- PG: Stephen Curry
- SG: Klay Thompson
- SF: Harrison Barnes
- PF: Draymond Green
- C: Andrew Bogut
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are back in the NBA Finals, ready to give us all the much-hyped rematch we’ve been waiting for. The Dubs were crowned NBA champs after taking down these Cavs a year ago, but LeBron James returns to Oracle Arena in game one with major reinforcements, with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love healthy and ready to chase the franchise’s first ever NBA title.
As much determination and focus that is riding behind the Cavs, it’s going to be tough to look past the Warriors, who won an NBA-record 73 games and just survived an intense 3-1 hole against a very good Oklahoma City Thunder squad in the Western Conference Finals. Golden State also boasts the league’s best scoring offense, the MVP of the past two seasons in Stephen Curry and one of the most efficient defenses in the NBA.
This is a matchup of pace if we’ve ever seen one, as the Cavs are one of the slower, more controlled teams in the league when you look back at the regular season, while the Warriors ranked second in pace on the year. Despite that, these are the top two three-point shooting teams in the league in terms of outside makes, while both are top three in outside shooting percentage. Needless to say, if the Cavs continue to showcase blistering long range results, a team that is normally the best from deep could have a stiff challenge on their hands.
Of course, Cleveland coming into town trying to beat the Warriors at their own game could be a silly kick to the hornet’s nest. We may just find out right away in game one.
Nothing has changed for the Warriors. They are who we thought they were, but they absolutely did struggle with Oklahoma City’s size, length and athleticism. The Thunder also nearly pulled off a nasty switch defense, but the Dubs were able to offset all of that by continuing to press offensively, play defense and ultimately go for broke from long range.
Naturally, the main thing the Warriors did best finally propped them up and got them back to the Finals, as Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry combined for an insane (and NBA record) 30 three-point makes in games six and seven. That was a mild surprise after OKC kept them both under wraps for long stretches in the Western Conference Finals, but ultimately we should have seen it coming from a team that won 73 games and knocked in 14 three’s per game on the year.
Okay, so we know the Dubs can still shoot and judging by some cold OKC quarters in the final three games of this last series, we also know they can still defend. What does that tell us? It tells us there may not be a defense that can stop the Dubs – especially on their home floor – so the only direct path toward defeating this team could be out-attacking and out-shooting them. That’s not a great recipe for success against a team that begs you to join them in the party.
The other thing working in Golden State’s favor is the Cavs just don’t have the same length, size and defensive aptitude the Thunder did. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love won’t be confused with lockdown defenders anytime soon and playing Channing Frye or Timofey Mozgov for too many minutes could work against the Cavs. Golden State is going to want to impose the small ball lineup early and often, and it may be something the Cavs just have to roll with and hope they can survive. That could thrust Love or Frye in the five spot, and that could turn ugly quickly if they’re matching up with Draymond Green.
For game one specifically, however, it’s all about the home court edge. The Warriors lost at the Oracle Arena just twice during the regular season and then to OKC for their only playoff defeat in game one of the WCF. The Cavs did split the first two games here last year in the Finals, too. However, the Dubs just got done racing through a series that largely got out of hand because they were a little complacent in game one against the Thunder. It’s hard to see them making that mistake again to get this series started.
|5/30/16||VS Thunder||Win 98-88|
|5/28/16||at Thunder||Win 108-101|
|5/26/16||VS Thunder||Win 120-111|
|5/24/16||at Thunder||Lost 118-94|
|5/22/16||at Thunder||Lost 133-105|
The number one factor driving the Cavaliers right now is two-fold: they want to earn their first ever NBA title and they want to pay back the Warriors for keeping them from getting it done a year ago. Game one gives them their first crack at seeking that redemption, and we certainly don’t need to be worried about the Cavs coming in strong after seeing them steal a game at the Oracle Arena in the Finals last year.
Of course, it’s been on the road where the Cavs have been a little exposed this season, as they did lose 17 road games during the regular season and their only two playoff losses came in Toronto during the Eastern Conference Finals. That is something Cleveland will have to work through in this series, and overcoming that right away in game one could be a launchpad to serious success in the 2016 NBA Finals.
