Key factors in the series:
Points in the paint: Points in the paint are going to be huge in this series. Both teams are equipped with deadly shooters who probably won’t have many off nights in the finals. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have been to the finals plenty of times now, so it’s unlikely they’ll have cold shooting nights and Kyrie Irving and JR Smith are both going to take every good shot that comes their way. Both of these teams will have to battle in the paint to get the scoring advantage since both teams will heave plenty of 3-pointers. Golden State’s addition of Javale McGee should help them balance out the Cavalier’s advantage in terms of bigs, but Curry and Kevin Durant will also have to look to attack the paint early and often as well.
The same thing applies for Cleveland. If LeBron James and Kyrie Irving attack the paint, that opens up opportunities for guys like Kevin Love to knock down open looks, and we all know Love prefers to be a shooter. Tristan Thompson’s activity in the paint is already going to be hard for Golden State to stop, and if you couple that with Curry having to constantly guard Irving on aggressive attacks to the rim you get a formula that results in positives for the Cavs.
The Bench: The stars are out and running in this NBA Finals once again, but the use of the bench as a whole by both coaches over the course of the series will be key. The Warriors are coming into the Finals with significantly less postseason minutes than last season, and remain healthy. For the Warriors, keeping these players on the floor as much as possible in the Finals is what the year long resting campaign is for, so players like Andre Iguodala — who was hobbled by a back injury in last year’s finals — will be ready to go.
For the Cavs, preserving LeBron James’ stamina throughout games and the series as a whole is what Tyronn Lue should be prioritizing. James is unequivocally the best player in the world right now, and tiring him out spells doom for Cleveland. The Cavs bench needs to really step up this series for them to pull through.
Rebounding: Rebounding has always been said to show who wants the victory more and it did in the 2016 Finals where the Cavaliers outrebounded the Warriors by 28. The Cavs were plus 10 on the offensive glass and plus 18 on the defensive glass which means they were getting extra chances on the offensive end while not allowing the Warriors any extra chances.
The rebounding discrepancy might be due to the Warriors preference to play small, but you have to rebound the ball to win championships and the Warriors couldn’t do that last year. Rebounding might not seem very important to the casual fan, but an advantage in that category is huge, especially because the teams were only separated by four points in the seven game series.
The addition of Javale McGee on the Warriors is key because his athleticism and size will help on the glass. On top of that Kevin Durant’s length should be able to help in that category as well. The Cavaliers roster that outrebounded the Warriors last year remains intact, so don’t anticipate them handing over the rebounding edge to the Warriors without a fight. Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love are both capable of having 10 plus rebounds per game which should make the matchups under the boards highly contested every night.
X-Factor player for both teams:
Kevin Durant: For the Warriors, it’s Kevin Durant. Golden State’s offense flows through Curry and Thompson which means Durant’s shot selection will be highly important in keeping the offense from getting stagnant. All three of these players can score at will for Golden State, but the most important aspect here is balancing that fire power. Durant is most likely going to have to get his hands dirty in this series by attacking the paint for most of his offensive opportunities so he doesn’t disrupt Curry and Thompson’s established roles in the offense. Durant will also have to help in the rebounding game as well, especially since the Cavs are even harder to beat when Tristan Thompson is grabbing offensive and defensive boards.
Lebron James: For the Cavaliers, it’s LeBron James. James is obviously the best active player in the league and an MVP candidate year in and year out. However, he is still the lifeblood of this team and when he struggles, this Cavs team is vulnerable. Take game three against the Boston Celtics, where James went for 4-13 from the field and 0-4 from three as he finished with 11 points. That was all the Celtics needed to steal their only game against the Cavs and Golden State is far and away more talented than Boston. If James has even one game like that, at home no less, in the finals, it very well may cost them the series especially since the Warriors will protect their home floor, as they went 36-5 at home in the regular season.
Andre Iguodala: On the Warriors, I will go with Andre Iguodala. The 2015 Finals MVP was essentially shut down in the 2016 Finals due to a back injury, and he is the best answer the Warriors have defensively to LeBron James, holding him to just 33 percent shooting as James’ primary defender. The impact that a veteran with long arms, a quick step, and the strength to make LeBron work is something that can’t be over appreciated for the Warriors.
Kevin Love: Kevin Love is the X-factor for the Cavs. Averaging 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds a game in this postseason, Love is finally looking like the player that they traded the once in a generationally hyped Andrew Wiggins for, and the Cavs have been reaping the benefits. If he can continue to be such a dominating presence against one of the best defensive players in the league in Draymond Green, the Cavs will be tough to take down.
