NBA Finals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors

Holy narratives, Batman!

The media sure has been having fun with the buildup to this series. Will LeBron bring a title home to Cleveland? Can a “jump shooting” team win the NBA finals? Will the MVP or the “best player in the world” win the title? Will the “incompetent” David Blatt be fired? How many quotation marks can I use in one paragraph?

To be honest, most of the things that are being talked about with this series don’t matter in the slightest.

What really matters is how the Cavs are going to keep up with the best defense and one of the best offenses in the league, especially when they’re missing one of their best rebounders and best offensive weapons in Kevin Love. The Cavs have cruised through a battered Eastern Conference, with the only hint of a challenge coming in the form of the Chicago Bulls. They cruised past the first round and the conference finals, and yet they’re the team that’s limping into the finals.

On the other side, the Warriors are relatively healthy, have been (sort of) tested, and are playing their best basketball of the season. The home court advantage that the Roaracle provides is real. (Just ask anyone besides the Grizzlies, Spurs and Bulls).

Watching the Warriors so far this playoffs, they look just about as close to unbeatable as any team can be. To be clear, they’re far from a jumpshooting team. They’re a team that provides good spacing and just happens to have two of the best shooters in the league. MVP Steph Curry has shown that he’s the most talented basketball player on the planet. The way he shoots and handles is ridiculous. Just ask Chris Paul.

But on the other side you have arguably the best player in the league in LeBron James. Will LeBron be good enough to hold off the Warriors on his own? Conventional wisdom would say no, but considering how special of a player he is, many are throwing conventional wisdom aside and giving LBJ the benefit of the doubt. To anyone saying that James is good enough to carry the Cavs, I’ll say this: Remember when he was collapsing to the floor after beating a depleted Hawks team? What do you think is going to happen when he tries to do it all against a defense that led the league in efficiency this year at 98.2?

The Cavs have their work cut out for them if they want to be close in this one. Still, you couldn’t ask for a much more exciting and polarizing matchup

Key to the Series

Cavaliers

  • Health. Love is out, Irving is hurt, and half the team is old enough that there’s fear they’ll get hurt just from looking at the court. They’re going up against arguably the deepest team in the league. If anything else goes wrong for the Cavs, even slightly, they’re doomed.
  • Don’t let LeBron iso. LeBron playing with Paul Millsap and holding the ball before taking a bad fadeaway may have been cute against the Hawks, but trying that against the Warriors means they’ll get demolished. The Cavs need to run an actual offense and create opportunities for their superstar, not just have him stare at Draymond Green for 20 seconds.

Warriors

  • Stop the pieces. The Cavs supporting players have been huge so far in the playoffs. Whether it’s been Matthew Dellavedova or J.R. Smith, they’ve had someone relatively unexpected come up big every game. The Warriors don’t want James to explode, but he’s not going to score 70 a night. If they can contain the pawns of the team, then they’re going to be in a good position.
  • Don’t fear putting Iguodala on LeBron. Sure, Iggy is giving up 2 inches and 30 pounds to LeBron, but this is a guy who’s been all-defense two times, can still run the court with the best of them, and knows how to lock down superstars. He’s only played 27.5 minutes per game to this point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s getting run for over 30 minutes for a good chunk of this series.

X-Factor

J.R. Smith

For all the talk about how great and how clutch Smith has been in the playoffs, it seems to be lost that he’s still shooting under 40% from beyond the arc. He’s at 39.6% on a massive 91 attempts so far in the playoffs. That’s not a bad mark, but the way some are talking you’d think he’s knocking down 80%. It also needs to not be forgotten that he’s a guy who can lose you a game just as easily as he can win it. Yes, things may be easier for him in Cleveland than they were in New York. No, he’s not going to be asked to carry the scoring load. But yes, there’s still a chance he punches someone in the face and really cripples his team. He needs to play smart, play calm, and continue to knock down three-balls if the Cavs want a chance here.

Prediction

For as great as the Cavaliers have been recently, they just don’t have the firepower to keep up with this Warriors team. There are a few teams in the West who I think Cleveland could have beat, but there’s not a single team in the East I’d take against the Warriors. Curry will have at least one game of 40+ points, and despite a few triple doubles from LeBron, it won’t be enough, mostly because those double digit scoring nights are going to come off of 30+ shot attempts, which just isn’t sustainable for anyone. Perhaps after another year of development and with a bit more health the Cavs can get back here again next year, but for now, we’re in the year of the Warriors.

Warriors in 5

About the author /


A former college athlete in a sport that no one cared about, Alex now spends most of his days being a furiously biased Bulls and Braves fan. When he's not busy with that, he still imagines his 5'7" self making an improbable rise to NBA stardom.