Cavaliers v Warriors: Part IV, full preview
Here we go again, again… again.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors will battle for the NBA’s ultimate prize, the first time in US sports history that the same two teams have met to decide a league’s championship in four straight seasons.
This is a rematch that most NBA fans and analysts have predicted since the completion of last year’s Finals. However, it didn’t always look as if there’d be a four-peat as both squads appeared vulnerable over the course of the regular and post seasons.
In just the offseason alone, the Cavaliers traded star Kyrie Irving and allowed general manager David Griffin to depart.
The Cavs didn’t fare much better in the regular season as the main player they got from the Irving trade, Isaiah Thomas, struggled to fit in when he returned from injury and was traded. Off season pickups Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade were also traded while fan-favourite Channing Frye was included in the Thomas trade. A lack of on-court cohesion and poor play plagued the Cavaliers, as they went just 6-8 in January. Even LeBron James’ play suffered midseason, necessitating the trades to start fresh.
They brought in George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr and Rodney Hood from those trades but they continued to be an up and down team. They finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, their lowest finish since LeBron returned and weren’t considered contenders to be back in the Eastern Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals.
The new roster still revolves around the all-time great talent of James. His play has lifted in the playoffs, as he has gone on arguably the greatest postseason run of his career. But all that will mean little if the Cavaliers don’t get consistent and high-level play from James’ teammates.
The Warriors entered the season the pick to win the title, but at different points of the regular season looked as if they were on cruise control. In a February game against the Phoenix Suns, head coach Steve Kerr seeded control to his players who called plays and ran timeouts, such was Golden State’s confidence in its ability to win any game at any time.
Injury concerns to Steph Curry and Kevin Durant put doubt in the minds of the Warriors faithful, but both returned to health as they continued to cruise through the postseason, losing just two games as they won their first two series 4-1.
They faced their biggest test since the 2016 NBA Finals against these Cavaliers (the second of four meetings) when they battled Houston, but in part due to superior talent and injuries to Houston guard Chris Paul, the Warriors advanced once again to the NBA Finals.
The Cavaliers enter the series as major underdogs; book maker Sportsbet has them at $8.00 to win the series.
Given all that LeBron has had to do for the Cavs just to make the Finals, you would be hard pressed to find a way for James and co. to emerge victorious in the seven-game series.
Averaging an incredible 34 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game in the playoffs so far, James is having one of his best postseasons ever. But no matter what he does, the Cavaliers need fellow All-Star Kevin Love and role players Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, George Hill and Kyle Korver to be at their best.
Love is doubtful for Game 1 following a concussion in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He has had an up and down playoffs thus far, averaging 13.9 points and 10 rebounds a game, but has shown glimpses the impact he can have when firing.
Against Toronto in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, Love scored 31, 21 and 23 points in the last three matches and grabbed double-digit rebounds in three of the four contests. He will likely be a focal point of the Warriors to attack at defence and will need to stay in front of his man and play strong defence if the Cavs are to have a chance at toppling the Warriors once again.
The role players for the Cavaliers will decide how the series goes for Cleveland, no matter the impact James or Love have. If Cleveland fails to get double digit scoring from a combination of Hill, Smith and Korver they will struggle to stay with the Warriors whose potent offence can only be matched when the Cavaliers are at their best.
Tristan Thompson, who struggled in last year’s Finals but was arguably Cleveland’s third best player in the title-winning 2016 Finals, will need to play as he did in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs will need to score as often as they can and Thompson’s offensive rebounding will be called upon to give the underdogs multiple opportunities to hurt the Warriors.
While the Cavaliers will most likely go down in the Finals for the third time in four years, if Love and the bevvy of role players can play at their best, the series will be a lot tighter than anticipated and could be stretched to six or seven games.
The heavy favourites to capture their third title in four years at $1.08, Golden State have the advantage in almost every aspect of the matchup against the Cavs.
They boast four future Hall of Famers in Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and have 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala coming off the bench. Their talent is superior to the Cavaliers player to player besides James, who is the best player on either side.
But James can only do so much against these Warriors, whose passing and shooting capabilities are some of the best in NBA history.
Curry, Thompson and Durant can hit shots from almost anywhere on the court. The mere threat of a Curry three causes most teams to struggle on the defensive end leaving a Golden State player open somewhere on the court.
Should the Warriors play to their potential, they will blow the Cavaliers off the court. Green’s ability to guard any Cavaliers player will be vital as it will allow Durant to focus on scoring and putting the Cavs to the sword.
Curry and Thompson have a clear advantage over their opposite numbers in George Hill and J.R. Smith; both Warriors guards are better shooters and Thompson is an All-NBA defensive player at his best.
Only injury could slow the reigning champions down. Andre Iguodala is out for Game 1 with a bone bruise suffered in the Western Conference Finals, but unless Curry or Durant suffer an injury then the Warriors should cruise to their third title in four years.
As a Cavaliers fan it is hard to admit they have little chance in the NBA Finals. But the Warriors’ talent trumps Cleveland’s at almost every measure and they should make easy work of the Cavs.
If the Cavaliers can win both Game 3 and 4 at home then they are in with an outside shot at the title, but I can’t see Golden State dropping two straight games in the Finals.
The Warriors will win the series and cement their dynasty as arguably the best team in NBA history.
Golden State 4 – 1 Cleveland.