In one of the more sought after and anticipated NBA Finals matchups in recent history the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will battle it out once again for the Larry O’Brien trophy. This is the second straight year these two teams have reached the big stage however this year has a different feel to it. For starters, the Cavaliers are healthy going into this year’s finals as two-thirds of the Cavs big three were absent. Kevin Love sustained a dislocated shoulder injury in the first round against the Celtics which knocked him out for the postseason, while Kyrie Irving sustained a left knee injury in Game 1 of the finals which resulted in off season kneecap surgery. LeBron was able to will the Cavaliers to 2 wins in the series however he couldn’t do it all and the Warriors went on to win in 6 games 4-2. Another factor going into this game is legacy. Both the Warriors as a team and LeBron James have a lot to gain and lose from this year’s finals. For Golden State the capping off of the dream season in which they broke the NBA record for wins/losses in a season. Doing something that no other team in history has done. As well as to a lesser extent what it means for Steph Curry’s career coming of his second straight NBA MVP award. Now on the flip side there is LeBron James. There may not be a more criticized athlete in modern day sports than LBJ. LeBron’s legacy has a lot riding on this year’s finals appearance. His finals record to many is a glaring mark on his legendary career so far. He is 2-4 in the Finals with this being his 6th straight appearance, something that hasn’t been done by a player in over 40 years. Not only is this game huge for him but also the city of Cleveland who (the subject of a recent 30 for 30 documentary) have not had a sports championship since 1964.
As hyped up as the season series was between these two teams going into the year, the results were anything but. The Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in the 2 games the teams faced off in with the first being the primetime game on Christmas Day. That game was an offensive struggle as both team’s shots weren’t falling with the Warriors squeaking out an 89-83 victory at home. The Warriors held Cleveland to a mere 32 percent shooting on the evening. A healthy Love and Irving did little to help as they each had poor scoring performances. Love shot 5-16 for 10 points and Irving shot 4-15 for 13 point. For Golden State the threes weren’t falling like they usually did as Draymond led the team with 25, as Steph and Klay poured in 19 and 18 respectively. It was the first time the Warriors had been held under 100 points at home during the regular season in over a year. Now fast forward to the 2nd matchup a few weeks later in January and it is a complete annihilation. The Warriors went into Quicken Loans Arena and from the jump were all over the Cavs. amassing a 30 point lead in the first half and extending it to a 40 point lead in the 3rd quarter. Curry was on fire with 35 points through 3 quarters. The much anticipated part 2 seasonal matchup was over by halftime with the final score being 132-98. The Cavs big three were no shows yet again as LeBron, Kyrie and Love combined for only 27 points with Kevin Love only scoring 3 in 21 minutes of game action. As a side note the Cavs had just come off a 6 game road trip where they went 5-1 however nobody could’ve predicted that type of deflating loss. All this now leads up to the teams meeting again in the Finals, each with unique keys for success.
Cavs keys to winning:
The Big 3: The Cavaliers big three of LeBron, Kyrie and K-Love have really hit their stride in these playoffs. Kevin Love had a few shaky games but has seemed to figure it out. If the Cavs want a chance at the Larry O’Brien trophy these three guys will have to continue to carry their team. During this postseason the big three is averaging a little over half of the team’s offensive production with James and Kyrie each averaging over 24 ppg.
The Bench: The bench has been a crucial part of Cleveland’s success during the regular season and the postseason, especially since Tyron Lue became the head coach. Seasoned veterans such as Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson(who has had NBA Finals experience) have come up huge providing a spark off the bench. Frye has been lethal from three point range in the postseason shooting over 57%. Dellavedova and Shumpert will also be a keys in how well they can pester Curry, Livingston and Thompson on the defensive end.
J.R Smith: J.R. Smith may be the greatest wildcard player in recent memory. His ability to change the landscape of the game is all dependent on if he shows up or not. In last year’s finals he went ghost, Stephen A. Smith even put out an APB for him because of how little a factor he was. This postseason Smith has been lighting it up from three shooting 46% and could be the equalizer to the Splash Bros. if he gets hot. J.R. Smith’s play might just be the biggest factor for Cleveland to finally bring home a championship.
Warriors keys to winning:
Draymond Green: It has been anything but a quiet postseason for the player selected to the ALL-NBA Second Team this year. Green has established himself as a top flight player in the league and will have to display this coming off a tough series with the Thunder. Green’s ability to facilitate as well as score the ball will be key for the Warriors to be successful. He also has to be cautious of his temper as one more technical or flagrant foul would result in a one game suspension which would be devastating.
The Splash Bros: Even though this is pretty obvious it doesn’t take away from the fact that Klay Thompson and Steph Curry need to be on their games, especially if the Cavs come out hot from three like they have all postseason. We saw in the Thunder series how bad it can get if neither are playing well. And even if one is playing well and the other poor it still hinders the flow and energy of the team. Both have shown spurts of being slow starters which could cause some concern but nothing serious.
The Bench: The Warriors bench has done a great job all season keeping the energy high when the starters come out. Golden State’s big advantage in this series is its depth. Players such as Shaun Livingston, Mo Speights, and Iguadala are vital cogs in the Warriors system especially Iguodala who was awarded Finals MVP last year for his defensive work against LeBron. Ian Clark and Leandro Barbosa are good for giving quality rest minutes for Draymond and Klay and are both high energy guys each very good in transition. Also look how Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao fair on the boards battling against Tristan Thompson.