NBA Finals Preview
2016 NBA Finals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs The Reigning, Defending, Undisputed NBA World Champion Golden State Warriors
Raise your hand if you didn’t think we would get this matchup about a week ago. It’s ok; there are a lot of hands raised. Coming into the season, most thought we were all but guaranteed to get Golden State/Cleveland part 2. We had a few blips along the way with Cleveland that made us think they could be toppled by an Eastern Conference team and Oklahoma City blew out Golden State twice at home to go up 3-1 last week. After all that, here we are with the Finals rematch we all originally thought was going to happen.
Given that both rosters look pretty similar to last season, the amount of change within both teams is quite remarkable. Steve Kerr is currently coaching Golden State instead of Luke Walton and Tyronn Lue replaced David Blatt after a 30-11 start. Small lineups became a staple for Golden State this season after they bludgeoned the Cavs in the Finals last year with them. For the Cavaliers, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving are both healthy and ready to go this time around. I’m not sure that is such a great thing for them and I will get into that a little bit later.
The regular season matchups both went to Golden State. On Christmas Day, the Warriors won an 89-83 game that was a slugfest reminiscent to the games we saw in last year’s Finals. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were both healthy for this one but combined to go a ghastly 9-33 in the game. Love did chip in 18 rebounds though. LeBron scored 25 points on 26 shots and Cleveland shot 31.6 percent (5-30 from 3). It was probably the worst offensive game for the Cavaliers on the season.
Klay Thompson and Steph Curry combined for 37 points on 31 shots in a down performance but were picked up by Draymond Green (22 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks) and Shaun Livingston who scored 16 points on 8-9 shooting. Overall this game was an offensive struggle where damn near everyone had an off night and the game was played at Cleveland’s pace. Despite all of this the Cavaliers still managed to lose.
There’s nothing to write about the second game really. The Warriors came into Quicken Loans and kicked the Cavaliers in the teeth for 48 minutes in a 132-98 win. The Warriors exposed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love defensively.
That brings me to what I mentioned earlier about Love and Irving being back and what that means for the Cavaliers. Will they be better offensively than they were in the last Finals? Yes. Will they be worse defensively? Fuck yes. Were the Cavs better equipped to beat the Warriors how they were built last year? Arguable but I say yes. Last year’s Cavs had guys who can defend and controlled the boards while mucking up the game. The Cavs, as currently built, are built to win in a “prettier” fashion, which probably won’t fly against the Warriors.
Irving is one of the worst defensive point guards in basketball, and Kevin Love’s footspeed is a huge problem especially if/when Golden State decides to put them both in pick and roll situations. It’s one thing to have one weak defender to account for and hide. Lots of teams can do that. You have two against one of the greatest offensive teams in NBA history and you’re asking for trouble. I assume the Warriors are going to make the laterally challenged Kevin Love make decisions against the Curry/Draymond pick and roll. That setup can be a nightmare for even the good defenders. If you step out to guard Steph, you may be giving a 39% three point shooter wide open three pointers. If you sag even a little and give Curry a slither of space, the greatest shooter of all time gets open shots. Then if you get caught in no man’s land or you trap Curry, he might hit Green with a pocket pass and now you have Green bringing the noise to your defense in 4 on 3 situations. There is a lot to account for, and I’m not sure the Cavaliers have a suitable answer for that. To be fair, not many people do and that’s part of the reason Golden State is 85-14 this season.
If Thompson and Love play together for a good amount of time this series, putting Thompson on Green might be a necessity. Who knows how Thompson defends against that particular combo but we do know Love doesn’t have much of a chance. And then if Kerr decides to take Bogut off the floor for Iguodala, then Love is compromised regardless. How Tyronn Lue decides to employ Love and try to counter what Golden State does is the most intriguing part of the series to me.
The Cavaliers hitting the offensive boards like they did in the Finals last season would be a helpful ingredient in pulling off the upset. The Cavs hauled in 27% of their misses in last year’s Finals which helped slow the game and make it ugly. Thompson and Love are currently grabbing 31.6% of offensive boards and 55.6% of defensive boards in their playoff minutes on the floor together. Obviously, getting second chance opportunities and limiting the Golden State Warriors to one chance would go a long way to helping Cleveland win the series!!(HI MAGIC!!)
Despite the Warriors being a really good defensive team, the Cavaliers offense should present issues as well. They’ve shot 43.4% from 3 for the series and scored 116.2 points per 100 possessions. The Cavaliers have bludgeoned the Eastern Conference with lights out shooting and effective ball movement. I know that it’s the Eastern Conference but the Cavs offense looks like it’s firing on all cylinders and that’s impressive regardless of the conversation.
The Cavaliers can’t replicate the same defensive effort or length issues that Oklahoma City brought to the table in making the Western Conference Finals a battle for the ages. I expect Draymond Green to have a waaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy easier time of it offensively in this series and overall I’m just not sure, barring Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and JR Smith playing defense like they never have, how Cleveland is going to do enough defensively to win this series.
The Cavaliers have to basically go out there and pray they can score 120 points four times and hope like hell that Golden State is just cold for whatever reason. Or they have to hope for once in a lifetime defensive efforts from half their roster. I just don’t know how realistic that is. It will be competitive but it’s going to be quite the challenge of gargantuan proportions for the Cavaliers to win this series.
LeBron trying to get Cleveland a ring and Golden State trying to enter the conversation for greatest team ever and potential dynasty. I hope it’s as fun as all the storylines leading into the series are.
Prediction: Warriors in 5