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.
BIGGEST FACTOR IN THE SERIES:
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.