moving
The Warriors are at their best when the ball moves and the bodies move around as well. They like the Cavaliers have their moments on offense where it kind of gets stagnant. They need to limit those stagnant times and click as an offensive unit.
- Contain Cavaliers Stars
The Cavaliers are led by James, Irving and Love, and they score the majority of the points on offense. The Warriors need to contain the Cavaliers big three and make the role players beat them.
- Limit Turnovers
The Warriors have a tendency to get careless with the ball and turn it over at a rate higher than what would be good for the Finals. If they keep up their same rate it will be far too many turnovers against a high-powered offense like the Cavaliers.
With the Warriors Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry will more than likely get their points. In order for the Warriors to play to their potential, they need some scoring from another one of their big pieces. I think that will come from Klay Thompson. If the Warriors are to win this series, I think Thompson is going to be the difference in a series that may be really close.
The Cavaliers, led by Lebron James are coming in playing as good of basketball as they have all season. James has 2 supporting pieces that are also playing as good of basketball as they have their entire career, in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Add the supporting cast the Cavaliers have around those guys and they have a pretty dynamic team. They are not as top heavy, but they have the deeper team of the two teams. They have a top 3, 3-point shooter in Kyle Korver, Deron Williams who can still do some of what he used to do, in spurts and a very dynamic defender in Iman Shumpert.
The Cavaliers have Lebron James first and foremost. When you have the best player in the world, you always have a chance. Add Kyrie Irving to that and they have two of the best isolation players in basketball. Kevin Love is playing as well as he has been, which will make him a mismatch if he continues playing that well. The Cavaliers are easily at their best when they play as a cohesive unit, moving the ball around, making the extra pass to get the best shot they can. They have a fairly good bench. They are at their best defensively when everyone is flying around, communicating.
Like the Warriors, they can sometimes get stagnant on offense, leading to dry stretches offensively. When Irving and James are making shots, it is not as big of deal, but when they are not making shots, they can go small stretches without scoring. Defensively they are not great, they have not been great all season, but have improved a little bit in the playoffs the last two rounds. If the bad defensive team shows up, it may not be a series, but I do not expect that to happen.
Keys for Cavaliers
- Win Rebounding Battle
With 2 of the best rebounders in basketball in Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love, the Cavaliers will have a rebounding margin. If the Cavaliers as a team can beat the Warriors by a good margin in the rebounding department, they can use that to their advantage and maybe swing a game or two in their favor from the rebounding margin alone.
- Irving and James Must Be Special
In order for the Cavaliers to give themselves a chance to win this series, these two must be special. They did it last year and they are both arguably playing better now than they were last season, and that is scary for the Warriors. If the two score 60+ combined and they get a good contribution from Love and also the role players, they will give themselves a chance to win the series.
- Avoid Stagnancy on Offense
In order to break down the Warriors really good defense, the Cavaliers must move the ball and make the Warriors work defensively. The more the move, the easier the shots and points will come for them.
I am going to go with a little more unconventional x-factor selection than one would normally make. I am going to go with Iman Shumpert and what he brings defensively. He will get a lot of time matched up on the Warriors best players and he will be extremely important to the Cavaliers success. If he is able to slow down the Warriors studs for small stretches, it will give the Cavs a chance in the series.
The last week or so I have flipped back and forth on who will win this series. I am forced to make a pick since the series kicks off tonight. They say not to bet against Lebron and I am not going to do that as I am taking the Cavs in 7 games. I think the series will be similar to last year and Lebron and Kyrie will come up huge for the Cavaliers in a game 7 situation. I think Kevin Love playing the way he has the last 5-7 games will play a huge role in the Cavaliers winning this series. The Cavaliers have the rebounding edge, which may force the Warriors to use Durant to rebound, which will limit his opportunities to get on in transition in the open court. Either way, someone is going to win their 2nd title in 3 years and this may be the best Finals matchup that any of us have ever witnessed. Enjoy this matchup while its last, because it will not be around forever!