The Finals: The Preview: Cleveland vs. Golden State: The Threetening

Okay y’all, we’re FINALly (sorry about that I couldn’t resist) here. After 2,460 regular season games and just about two and a half months of playoffs we now have our two combatants that will be battling it out for basketball supremacy. Annnnnnd it’s the same two combatants that have battled the previous two championships. Don’t worry, I’m not one of those silly blowhards that will try to convince you that having the same two teams meet for a third consecutive Finals is a bad thing although I will say that I find it ironic that the same folks that are pushing this line of thought grew up romanticizing the Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry of the 80s. Anyway, there I go again getting sidetracked. In all honesty, what more can you ask for? The best basketball player on the planet going against a team stacked with two former MVPs and one of the best defenders in the game. So please excuse me if I’m not willing to buy into the potentially boring Finals talk.

Cleveland and Golden State took almost identical paths to get here. Cleveland was a bad LeBron game from completely sweeping the East as they ran through Indiana and Toronto in the first two rounds unscathed before dropping game 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals before closing Boston out. Golden State caught the break of a lifetime (ew, poor taste?) in San Antonio losing arguably their top two guys in Kawhi Leonard in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in addition to Tony Parker who had been out of the playoffs since Game 2 against Houston in the previous round. This made them a lock to dispatch the Spurs after first and second round sweeps of Portland and Utah respectively. There are some quality opponents here people. Here’s the thing though, both the Cavs and Dubs are playing at the top of their games and so high above everyone else that it made their already inadequate opposition look downright incompetent. Folks, don’t listen to the hype, this is gonna be a blast of a series.

Cavs will win if they……….

Can get LeBron to not only repeat his performance from last year’s Finals but surpass it. This is by no means downplaying his 30-11-9 line he put up in the series last year (especially those final three games) but facing a team hellbent on revenge armed with…….oh I guess you can say a little extra firepower he’s going to have to in the words of a well known TV chef kick it up a notch. And it’s not to say he can’t, As I stated earlier he’s torn through the East throughout the playoffs averaging 32-8-7 shooting 56% from the floor and 42% beyond the arc. If he can shoot like this and more or less control the pace of the game we may be in for one of if not the finest performance in Finals history. I know, blasphemy but as a huge MJ fan and a guy that romanticizes that era and particularly the era before his rise game just has to recognize game (sorry JB). His ability to read the floor and when to flip the dominate or facilitate switch will be the very thing that all of Cleveland’s success will be built on. Hey, but we all know that you can’t win a championship completely on the back of one person, right?

So this is where the play (most importantly the shot making ability) of the rest of the Cavs comes so heavily into play. After struggling with his efficiency in the first two rounds Kyrie Irving got back on track in the ECF reminding folks that he’s a closer too he comes in averaging 24 points and 6 assists on 46% shooting and a decent 35% from deep. Kevin Love has quite possibly been the most consistent Cav next to Lebron putting up 17 and 10 per contest while nailing almost half of his threes. Tristan “TrashGawd” Thompson has been well…….effective averaging almost a double double and has improved his free throw shooting making him slightly less of a liability late in games when the Cavs will need someone in the middle.

After that, it’s all about dudes hitting shots. Luckily, this has been far from a problem for them especially on the bench. J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, Channing Frye and Deron Williams have all hit well above 40% of their triple during this offseason. However, this is the part where I have to mention that it’ll be a bit harder to accomplish this go around. Also, the Finals has to be a time were you shore up any weaknesses you may have or at least try to gameplan around them. With that said it hard to believe Cleveland has a chance in this if they can’t make a huge leap on defense. You know, because the team they’re facing? Yeah, they can kinda shoot the rock too. This rarely has presented a true issue for them as they have been so damned good at simply outscoring their opponents up until now. Excuse me for stating the obvious but that ain’t gonna work here. An emphasis must be placed on stopping Golden State here. Either by scheme (most likely) or by brute force (least likely) they have to get this done because a failure to do so not only jeopardizes their ability to repeat as champs it may result in this getting ugly.

Warriors will win if they……….