Klay Thompson: Klay Thompson is the X-factor for the Warriors in this series. While the Warriors have been able to have a historic postseason thus far, they’re going to need Thompson to improve his play if they hope to knock off the defending champs. Thompson’s numbers this postseason have dropped in every category across the board. It might not seem too concerning because of how dominant the Warriors have been this postseason, but if they hope to get past the defending champs they’re going to need all four of their all stars producing at a high level.
Thompson averaged 22 points off of 51 percent from two point range, and 41 percent from three in the regular season. In the postseason his production has plummeted to only 14 points per game on 39 percent from two and 36 percent from three. Those numbers are troubling because Thompson has always been a knockdown shooter throughout his career and Golden State needs him to do that in transition and in the half-court. Those numbers bring back memories of Harrison Barnes bricking wide open shots in last years finals. With all three of the Cavaliers stars playing at a high level, the Warriors are going to need Thompson to find his stroke if they hope to win the series.
Tristan Thompson: For the Cavaliers, Tristan Thompson is the guy who can be the catalyst. Thompson’s offensive repertoire isn’t very extensive, but that isn’t what this Cavs team needs from him. What they need from Thompson, what they pay him 15 million dollars a year for, is for him to be their hustle guy.
In last year’s NBA Finals Tristan Thompson had double digit rebound games in four of the seven games. The Cavaliers won in three of those four games so it’s no secret that what Thompson brings is important. He brings a grit and desire to the glass that without him, just isn’t there. Every championship caliber team needs a guy like Thompson to go do the dirty work and not even worry about his numbers.
If the Cavs are going to win back to back championships they’re going to need Thompson to get as many double digit rebounding games as possible, because whenever he has 10 plus rebounds, good things happen for the champs.
Warriors in six. While the Cavaliers may shoot the ball better from the field and 3-point land than Golden State, the Warriors field goal percentage allowed is at 43.28 while Cleveland’s is 45.67 (league average is 45.74). The Warrior’s addition of Kevin Durant bolsters them on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, which complements Curry, who also plays both sides of the court well. Now, that’s not to say LeBron James and Kyrie Irving aren’t going to play both ends of the floor well, but Cleveland can tend to settle for not so good jumpers often, especially James, which was evident in the Cav’s skid through the month of March. Meanwhile, the Warriors have proved to be dominant with and without Durant, and he has settled nicely into the potent offense in Golden State.
Like I mentioned before, all it takes is for James to have one bad game in this series in Cleveland, and the Warriors will make the Cavs pay. James still tends to settle for outside jumpers and seems to be too unselfish at times which is a detriment to their team. The Warriors don’t have that problem, and their offense will probably flow seamlessly through Curry, Thompson and Durant which makes the Warriors near impossible to beat.
Warriors in seven: The rubber match will be everything that the world has been hoping for, with the most talent in a single series that we have seen in many years, if not ever. With both teams fully healthy, it will be a titanic, back and forth struggle whose result will be up in the air every game. I give it to the Warriors because of added star power, depth, and the strongest home court advantage in the league in Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have only dropped nine games in the past three regular seasons.
Warriors in seven. The Warriors were able to take the Cavs to seven games last year with Curry hurt, and a struggling Harrison Barnes. That Warriors team thrived because of their great depth, someone always stepped up and it wasn’t always the star.
This year everyone knows where the Warriors points and production are going to come from, yet they still can’t stop it. There’s not much you can do to stop all four Golden State all-stars. LeBron and company will do their best, but it likely won’t be enough. The Cavaliers managed to steal a game against the Warriors way back on Christmas Day, but that was when Stephen Curry was struggling to accommodate the addition of Kevin Durant. This postseason Curry is averaging 28 points on 50 percent shooting, so it’s safe to say that he’s no longer struggling.
James and Irving are bound to make the series tough, especially with the latter having one of his greatest postseason runs ever. The toughest thing for the Warriors is going to be slowing James down, which is basically impossible. The Warriors focus will most likely be to try and limit him as a distributor because if guys like Iman Shumpert and J.R Smith are making threes, that gives the Cavs an advantage.
The addition of Kevin Durant gave the Warriors a whole new dynamic to their already great offense. They now have the liberty to give the ball to a guy who can get a basket all by himself, making their offense that much easier. If the Warriors were able to take it to seven while Curry was hurting and Barnes was ice cold last year, they’re going to win this series thanks to the addition of Kevin Durant.
I do anticipate LeBron and Kyrie having a big series, but the talent on the Warriors is just too much to handle for the defending champs. The Cavs will no doubt make the series close, but ultimately the Warriors have way too much talent to lose the series.