Even since Kevin Durant shocked the basketball universe on July 4, 2016 and decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors, this is the matchup that every NBA fan has been expecting and desperately looking forward to witnessing. As everyone knows, the Dubs and Cavs have met in the last two NBA Finals, which makes this showdown the ultimate rubber match. This will mark the first time in NBA history that the same teams will meet in the finals for the third consecutive season.
This matchup is the subject of NBA fan’s dreams because of the multitude of stars that will grace the hardwood at once this series. Between the Cavaliers and Warriors, the teams have 7 current All-Stars and 3 more former All-Stars. In addition, these are not just any All-Stars that will be on display. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry rank as 3 of the 5 best players on the planet and this trio has won every MVP award since Derrick Rose won the award in 2010-2011. Along with Durant, James, and Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving can all be considered top 15 to 20 players in the league of their versatility and excellence.
Reasons for Cleveland’s Second Consecutive Title:
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a great chance of staking claim to the 2017 NBA title because of the man who will wear 23 for the maroon and gold. Even at age 32 and having played nearly 50,000 minutes between the playoffs and regular season, James continues to play at the highest level and improve his game. Although he does not possess the same athleticism or explosiveness as he did when he was 23, he has never been better at analyzing defenses, exploiting his opponents, and elevating his teammates level of play. This season, James set career highs in rebounds, 8.6, and assists, 8.7, per game while posting 26.4 points per game on 55% shooting from the field and 36% from three. During the playoffs, LeBron has taken his play to an even higher and more efficient level as he has been scoring 32.4 points per game while shooting 57% from the field and 42% from three. This level of play is the main reason why the Cavs have rolled through the Eastern Conference while only dropping one game. As with every team, except with the potential exception of the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard, the Warriors do not have a player on their team that can stop or even limit LeBron’s ability on the offensive side of the floor without committing multiple defenders. Over the past two finals, LeBron has gauged the Dubs because they do not have an interior presence that inhibits LeBron from driving to the basket.
While LeBron has definitely improved his overall level of play since last year’s finals, Love, Irving, and the Cavaliers’ roster can stake the same claim. Unlike the first two seasons, when Love looked lost and uninterested in his role on the team, Tyron Lue has been able to place Love into situations that have enabled him to excel and even return to his All-Star form that he displayed in Minnesota. During the series against Boston, Love was incredibly valuable because of his ability to stretch the floor, provide competent interior defense, rebound effectively, and complete incredible outlet passes. While Love has raised his play considerably since last season’s final when he averaged only 8 points per game, the Cavs should expect the same dynamic scoring ability from Kyrie that he demonstrate in the finals last season and against the Celtics in game 4. Although LeBron was the catalyst for the championship team, Kyrie was the offensive finisher. The Dubs will need to discover an effective way to guard Irving because last year’s strategy of switching Curry will only lead to disaster once again. The Warriors will need to stick Thompson on Irving so that he can leverage his defensive acumen.
Outside of the Cavs top three, the rest of the team has improved due to shrewd additions by GM David Griffin. Deron Williams is an excellent backup point guard that can create plays for others while James or Irving need a blow. Korver was a great addition at the deadline because he is one of the best dead eye shooters in the history of the NBA and will have the Warriors thinking twice about helping on James, Love, or Irving. Smith and Shumpert should continue to provide quality minutes for the team because of their athleticism and finals experience. The most important role player for the Cavs will once again be Tristian Thompson. Thompson is a monster on the glass because of his never ending motor. The Warriors are going to be looking to play small so if Thompson can abuse the team for placing Green at center by providing the Cavs with offensive rebounds, the Dubs are going to be forced to alter their plans. In addition, Thompson is going to have an incredibly important role for the team because he will be asked to guard the Splash Brothers behind the arc when the Cavs decide to switch on defense. Last year, he used his agility and did an extraordinary job of limiting the Warriors’ three point barrages.