The mother of all questions, of course, is how do the Cavs get there? The easiest response is a controlled attack. The Cavs absolutely need to do what they do best – control the pace of this game. Even though they are second in three-point makes and third in the league in three-point shooting percentage, they know they can’t get into an all-out foot race with these Warriors. Golden State is still a far better outside shooting team than the Cavs are, and they’re just as good – if not better – defensively. In other words, Cleveland has to know that gunning all day from outside is a grave mistake.
They still need to lean on their outside shooting – largely via Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith – and they absolutely will need some big showings from Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and possibly even LeBron James from deep. Pace is the key here for the Cavs, however, as slowing things down will limit Golden State’s transition buckets, could curb their defensive impact and it should also help them keep track of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
Pace should play into Cleveland’s defense, which during the regular season was among the best (98 points per game allowed). The individual matchups are, of course, worrisome. Kyrie Irving needs to be on the floor to attack the paint and set up Cleveland’s outside shooting, but is he actually capable of containing Curry?
The quick, easy answer is absolutely not, and Curry could be free to roam more than ever after enduring a very tough series against OKC. The Cavs don’t really present the same problems on paper, and if they’re going to keep Curry in check, they’ll have to adapt and throw something at him he hasn’t seen. Whether that means getting Matthew Dellavedova minutes, putting J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert on him, sicking LeBron James on him or trying out OKC’s switch defense, remains to be determined.
The Warriors normally go as Curry goes, so objective one needs to be finding a way to limit Curry’s impact. Irving probably can’t do that, and if the Cavs can’t find a way to get that done, they could be in serious trouble.
|5/27/16||at Raptors||Win 113-87|
|5/25/16||VS Raptors||Win 116-78|
|5/23/16||at Raptors||Lost 105-99|
|5/21/16||at Raptors||Lost 99-84|
|5/19/16||VS Raptors||Win 108-89|
Pace, pace, pace. Cleveland can certainly compete with Golden State’s outside shooting and they have two highly skilled scorers who can attack the paint, but they probably can’t out-shoot the Warriors from deep all series and Golden State knows how to attack, as well.
|1/18/16||Warriors 132, Cavaliers 98|
|12/25-15||Warriors 89, Cavaliers 83|
|6/16/15||Warriors 105, Cavaliers 97|
|6/14/15||Warriors 104, Cavaliers 91|
|6/11/15||Warriors 103, Cavaliers 82|
|6/9/15||Cavaliers 96, Warriors 91|
|6/7/15||Cavaliers 95, Warriors 93 (OT)|
|6/4/15||Warriors 108, Cavaliers 100 (OT)|
Opening things up and running the floor is a dangerous idea, especially with Love trying to slow down Draymond Green. Unless the Cavs go big and are effective, they’re giving up some defense and overall athleticism to the Warriors, who are simply the best at running the floor and scoring in transition.
The Cavs absolutely need to play controlled and make the Warriors play their game. Even then, they still don’t look equipped to stop Golden State’s pick and roll offense and it’s still up for debate if they’ll have ease against the Warriors’ smothering defense.
All we know for sure is that the Dubs have owned this matchup for over a year and Cleveland does not pose the same matchup problems that OKC did. Unless the Cavs can enforce their will via matchups or strategy, it’s tough to see Cleveland coming out on top in game one or this series in general.
|Win/Loss||73-9 (39-2 at home)||57-25 (24-17 away)|
The Cavaliers probably aren’t winning this series and are even less likely to win game one. However, they are extremely determined and are not going to lie down flat to get their second straight Finals started. Expect the Cavs to come in and defend, hit outside shots and push the Dubs to the edge, showing them that they’re here for a six or seven game series and are serious about their first ever NBA title.
The better point here is this is the bet that holds the value. Cleveland is the underdog and Vegas doesn’t expect them to win or even get within seven points, but logic suggests they very well could win and this probably will be a close game. The first two games of this series last year went into overtime and now the Cavs have Irving and Love back. I like Golden State straight up, but the Cavs will keep it tight and should win bettors some cash by beating the spread.
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