Anytime there is history on the line it is big, and with the Warriors marvelous comeback from a 3-1 deficit against the Thunder, it gives us the matchup everyone around the NBA was begging for. Tonight, the Steph Curry led Warriors will host Lebron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Outside of the ultimate goal of winning a championship there are numerous side stories fans will be watching out for. The Warriors are looking to become back-to-back champions and cap-off their record-setting 73-win season. Throughout the regular season, Golden State has been by far the best team. Most of the time they left teams in the dusts with hypnotic runs led by beautiful ball movement and video game like three-point shooting. Steph Curry became the league’s first unanimous MVP and the team had three players named to All-NBA teams. However, the postseason has been a different story for the defending champs. At times they have not only looked beatable but inferior. After cruising to two straight 4-1 victories in the first two rounds, the Warriors ran into what seemed to be an unstoppable force in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder blew out the Warriors in their two home games, leaving many fans wondering what in the hell happened to Golden State. But just as you start to count them out, they surprise you with perhaps their most impressive achievement.
That achievement got them the rematch they wanted with Lebron James, and this time there will be no excuses. James was outmatched in last season’s finals without his two running mates in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but this time they are both healthy and the rest of the team seems to be clicking on all cylinders. James and company cruised to what is his sixth consecutive NBA Finals appearance and have their sites set on bringing Cleveland the glory they have so desperately been lacking. It has been 52 years since the Browns last won a title for the city, which is the longest drought by far in professional sports. Lebron James has made it evident the one thing that remains on his to-do list as an NBA player is bringing a championship to northeast Ohio, and a win against the Golden Boys from Golden State would certainly solidify his place as one of the top-5 players to ever grace the basketball court.
And then of course there is the ever intensifying question of who the best player in the NBA is right now. Lebron James has owned this league for the better part of a decade, but the 6 foot 3 guard from Davidson has shaken up the NBA on his way to back-to-back MVPs. The King’s grip on the league has definitely loosened, and a win for Curry could solidify him as the best player in the NBA. A loss for Lebron would not only be another missed opportunity to bring a championship to his beloved city of Cleveland but could tarnish his legacy forever.
Outside of all the headlines, there is actually a tantalizing matchup between the two most talented teams in the league. The Cavaliers are steaming from the three-point line. They shot a record-setting 51% from behind the arc in their series with the Hawks, and even though they struggled a bit at times in their series with Toronto, they still possess the shooting ability that can keep them in games with anyone, even the Warriors at their best. Golden State obviously still as the edge from behind the arc with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, but the gap will not be nearly as large as it was last year in the Finals when the Warriors made 67 threes compared to the Cavs’ 49. The Cavs failed to shoot 30% from behind the arc in the 2015 Finals, that will not happen this year.
The Warriors’ biggest task, like anyone facing the Cavs, is going to be finding a way to stop Lebron James. Last season, James lit up the Warriors in the first three games but seemed to struggle a bit more shooting the ball in the last three. Andre Iguodala did a terrific job of taking the challenge and matching Lebron blow for blow on defense. He was physical and by the end of the series it clearly had taken a toll on The King. Lebron will not have to be relied on as much with his running mates by his side, however, he has to be at his best if the Cavs want to stop the Warriors from making history.
Cleveland will have to crack the code that is the Warriors’ offense. When running to perfection, it is an unstoppable machine. However, the Warriors have not been up to par this postseason, and the Thunder had great success by dominating the paint and using a lot of bigger defenders on the Warriors’ perimeter players. The Cavs will utilize Iman Shumpert a lot more in this series for defensive purposes. He could receive early minutes off the bench if J.R. Smith is not knocking down shots. His length and defensive abilities gave Curry trouble last time in the Finals and could slow down the splash brothers just enough to give the Cavs the edge.
Golden State has to have better efforts from both Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. They are without a doubt the defensive stalwarts of this team, but they both failed to reach their offensive potential in the Western Conference Finals. Green was horrific at times recording a -71 plus/minus in Games 3 and 4. He only shot 35% from the field and 21% percent from three in the series versus the Thunder while averaging just over 11 points. He also received multiple technical and flagrant fouls in the series. If he has one more of either, he will be suspended a game, so that is definitely something to keep an eye on in this series. Iguodala was not nearly as terrible, shooting 47% from the field, but only averaged 8.6 points a contest. Those are not far off his season averages, but Iguodola plays a much bigger role for this team in the postseason. Do not forget it was him, not Curry, that received Finals MVP honors in last year’s Finals. When both Green and Iggy are hitting their shots, the Warriors cannot be beaten.
The Cleveland Cavaliers second leading scorer in the 2015 Finals was Timofey Mozgov. Mozgov is not even getting minutes in Tyronn Lue’s new up-tempo offense, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much different series. Throw out the two regular season losses to the Warriors as well because this has been a totally different team since Lue has taken over. When the Warriors are at their best, they are simply unbeatable. Even the Cavs, with all their star power, cannot overcome the unbelievable depth of the Warriors when they are clicking on all cylinders. However, the Warriors have not been the same team this postseason. Whether it is Steph Curry’s nagging injuries or just poor play, the Warriors will have to play better than they did in the WCF if they want to repeat.
Prediction: Cavs in 6