So here we are once again. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will face off once again in the finals after a couple of surprises in the West, it all ends up how many people believed it always would be. This time is different though. This time Cleveland has a fully healthy roster and seems to be clicking everywhere while Golden State struggled and crawled their way into this finals spot after a record-breaking regular season. Who has the upper hand in this series? Who will go on to win it all? Well let’s break everything down.
The Cleveland Cavaliers ran through the east with pretty much no resistance, outside of a home stand by the Raptors. Kyrie Irving has looked fantastic and done a complete 180 from what he was doing in the regular season. I was worried his issues from the regular season would carry over to the playoffs, but Kyrie has had very few issues bringing his impact to the game. He’s getting most of his points off of pull up jumpers averaging 11 points on those alone and shooting a healthy 48.6% on them. His ability to create shots and score is something that was missed in the finals last year after he went down in game 1. He’s been absurdly efficient and the Cavs will need him to be on his A game to take down the #1 team this year. One con though of his this postseason has been defensively even though that is not entirely his fault. The team has been a ridiculous 19 points better defensively with Kyrie off the floor, but also a main factor in that is the fact that the other most used lineup does not use him, J.R. Smith, or Kevin Love. Kyrie plays with one of those players most of the time which are all negatives on the defensive end.
Kevin Love has been a wildcard for the team thus far and it’s a wonder if he will be a greater positive or negative for the team. His defense is atrocious and he has no clue where he’s supposed to be on that end of the floor. The Warriors would attack him as much as possible the same way they broke OKC’s defense by forcing Steven Adams to switch on either one of the Splash Brothers. If Kevin Love is not able to give you 20+ efficient points he’s a greater detriment to the team defensively than he is a positive offensively. Kevin Love seemed to find himself in the last two games vs Toronto after many on social media were wondering where he went in games 3-4. Whether or not that’s a sign of an upward trend is still in question. He’s been shooting 44.6% on 3s and 34% on 2s which is just confusing, but his shooting won’t make up for his defense if you have another option in Frye off the bench.
Speaking of Channing Frye, he’s been an X factor for the team thus far. He has been shooting a ridiculous 57.8% from 3 so far in the postseason. That adds up to an effective field goal percentage of 81.8%. Absolutely insane. He is so deadly that he cannot be left alone and in Cleveland’s own version of a death lineup with Frye at center forces the center to come out and deny Frye from getting an open shot, opening up the paint. If he stays effective from outside he will become a key reason this team gets some wins.
J.R. Smith has been lethal so far in the playoffs shooting 46.2% from 3, and off screens his points per possession is at an outstanding 1.61. Only thing about J.R. that would scare me if I was a Cavs fan is the fact he has not had that one haywire game. He usually has one at least every year in the playoffs where he’s pretty much the sole reason for his team losing just by making erratic low IQ plays down the stretch. Maybe that J.R. is gone, but his history would scare me going into a finals series while being one of the most important pieces on this team.
LeBron James is appearing in his 6th straight finals which is just insane. So far though he has been coasting all season long. He’s been able to flip the switch when it’s needed in the past. He has been playing the 4 man spot more often in the playoffs and I love it. His greatest success in Miami came while he spent most of his time in the big man spot. The Cavs have been using him as a high post big man creating plays for everyone else. They ran the exact same horns set on the Raptors 5 times in a row at one point because it was so unstoppable. When LeBron is allowed to control the tempo of the game and get other guys in good spots, Cleveland is at their best.
Ball movement is key for the team. Tyronn Lue has been doing a good job at enforcing the team to play a real offense rather than rely on just the superstardom of LeBron and Kyrie. So far in the postseason both LeBron and Kyrie have been doing okay at best in isolation both ranking below 75th percentile. Golden State will not be just pushed over to the side like many other teams and Cleveland cannot react to the pressure the same way OKC did. OKC lost the games they did with hero ball and relying upon ISOs late in the game. Cleveland has to avoid falling to that at all costs unless there’s obviously a mismatch.