Will continue to play as confident, controlled and cohesive as they have most of the season and completely throughout the playoffs. Normally this would be where I state where (or should I say who) this would start and end with. But here’s the thing about the Dubs, they have three guys who can take the reigns while you run yourself silly trying to stop the bleeding from all the daggers being hurled into your chest. So, let’s play a game of Pick! Your! Poison! First up we have Stephen Curry, who you may recognize as a 2-time back to back MVP. During this postseason Mr. Curry is averaging 28 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists while currently being apart of the ever so coveted 50-40-90 club with his shooting splits of 50-43-90. Known to many as the baby faced assassin, when he gets rolling he can absolutely eff your night up! Second we have a NEW edition to the group but please don’t mistake that for a lack of ability to obliterate you team at a moment’s notice. Kevin Durant comes to the Bay Area after a very celebrated stint in Oklahoma City (sorry Celly) where he was the recipient of an MVP himself. He’s checking into the Finals clocking a line of 25-8-4 while within sniffing distance of the club that Mr. Curry is currently apart of with splits of 55-42-87. Mr. Durant is arguably the most lethal all-around scorer in the league and with his long 6’9” frame he can make scoring on him equally as difficult as it is to stop him from scoring. Last but not least we have Draymond Green, who boasts the most impressive all-around game not only on this stacked squad arguably in the entire league. A defensive juggernaut with a sweet shot Mr. Green will go heads up with the Cavs averaging 14-9-7 with a pair of steals and blocks. And about that sweet shooting Mr. Green’s shooting splits for the playoffs has been 50% from the floor and 47% from deep. So what’s it gonna be? Door 1, 2 or 3? Either way thanks for playing Pick! Your! Poison! For you are fucked!

Yeah, pretty rough isn’t it? Now look back on those numbers and factor in that two of these series were against teams that boasted top 5 defenses (okay, I know the Kawhi thing definitely slowed the Spurs down but their defense is still pretty gotdamn good). And we haven’t even started to talk about the cadre of role guys that is one of the only groups in the league that can match up with Cleveland’s second unit on both sides of the ball. I definitely hate to mention him here but Klay Thompson despite struggling mightily on the offensive side of the ball has been an ace defender throughout the playoffs for the Dubs. Andre Iguodala, while slowing a bit is still their best bench defender and is still effective on that end for extended minutes as he is playing 25 per night in the postseason. Also still providing quality minutes off the bench is David West averaging 4-3-3 and Shaun Livingston chipping in 4-3-2. But what’s probably the biggest boon for them off the bench has been the production of the newer guys. Ian Clark has wowed not only me but many with his play of late. His 8 points per night and 40% from deep has provided a much needed spark while the Dubs spell their main guys. Patrick McCaw is not to be left out here either. The rookie has been great for them as he has been good for 5 points per night and nearly 40% from deep. However, the young McCaw has especially been recognized for his defensive prowess. And last but not least we have JaVale McGee. Despite still being pretty lunk headed and lost at times it would appear the his rehabilitation project has been quite the success. When Zaza Pachulia isn’t lurching around and doing goon stuff McGee has provided a more mobile and better offensive option in the post as he’s tallied 7 points per night on a whopping 74% from the floor.

So this is where we get real and talk about Golden State’s need to nail all of the intangibles. That they can’t afford to look aloof, stunned then overwhelmed which was the tenor of the final half of last year’s series with Cleveland. And there is the high probability that chasing Cleveland off of the three point line and putting in so much work at the rim to defend them will surely tire the Dubs’ main guys possibly making them a little less effective on the offensive end. They have the bodies for sure but they will need to be very deliberate in how and who they choose to defend James. And for heaven’s sake try to find the perfect balance for Draymond Green to be the scenery chewing irritant that he’s the best as opposed to the easily frustrated dude that catch an ejection or worse a suspension that may end up costing them the series. But it’s not like anything like that has ever happened before. My point is, last year’s result was almost as much mental as it was physical. And this is not to that Golden State is not a mentally tough team, all I’m saying is that if they can completely win it on the court they should.

 

H.B. says…………..Warriors in 6

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