Reasons for Golden State’s Revenge:
Even after winning the championship in 2015 and breaking the record for most wins in a season in 2016, this Warriors’ team may the best of the trio. The Warriors’ big four of Durant, Curry, Thompson, and Green are each destined for the Hall of Fame because of the team’s and individual success. The Warriors are an all-time great team because they are an offensive juggernaut that shares the ball incredibly well and possess multiple defensive stalwarts that know how to play as an unit. Even though the Cavs have LeBron James, the Dubs have the best scorer in the league and potentially the best scorer in the history of the league in KD. Durant’s ability to shoot from anywhere on the court and finish in traffic near the room as a seven foot player makes him nearly unguardable. During the post season, Durant has been the Warriors most consistent player, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Even when Klay and Steph were struggling from the outside, Durant’s consistency from anywhere on the court kept the Warriors afloat in many games, until one of the Splash Brothers regained their form. The Warriors must ensure that Durant will never feel the need to solely take over the game and continues to trust his Hall of Fame teammates. While Durant’s offense will not be questioned, he will be given the unenviable task of guarding James for a majority of the series. Although he does not have the strength to contend with James, his incredible wingspan, speed, and determination to finally defeat James should allow him to limit the All-Pro.
The entire Warriors’ team will be driven to avenge their loss in last season’s final, but the player that needs to improve the most is Steph Curry. Curry was held to only 22 points per game on 40% shooting and routinely did not show up in the biggest moments. In addition, his defense against Irving was abysmal. Curry will no longer need to carry the team due to the addition of Durant, but he will need to shoot a higher percentage as well as taking better control of the ball in the half court. Although Curry will not be asked to stay in front of Kyrie, he should take on the challenge of either guarding JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, or Kyle Korver because they do not possess the same explosiveness or dynamic ability. While Curry has played at a high level this postseason, the Dubs are going to need a significantly better effort from Klay Thompson if they are going to overcome the best player in the game. If Klay plays like the fourth best player on the floor, the Warriors could see themselves winning in five games because he is a defensive stalwart and the second best shooter in the league, after Curry. However, if he continues to play at a subpar level the Warriors will be in trouble. This postseason, Thompson is averaging only 14 points per game, 8 points below his season average, on only 38% shooting. The Warriors need Thompson to score close to 20 points per game and shoot over 40% from three if they are going to play at their best. The extra rest and the desire to win his second title should drive Thompson to play at a level closer to his career average. Along with providing an offensive spark, Thompson will need to defend Irving. Thompson needs to take the challenge and fight through screens and not allow Curry to switch onto him and be abused like last season.
Outside of the Warriors big three, the rest of the team just needs to accept their role and they will be crowned champions. Draymond Green may not have the talent like Curry, Durant, or Thompson, but he has the most heart on the floor and he can do everything on a basketball court. Green may be only 6’6″, but he fights like a 7’0″ center. Green will need to keep his temper under control because the Warriors need him for his playmaking ability as well as his rebounding against Tristian Thompson. Besides Green, the most important role player for the Warriors will be Zaza Pachulia. Last season’s series showed the importance of having a big man near the paint. When Bogut was on the floor, Golden State was significantly better and gives the team someone who is actually bigger than James. In addition, he is an extremely dirty player and everyone should watch him.
Prediction: Warriors win in 6
Over the past two seasons, the champion has won on the opposite team’s floor and I believe that this will occur once again. The Warriors have an incredible amount of talent and determination to win, which is an extremely dangerous combination. The Cavs and Dubs both have outstanding offenses, but the Warriors have the more reliable defense. Cleveland fans should expect and all-time performance from LeBron, but he is already showing signs of fatigue while the entire Warriors’ team looks fresh. Green is not at risk of being suspended this series, which was one of the biggest reasons of the Warriors defeat along with Bogut’s injury. Even though he will not match James, I expect Durant to play at a level comparable to the potential GOAT and claim his first title.