The NBA Finals are finally upon us with the trilogy showdown between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. This will be the first time in Finals history that two teams meet three years in a row in what is shaping up to be another classic series.
Continuing their dominance in their respective conferences to reach the final round, the two superteams will face each other with loaded and healthy rosters. Barring any sudden injuries or ejections, we look at the matchups that will decide this year’s NBA Finals.
Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving will go head to head in a matchup that could make or break each team’s offence. When Curry is hitting on all cylinders, the Warriors are virtually impossible to beat and his scoring average of 28.6 outclasses Irving in the playoffs. Irving is no slouch on offence, averaging a solid 24.5 point, but defences are naturally preoccupied with his teammate LeBron James, which helps the Cavaliers guard establish a rhythm on the offensive end.
Both point guards aren’t lockdown defenders and are more focused on putting the ball in the basket. Irving is a clutch player who can make huge shots (as he did in last year’s Finals that sealed the Game 7 win for the Cavaliers), however, Curry is a two-time MVP that scores more and that is the difference maker here.
Klay Thompson’s production has dwindled since the arrival of Kevin Durant, but the guard is still dangerous. He’s averaged a mere 14.4 points during the postseason but Thompson is a solid defender on the perimeter and can have an impact with his passing and shooting in transition.
J.R. Smith is a streaky shooter for the Cavaliers and can hit 3s when the offense is clicking. However, his scoring is too often dependent on LeBron getting him open shots. On the defensive end, Smith is at times a liability, but that’s more the case of lack of effort or miscommunication than ability.
The battle of the former MVPs will be one to behold. Durant and James are two versatile players that can play different positions throughout the game. LeBron will be the primary defender on Durant for the most part, as even if they switch positions no other player on the roster can handle Durant’s length and scoring ability.
LeBron is averaging a stellar 32.5 points with 8.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists. As great as James has been through the playoffs, expect a drop off in these numbers during the Finals as James will be using an exorbitant amount of energy trying to slow down Durant.
Durant has been shooting an impressive 55.6 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from downtown, which has translated into 25.2 points per game. Adding to his great offensive ability, Durant has been averaging 7.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Like James, these numbers are likely to decrease while he matches up against a dominant player in the Finals.
LeBron is the best player on the planet and has been ‘Jordanesque’ during these playoffs. He’s a notch above Durant with his ball distribution and defensive prowess.
Kevin Love is a game-changer for the Cavaliers with his rebounding and 3-point shooting and his performance in the playoffs has been impressive as he’s averaged a double-double with 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds. Even so, Draymond Green is the better all-around player for the Warriors and the ultimate Swiss army knife. Green is disruptive on defence, collects rebounds, shoots the 3-pointer and distributes the ball.
Green is averaging 13.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 2.9 blocks, all while shooting 50 percent from the field. His contribution will be vital to the Warriors success in this series and he can do much more than Love on both sides of the ball.
Tristan Thompson will go to battle with Zaza Pachulia under the rim during this series. The Cavaliers keep Thompson on the floor during crunch time because of his offensive rebounding skills and he rewards them by averaging 9.3 boards, including 4.2 on the offensive end to keep plays alive. Thompson can also be a threat in the pick-and roll-schemes Cleveland run.
On the other hand, Pachulia is a savvy player that can defend, but is mostly a liability on offence for Golden State. His rough style of play and physicality will not be enough to contain Thompson in the post and the Cavaliers will attempt to exploit this matchup.
The Warriors are coached by Mike Brown, but Steve Kerr continues to contribute despite his health condition. Golden State’s game plan was implemented by Kerr and the players have adjusted to playing for Brown since he took over. The Warriors are undefeated in the playoffs and some of the credit should go to Brown for the postseason run they have achieved.
On the Cleveland sideline stands Tyronn Lue, who is a solid coach and has proved to be able to draw up plays and schemes that lead to wins. In last year’s Finals, he kept his squad determined and fundamentally sound despite trailing 3-1 to the Warriors and ultimately coached them to the series win.
