After the Warriors defeated the Rockets last season in the Western Conference Finals, not many had them beating the LeBron-led Cavaliers. Then after Kyrie Irving broke his knee cap in game one of The Finals, it was more believable that the Warriors could actually win the championship, which they would eventually do in 6 games.
Fast forward a year later and both the Cavaliers and Warriors are back in the NBA Finals.
Even though both teams return to the Finals with the same unit, both teams are much different. The Cavaliers are returning with healthy unit, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love struggling with injuries throughout the playoffs last season. The Warriors, who won 67 games in 2014-15, returned this season by breaking the record for most wins in a season with 73 wins.
The Warriors are having one of the best seasons in NBA History, led by the 2x MVP, Steph Curry. Curry in his own right is having one of the best season in the league’s history, knocking down a mind-blowing 402 trey balls, shooting 45% from behind the arc, averaging 30 points per contest. Those number helped Curry become the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, which ruffled some feathers across the league.
All season the Warriors made teams go against the traditional rules of basketball. Instead of waiting for your opponent at the three point line, the Warriors made you check them at half court. If you didn’t, Curry would be shooting a 30+ jumper. They would make bad shots, look like good shots. While normally you would protect the lane on a fastbreak, the Warriors forced you to play the three point line in transition. Steve Kerr’s offense, which isn’t very complexed, gave the best shooter in NBA history to have space and freedom to pull the trigger.
As a team they knocked down 1,077 threes and shot 41%. In the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors drained 90 threes against the Thunder, 21 in game 6.
The Cavaliers went from 53 wins to 57 wins this season. They also used two coaches, firing David Blatt after 41 games, promoting assistant coach Tyron Lue as the new head coach. LeBron James didn’t have eye-popping numbers - an average seasons to his standards - but the 13-year vet is making it to his 6th straight NBA Finals, a feat that hasn’t been done since 1966. He led the Cavaliers to 10-straight wins in the playoffs, sweeping the Pistons and Hawks in the first two rounds. During those two rounds they broke the NBA record for most threes by a team twice, 21 against the Pistons and 26 against the Hawks.
The Cavs did experience two hiccups against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals but they’re averaged margin of victory was 28.5 points, going up by as much as 47 points in Game 5.
With the Rematch set in place, lets take a look at the matchups and what to look out for.
Did The Warriors use too much energy to beat the Thunder? And will the extended rest hurt the Cavs?
I personally think the worst thing that could have happened to the Cavs is the Warriors going down 3-1. The series with the Thunder forced the Warriors to go to a place that they never been before. Not once this season did the Warriors face the adversity or challenge they seen in the Western Conference Finals. Any chance of the Cavs jumping on the Warriors early and stealing a game in The Oracle, may have been lost, GSW already experiencing that situation.
The Cavs will be well rested, which is different from last season. LeBron was gassed out by Game 4 and the Cavs ended up losing three games straight. The added rest will definitely play into the Cavs favor but this will be the first time they seen a team like the Warriors in the postseason.
Can Draymond Green match Kevin Love offense? Can Kevin Love dominate Draymond Green?
This will be the most important matchup on the court. Kevin Love has been fantastic during the postseason, averaging 17 points and 10 boards with 9 double-doubles. If it wasn’t for a pedestrian series against the Raptors, those numbers would be higher. Draymond Green also is averaging a double-double, 15 points, 10 boards, and 6 dimes, but didn't have that great of a series in the Western Conference Finals. For me, the best option for Kevin Love and the Cavs is for him to play in the post. Putting Love on the perimeter will play into the Warriors favor because, Draymond is more comfortable on the perimeter. Love has proved that he is one of the best post players in the NBA and I think he could take full advantage of Draymond down there. Love overall is the better player, but defensively he could be a liability, if Draymond can take advantage on the offensive end.
Which team has the better bench?
This is probably the toughest area to judge because one, the Cavs haven’t seen much of a challenge to judge their bench, and two, the Warriors bench wasn’t that effective in the Western Conference Finals. I’m going to say that they are equal. The Warriors have been able to go 10 players deep this season and did the same last season. Mo Speights and Festus Ezeli give the Warriors size for those who want to make them play big, and Shaun Livingston, Leonardo Barbosa, Barnes/Iguodola (whoever Coach Kerr decides to start) are the perimeter players that will keep the tempo going with Klay or Steph on the bench.
