The long awaited Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors Finals trilogy is finally here. Here is the position to position matchups and a prediction –
Point Guard Matchup: Kyrie Irving vs. Stephen Curry
Kyrie Irving has been on a tear this postseason, preparing himself once again for his matchup against Golden State. Boasting arguably the best handles in the league, Kyrie is capable of giving his team 30-40 points on any given night. Ramping up to the Finals, Irving is climaxing off a 62.2-percent from the field in a five game series against the Boston Celtics.
— NBA (@NBA) May 24, 2017
The most intriguing narrative for Stephen Curry heading into the Finals is the potential for revenge. After posting 50.4 field goal percentage in the 2016 regular season, Curry shot only 40.3-percent against the Cavaliers in the Finals last year while simultaneously being outplayed by Irving. This is a new year, however, and thus, a matured Stephen Curry. So far in the playoffs, Curry is averaging an expected, yet red-hot 50.2-percent from the field, focused as ever to reclaim the title for Golden State.
The following is from ESPN staff writer, Chris Haynes in an interview with Curry reflecting on a careless pass in the pivotal final moments of the Cavaliers’ 2016 Finals victory:
“Yeah, I still think about that [turnover],’ Curry told ESPN. ‘[But] in thinking about that game, it’s funny because I know the concept of making the right play, making a simple play, understanding that there are deciding moments in games and the difference between winning a championship or not could be one of those plays.”
An experienced Curry clashing with a budding superstar Irving; the two offensive juggernauts will prove their worth in the points column. While Curry edges Kyrie with pure shooting and the ability to move without the ball in a pass-first offense, Kyrie has shown his unstoppable potential in isolation.
Shooting Guard Matchup: J.R. Smith vs. Klay Thompson
Both J.R. Smith and Klay Thompson represent a reliable “three and D” option for their respective teams. J.R. is shooting 45-percent from beyond the arc in the playoffs while Klay is shooting only 36.4-percent from three, although Thompson is always just a shot or two from catching fire and dropping 40 points like he has shown all season. The tenacity on defense by both these guards will likely earn them a defensive matchup against the opposing point guards in Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving.
So far in the playoffs, the most notable contribution from Klay Thompson has been his hesitant signing of a toaster just before the playoffs begun, resulting in the ‘toaster era.’
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 23, 2017
J.R. Smith and Klay Thompson are both capable of being reliable scorers, but their key contribution in the Finals will lie on the defensive end.
Small Forward Matchup: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant
Possibly the best scorer of this era in Kevin Durant matched up against a timeless LeBron James making his case as the Greatest Of All Time, or the G.O.A.T. for those acronymically inclined. This matchup will be a crucial component for both of these future Hall of Famer’s legacies.
LeBron James is approaching a truly historic NBA Finals. pic.twitter.com/7nTrAZdF09
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) May 31, 2017
LeBron has been the centerpiece of his seemingly ever-growing Cavaliers since returning in 2014. Every piece of the offense is facilitated through him, be it from scoring, an assist, an offensive board or his mere presence on the court. So far in the 2017 postseason, James has averaged 32.5 points on 56.6-percent shooting (including 42-percent from deep), eight rebounds, seven assists, over two steals, and nearly one and a half blocks. He will have to replicate these beyond elite numbers if not improve on them if his Cavaliers want a chance to earn back-to-back titles.
If there is any player in the NBA that can attempt to match LeBron’s production, it is Durant. Although he is not called on quite as often as LeBron to score, 28-percent usage rating compared to LeBron’s 32-percent in addition to averaging seven less minutes, he has averaged over 25 points per game on 55.6-percent shooting from the floor with over a block per game and nearly eight rebounds.
The difference in this matchup will show when the teams turn to isolation basketball. Although LeBron has improved immensely from three this season, especially in the postseason, Durant is historically a more reliable shooter. Defenders are forced to respect Durant’s ability to shoot by stepping into position allowing Durant to use his lengthy frame to move around the defender in a single step. LeBron, on the other hand, relies on his post game. The Warriors have been extremely communicative, switching assignments and rotating to help defensively, which will challenge LeBron in the half court. Will this challenge actually slow LeBron down? Maybe. It very well may push LeBron into a higher gear.
Power Forward Matchup: Kevin Love vs. Draymond Green
In simple terms, this is the “X-Factor” position.
Draymond Green saying he wants to destroy the Cavs in the finals from back at the beginning in the season pic.twitter.com/D5VwuwP40V
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 26, 2017
Draymond Green has been waiting for this all year. Likely earning himself Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond has grown as a leader on defense. His diversity can make LeBron think twice about driving into the paint, while still able to help on the perimeter against Irving or Smith. He has averaged over two blocks a game in the postseason, two steals and nearly nine rebounds. If Green can maintain this level of defensive production, he will be a driving force to a Golden State victory.
Kevin Love is in prime form entering the Finals. Shooting 47.5-percent from three in the postseason, Love has become one of the most reliable targets for LeBron to kick out to on the arc. Averaging over ten rebounds per game in the same time, Love has redeveloped an ability to cut to the basket and gain positioning after a shot. If the stretch-four can continue to shoot out the lights from deep while beating Golden State bigs to rebounds, he can be a key factor along with LeBron in earning Cleveland a second title.
Center Matchup: Tristan Thompson vs. Zaza Pachulia/ Javale McGee
Tristan Thompson’s key contribution in this series will be his rebounding, notably on offense. In the postseason, Thompson has averaged nearly ten rebounds, four of which have been on the offensive glass. Although he does not tower over the opposition in size, Thompson is very crafty in the post and can often box out defenders opening up the paint for LeBron to drive while positioning himself to win a rebound.
Golden State will likely run their patented ‘death lineup’ with Draymond running the center position. The remainder of the game will be center-by-committee between Javale McGee and Zaza Pachulia. McGee will provide a much needed defensive presence inside, averaging over a block per game in the post season in just ten minutes on the court. Pachulia, on the other hand, is a skilled passer and aggressive screener, lending a helpful hand to Curry’s production on pick and rolls.
Prediction: Warriors in 6