The NBA finals is upon us, and it is no surprise which teams are being showcased. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors were the prohibitive favorites to get to this point, and their dominance thus far in the playoffs has validated why they should be favorites.
Round 3 is going to be fun. pic.twitter.com/wlNp56NzGI
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 29, 2017
These two teams have achieved some great historical feats in this year’s playoffs, such as the Warriors 12-0 start…
No one in NBA history has ever started the playoffs 12-0. pic.twitter.com/CvdNX6uibm
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 23, 2017
… And LeBron James passing Michael Jordan on the all-time playoff scoring list.
— NBA (@NBA) May 26, 2017
This is the moment that all NBA fans have been waiting for since the season started, and this series will live up to the hype.
Keys for Golden State
In the last two NBA finals, LeBron James has dominated against Golden State. In the 2016 NBA finals, James was the leader in every major statistical category. That cannot happen this year for Golden State. LeBron cannot takeover games like he has past few years. Golden State must force other players to perform at that level. If LeBron produces like he has the past few years, the Warriors will be in trouble.
The only clear-cut advantage that Warriors have at any position is the two-guard position. Klay Thompson is clearly better than any shooting guard that the Cavaliers have. Unfortunately, Thompson has not been at his normal All-Star level so far in this year’s playoffs. He is only averaging 14.4 points per game, and shooting a sub-par 38.3 percent from the field. He is also down in every major statistical category from last year in the playoffs. Although Thompson has not been a huge factor offensively so far in the playoffs, he will need to be in this series.
Stephen Curry must prove that he is better than Kyrie Irving in this series. The two-time MVP has not played at that level in either of the Finals that he has been in. Irving won the point guard battle last year, averaging 27.1 points per game, and shooting 46.8 percent from the field. Curry was significantly less impactful, averaging 22.9 points per game (7.1 points less than his regular season average that year), and a poor 40.3 percent from the field. It all culminated with one of the most clutch shots we’ve seen in playoff history.
Stephen Curry wouldn’t change his defense on Kyrie Irving.
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) May 30, 2017
Curry has been nothing short of spectacular so far in the playoffs this year, and it is crucial that he plays with the same efficiency that he has so far. Facing Cleveland will be much more difficult than playing the Portland Trail Blazer, Utah Jazz, and San Antonio Spurs – all of which had significant injuries. There can be no excuses though, and Curry must dominate Irving and validate his two-time MVP status.
Kevin Durant came to Golden State for one reason: to win a championship. His season officially starts on Thursday. The rest of Golden State’s stars have gotten to the promised land and won it. They do not have much left to prove. Durant is under the most pressure in this series, and rightfully so. He joined a team that won 73 games the year before, and completely shifted the balance of power in the NBA. Kevin Durant must impose his will offensively and defensively this series. If he does the Warriors will win this series.
Keys for Cleveland
LeBron and Kyrie were the two best players in last year’s finals, and in order to win this year, it has to be the same. They combined to average 56.8 points per game in last year’s Finals, and it might have to be even greater with the addition of Kevin Durant for Golden State in the off-season. LeBron is far and away the best player in this series. If Kyrie can be the second best player in the Finals again, Cleveland will have a chance to win this series.
Kevin Love was mostly a non-factor last year in the Finals, averaging only 8.5 points per game. That cannot happen again if Cleveland wants to win. He must be a factor offensively with his ability to hit threes and make shots inside. He must also crash the glass like he has been doing like he has been during the playoffs so far (averaging 10.4). If Kevin Love is a consistent presence, Cleveland will be in excellent shape.
Physicality must be the order of the day for Cleveland. Golden State has the advantage in skill, but Cleveland can absolutely dominate them with their physical presence. Tristan Thompson, LeBron James, and Kevin Love all have the ability to get 10 or more rebounds on any given night. The Cavaliers dominated the Warriors physically in their previous encounter and they must do it again. LeBron has been dominant in the paint this postseason, leading all players with 16 paint points per game. Expect that number to go up with a focused effort to make things difficult for the relatively small Golden State front line.
Finals Prediction: Cavaliers in 7
Finals MVP Prediction: LeBron James