There is no clear-cut advantage in coaching on either side, but the Warriors are much improved on defence, boasting a 99.1 defensive rating in the playoffs, while Cleveland stand at 104.6 points allowed per 100 possessions.
The Warriors added a former MVP and one of the best players in the NBA in Durant. Both teams were evenly matched in last year’s Finals, with three All-Star calibre players on each team. Durant shifts the balance of power in favour of Golden State.
If Durant continues his stellar level of play and efficiency on offence, his team will be too tough to overcome with home-court advantage.
Chris Paul is likely to face a decision this summer between seriously pursuing a title and securing what could be his last massive contract.
The point guard has been linked to the San Antonio Spurs and according to ESPN, the franchise is exploring the possibility of pursuing the soon-to-be free agent.
Paul is technically still under contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has long been expected to exercise the early termination option in his deal to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason.
Though the Spurs are currently strapped for cap space, the Clippers view them as a legitimate threat to sign away the nine-time All-Star, according to the report.
Los Angeles hold the high ground for offering Paul the most money, with the 32-year-old eligible for a five-year, $205 million contract. That type of money is only available to Paul because, as the president of the Players Association, he fought to change the NBA’s 36-and-over rule (which prohibited players from signing a five-year max deal if their 36th birthday fell during the contract) to 38-and-under.
At 32, Paul stands to reap the benefits of the rule change by locking down the mega deal which only the Clippers can offer. It’s a sizeable advantage in Los Angeles’ favour and Clippers coach Doc Rivers didn’t appear concerned when he told TMZ Sports Paul “absolutely” will be staying.
San Antonio, meanwhile, would have to renounce rights to their free agents and likely trade away salary to open max cap room to offer Paul four years and $152m.
However, the Spurs can offer Paul a chance to do something he’s yet to achieve in his Hall of Fame career: reach the Western Conference Finals and potentially even win a title.
Paul could fill the void of longtime point guard Tony Parker, who at 35 and fresh off a ruptured quadriceps tendon injury, is a major question mark going forward. With MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich, widely considered the top coach in the league, Paul would have the chance to add the missing piece to his stellar career.
There’s a reason why the phrase is called ‘chasing ghosts’. There’s either nothing there to chase or it’s a pursuit that’s simply impossible.
For the longest time, that’s what it felt like for anyone who ever played in the shadow of Michael Jordan. He set the standard, but placed the bar so high that no matter the ambition of players who followed him, it just wasn’t possible to come all that close.
That is, until now.
LeBron James has a laundry list of incredible feats and achievements on a basketball court, but his greatest accomplishment may very well end up being snatching away the title of GOAT (Greatest of All Time) from Jordan.
And while it would seem only fair to wait until LeBron’s career is all said and done for a legitimate claim to be made, he has the chance to bypass that waiting period and seize the throne now if – and this is a big ‘if’ – he wins another championship in a few weeks time.
Call it ‘recency bias’ if you want, but just know it has a cousin called ‘nostalgia bias’ and we often fall victim to that, especially when it comes to Jordan’s legacy. There’s no doubt the Chicago Bulls legend stands alone at the top of the game’s pantheon, yet this is less about picking Mike apart than it is about recognising equally overarching greatness in LeBron.
James isn’t there yet, but if he pulls this off – beating the Golden State Warriors again – there will be no further reason to deny him. A fourth ring would still put LeBron behind Jordan’s six, but the strength of what would be his last two would be enough to surpass Jordan.
LeBron has already won one for his beloved home and that too in improbable fashion by historically overcoming a 3-1 Finals deficit to defeat the greatest regular-season team ever. If that was a storybook ending, then repeating would be like the typical superhero sequel in which instead of saving just a city, he saves the world. The villains from the original movie? They’re now more powerful and have a new weapon in Kevin Durant that makes them pretty much unstoppable. If anyone can do it though, it’s LeBron.
The ‘rangzzz’ argument should never be the hill people choose to die on, but in this case, it isn’t about quantity of titles, rather quality. You can only beat what’s in front of you and Jordan did that. If LeBron does it in these Finals, he may as well be a Ghostbuster.