LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have been seeking revenge for an entire year and cannot wait to play the Warriors in a rematch of the 2015 NBA Finals. Although the two teams played in last season’s finale, they are not the same teams, especially the Cavs. Unlike last season, the Cavaliers will start Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving while bringing Channing Frye off of the bench. Similar to the Cavaliers, the Warriors are a different team, although they have similar personnel. The Warriors’ three best players, Curry, Thompson, and Green, have taken significant steps forward not only as players, but as leaders and clutch performers. While the Cavaliers had a fairly easy path to the Finals, only losing two games, the Warriors were challenged with a multitude of problems during three difficult series. Although the Thunder pushed the Warriors to the limit and definitely caused tired legs, the Warriors found themselves in the final three games, which should ultimately provide them with encouragement and momentum.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Andre Iguodala vs LeBron James
Although Iguodala is not even close to being the best or most important member of the Golden State Warriors, his diverse skill set and value will be on display throughout the series. Last season, especially during the Finals, Iguodala demonstrated why the Warriors paid him handsomely, $12 million/year, during free agency. Similar to his prime years in Philadelphia and Denver, Iguodala is not extraordinary at any one aspect of the game, but he is a very good all around player and more importantly a great teammate and leader. In last year’s final, Iguodala was given the daunting task of guarding LeBron James. Although he certainly did not stop the two time champion as he averaged 35 points per game, he made him work during every possession and limited his easy looks at the basket. This year, Iggy displayed the same skill, while guarding and limiting Kevin Durant in the previous series to 42% from the field and 29% from three. Once again, Iguodala will be called upon to defend James. While Iguodala’s main task will be to defend James, James will have to lead the Cavs both offensively and defensively, albeit not as much as last season. During the finals last season, James was the first, second, third, and fourth option for the Cavaliers. Even though James and the Cavs had zero chance of winning the championship last season and LeBron garnered all of the Warriors’ attention, it should be noted that LeBron shot less than 40% from the field and 32% from three. Although it is definitely expected that LeBron will shoot closer to his career averages with the help of Kyrie and Kevin, it will be a significant challenge against a defender like Iguodala. During his path to the Finals, whether it be DeMarre Carroll, Stanley Johnson, or Kent Bazemore, none of them had the physicality or basketball IQ like Iguodala to stay with LeBron in the post or behind the arc. In addition to his offensive tasks, LeBron will need to play quality defense if matched against Iguodala or one of the Splash Brothers on the other side of the floor. Iguodala will not shoot many balls or have many plays called for him, but he is an excellent decision maker and Steve Kerr will frequently have him play the point guard position because of his exquisite passing ability.
Biggest Coaching Decision for Each Team
Cavaliers: who will defend the Splash Brothers?
Warriors: which players will they use to guard Love, Thompson, and Frye?
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Tyronn Lue have the extraordinarily difficult task of preparing a game plan to defend the Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Lue will need to use an innovative strategy because they do not have the athletes or defensive specialists to deny Curry or Thompson. To begin the series, Kyrie Irving will have the first opportunity to defend Curry. Although Irving is a very good player, a majority of his value lies on the offensive side of the ball. When Irving is not defending Curry, the Cavaliers will call on Matthew Dellavedova to defend the two time NBA MVP. During the previous Finals, Delly did an excellent job on Curry, limiting him to 26 points while shooting only 45% from the field and 38% from behind the arc. However, during the last two games of the series, Curry rediscovered his shooting and torched Dellavedova for 31 points per game while shooting over 50%. While Delly and Kyrie will be chasing Curry around the floor, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert will be counted on to defend Klay Thompson. During last season’s final, Klay Thompson was surprisingly terrible as he only averaged 13 points per game while shooting 40% from the field and 30% from behind the arc. Thompson’s demise was not totally due to Shumpert or Smith’s defense, but probably the bright lights of his first NBA Finals. However, during the playoffs this season, Klay Thompson succeeded during the most crucial moments and established himself as one of the most clutch performers in the league. While Smith, Shumpert, Dellavadova, and Irving will start on the two marksmen, the Cavaliers’ big men, James, Thompson, Love, and Frye, will frequently be switched onto the dynamic duo after a pick. The Cavs’ big men will have to use their length and quickness to stay in front of Curry and Thompson so that they do not shoot over them or drive to the basket with. The Cavaliers should mimic the Thunder’s use of Kevin Durant and have LeBron or Thompson guard the man who is picking for Curry or Thompson because he will have a significantly better chance of guarding Curry out on the perimeter than Love or Frye.
While the Cavs will need to determine a method to stop the Warriors’ three point shooters, the Warriors need to plan for the Cavaliers’ big men who can stretch the floor. During the previous series, the Warriors needed to defend the paint and prohibit the Thunder from using their size and strength to dominate the glass. While the Cavaliers have size, they do not have the same strength or athleticism as the Thunder. The Cavaliers will have Love, Frye, or Thompson on the floor a majority of the time. Unlike the Thunder, the Cavaliers’ big men will spend a majority of their time around the three point line, instead of inside the paint. Although Thompson does not have the same shooting ability as Love or Frye, he is very good at offensive rebounding and the Warriors will need to ensure he does not dominate the boards. While the Warriors have the bodies to defend Frye and Love with either Green, Barnes, or Livingston, the problem will arise when LeBron James or Kyrie Irving drives to the basket. Neither Green, Barnes, nor Livingston are shot blockers that can protect the rim when Andre Iguodala needs help with LeBron James. If the Warriors decide to protect the rim with either Bogut, Ezeli, or Varajeo, they will be susceptible to three point shooting because Bogut, Ezeli, and Varajeo are uncomfortable outside of the paint.
Warriors in 6
The Warriors have been the best team in the NBA over the past two seasons and they should continue their dominance during the Finals. During the previous series, the Thunder can attest to the difficulty of defeating the Warriors. Due to the Warriors three point shooting, will to win, and late game heroics, they are never out of any game no matter the deficit. Although the Cavs have motivation to beat the team that defeated them in last season’s final, the Warriors may have more determination because many pundits did not believe that they deserved the championship. In addition, Thompson and Curry want to show that their poor performances in last season’s final was a fluke. While Curry and Thompson led the team to the finals, the Cavaliers cannot overlook the Warriors’ secondary players, like Iguodala, Green, Speights, Barnes, Livingston, and Bogut, because of the energy and play-making ability they provide on offense and defense. The Cavaliers have shown throughout the playoffs the ability to out shoot their opponents, especially from three point range. However, the Cavaliers have been playing inferior competition throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs and the Cavaliers will not out shoot the best shooting team in the history of the NBA. Although LeBron will fight and claw to stop his team from losing his fifth Final, Steph Curry and the Warriors are a better squad and will claim their second straight title.