The team’s shooting is what has won them games so they have to stick to it. They have 4 guys so far this year above the 79th percentile in spot up possessions, so they have to play to their strengths. This team is at their best when they play their small ball lineup of Dellavedova-Shumpert-Jefferson-James-Frye which has a net rating of 46.6. It’s their best offensive and defensive lineup so far in the postseason so expect to see it a lot. Their 2nd best lineup has been just their normal starting lineup of Irving-Smith-James-Love-Thompson and they’re getting 57.2% of the rebounds on the floor with this lineup. This isn’t the same team as last year. Through 4 games last year there was a total of 20 half court possession that did not include LeBron on the floor and the offense only scored 12 points in that time. This team has a healthy Kyrie and Love in this series so the entire matchup is completely different.
Golden State fought back from a 1-3 hole in the Western Conference Finals to stay alive and be here at this point. They have all the pressure as they are heavily favored to win this series and finish out the historic season. There was a lot of issues in the last series offensively and until games 6 and 7 they could not find a groove. The death lineup in particular has been struggling as of late posting a -1.6 net rating. That is a huge drop in production compared to their 47.0 net rating during the regular season. They made some adjustments against OKC, but the biggest change that led the turnaround was simply the Splash Brothers started making shots. The backcourt duo has got to keep playing at this level from the beginning of this series to come out on top.
Draymond struggled this last series as well in large part due to the defense of Kevin Durant. If Draymond is not running in the normal flow of things the team’s ball movement stifles. Before the OKC series Draymond was averaging 17.7 points a game, 10.4 rebounds a game, 7.0 assists a game, 2.3 blocks, and did so on a true shooting percentage of 57.7%. Compare that to this last series against OKC he averaged 11.3 points a game, 8.9 rebounds a game, 4.3 assists a game, and did so on a true shooting percentage of 44.1%. He has to be the premier player he was all before the last series for the Warriors to have a chance in this series.
Andre Iguodala, the Finals MVP the last time these two teams faced off will surely play a huge role in this series. He gave LeBron hell in last year’s Finals and was the unsung hero of game 6, locking down both Durant and Westbrook down the stretch. Expect him to play huge minutes down the stretch guarding LeBron.
The Warriors beat Cleveland in the season series 2-0 and it was some embarrassing stuff to see. The Warriors won the first game off the back of Draymond who put up 22 points, 25 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 blocks in a 6 point victory, in which both of the Splash Brothers struggled. In the 2nd meeting it was a complete blowout. Many thought LeBron and company would give the reigning champions hell after Steph Curry mentioned the visiting locker room in Cleveland still smelled like champagne, but that was so far from the truth. Steph Curry put up 35 points and Iguodala put up 20 points while only missing a single shot in the game. Of course these games only mean so much especially the fact that the first meeting between the two this year was Kyrie’s 3rd game of the year coming off of an injury, and the Cavs and Warriors have been completely different teams than their regular season counterparts.
DeShawn Hornback: In the end I just believe the Warriors are the better team and I am going with them in 6. Kevin Love will be completely unplayable, I’m still banking on a J.R. Smith haywire game, and the Cavs have been awful defending the paint so I have the Warriors hoisting the chip once again in Cleveland, Ohio.
Jack Bernier: Yes, I know, last year LeBron gave the Warriors trouble without Kyrie or Kevin Love. He averaged a ridiculous 36/14/9 and almost won Finals MVP. But this year has been all Golden State, whether you’d like to admit it or not. Every time they’ve faced adversity (which hasn’t been often) they’ve responded better than they were before and overcome it. You don’t win 73 out of 82 games without being able to bounce back. I know the Cavs will have their moments. A 12-0 run capped off with a LeBron alley oop and a Warriors timeout. A J.R. Smith flurry of threes. Dellavedova containing Curry for a game or two. But in the end, we always sit and watch as the Splash Brothers take control and do the seemingly impossible, time after time. I’m not saying it won’t be close. The Cavaliers may even win a game in Oracle. But it won’t be enough to stop the Warriors. They’ve made it this far, and I see no reason to believe their dominance will stop now. My prediction: Warriors in 7.
Ajay Stewart: I have the Warriors in 5. Golden State will put Love into PnRs and eat Cleveland’s defense alive. Cleveland can score with Golden State, but can their defense hold up? I’m not sure about that.
Liam Devin: I don’t see the Cavaliers taking more than 2 games in this series. Unless we see more record breaking performances as far as team 3-pointers, I don’t see the Cavs sticking with the Warriors. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have been red hot, and I expect that to continue. With questions about Kevin Love’s and Kyrie Irving’s ability to defend, I think the Warriors exploit these matchups. I have the Warriors in 6.