The Cavs acquiring Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson has been big for them. Frye has been the shooter that the Cavs needed last season against the Warriors (16 minutes per game, 57% from the three point line in the postseason) and Jefferson is another solid vet with Finals experience coming off the bench. The question still remains, will they be effective during this series? While Frye has had a good postseason thus far, he hasn’t played against one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, which is the Warriors.
Who has the advantage? Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving?
Both players are great scorers, both players are great ball-handlers and both are shaky defenders. The only thing that really separates Kyrie and Steph is two MVP trophies for Curry. Before Kyrie injured his knee in game one of The Finals last season, Kyrie finished with 23 points, 7 boards, and 6 dimes compared to Steph 26 points, 8 dimes, and 4 boards. This is a different Steph Curry this season. I would give the advantage to Steph all because, he has gone through the gauntlet in the West. He just proved that he is the best point guard in the NBA, outplaying Russell Westbrook the final 3 games of the Western Conference Finals. Kyrie - being a shaky defender and 1-way player - doesn’t pose the same challenge as Westbrook who is a good defender and top 2-way player.
Who will guard Klay Thompson?
The best solution for the Cavs is to put LeBron James on Klay. Klay didn’t have a great Finals last season, but he is coming off of a great Western Conference Finals, essentially the reason why the Warriors are able to play in back-to-back Finals. Klay is in the zone right now, and has been all postseason long. He is averaging 26 points and shooting 45% from the three point line, which is basically another Steph Curry on the court. Klay dropped 41 points in Game 6 of the WCF, breaking the NBA record for most threes in a postseason game. JR Smith more than likely will be the one guarding Klay but after seeing him struggle against Derozan, it might be a long series for JR.
Which LeBron James will show up?
Will we see the LeBron James that defeated the OKC Thunder for his first championship or will we see the LeBron James that went missing in the 4th quarter against the Mavericks? In order for the Cavs to win this series, LeBron will have to prove that he is the best player on the planet. He will have to not only match Curry’s scoring, but surpass it. While many think that he will have to depend on Love and Kyrie to win this series, I see otherwise. LeBron will have to play his best basketball by scoring 30+ for the series. While LeBron did almost defeat the Warriors in the Finals last season, this isn’t the same Warriors team. Just because Love and Irving will be playing doesn’t mean that LeBron does not have to play big. We all know that he can and he should, but will he?
Who will win the coaching battle?
I think this the only part of the matchup where it is a landslide. Steve Kerr - already gone through the fire, already with a title under his belt - should outcoach Tyron Lue. While many think Lue has come in and done a better job than Blatt, his record is worse - Blatt 30-11 when he was fired, Lue 27-14. What Lue did was make this team run more and shoot more. In the postseason, he didn’t have to make any coaching changes or was challenge at any point. This series he will be challenged and he will be forced to adjust. This is the perfect opportunity for Steve Kerr to really show his coaching prowess.
What will the Cavs have to do to win?
The Cavs will have to ride the back of their 4x MVP, LeBron James, along with some other things. First they will have to resort back to their penetrating offense. The Cavs will not be able to shoot with the Warriors, the Thunder tried and failed miserably. Slowing the game down, and attacking the basket is the remedy to beat these guys, which was the reason why the Thunder built a 3-1 series lead. Also, they will have to win the rebound battle, take away as many possessions as you can and make them play big. The Cavs must also make sure that their big three is playing lights out all series. Kevin Love will have to win that matchup with Draymond Green outright, which will put more pressure on Curry and Klay. And finally, play lights out defense. Don’t let them get into rhythm and force them to take two-point shots. Try to eliminate those dagger threes but also live with them. If the Cavs can do all that, they will be NBA Champs.
What will the Warriors have to do to win?
Don’t change anything. The Warriors are at the point where they should continue to do what they been doing all season. No one has been able to put them in the grave, and if they impose their style of play on to the Cavaliers, the success will continue. They also need to have a fast start. They can not afford to go down 2-1 or 3-1 against the Cavaliers because lightning don’t strike twice. Steph Curry will have to prove he is the best player on the planet and make Kyrie look inferior to him. Warriors should also use their depth because unlike the Western Conference Finals, this will not be a series about who stars are better. Most importantly, put James in uncomfortable situations. Force him to make bad decisions at key moments.
Who Will Win?
Who Knows. Just watch the Game and enjoy the greatness!