Article Written by Hudson Stewart (@hudson_stewart6)
For the 4th straight season, the NBA Finals will feature the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Many people thought it would be different this year with teams like the Rockets, Raptors, Celtics and 76ers emerging as contenders, but ultimately, we’re going to see the same matchup again. Golden State just won a game 7 in Houston to reach the Finals, and the Cavs did the same thing on Sunday in Boston. The series tips off on Thursday in Oakland; with Game 1 starting at 9 P.M. E.T.
There is definitely a lot of history between these two teams, and that’ll happen when you play each in other in 4 straight Finals. It started back in 2015, when the Warriors won their first title in 40 years, beating the Cavs in 6 games. It was really a miracle that that series even went to 6 games, because both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were out due to injuries, so the Cavs’ 2nd best player was Matthew Dellavedova. Then, when they rematched in 2016, it looked like the Warriors were going to win back-to-back titles. They won Game 4 in Cleveland to go up 3-1 in the series, and all they had to do was win Game 5 at home, and they’d be the champs. But, the Cavs didn’t let that happen. They won Game 5 on the road, won Game 6 at home, and then took down the 73-win Warriors in a very close Game 7, thanks to an iconic chase down block by LeBron James, and a go-ahead step back 3 from Kyrie Irving. That Game 7 win brought the Cavs their first ever championship, and brought LeBron the 3rd title of his career. The Warriors clearly weren’t happy with how that turned out, so they went out and signed Kevin Durant, in a move that shocked the basketball world. Durant’s addition all but sealed a championship before the season even started for the Warriors, and they did just that. They beat the Cavs in 5 games in 2017, with Durant winning his first NBA title, and winning the Finals MVP.
And that brings us to this year, the 4th installment of the Cavs-Warriors rivalry. The Cavs have had significant roster turnover since just last season. Not only did they lose Kyrie Irving when they traded him to Boston, but they also had a roster overhaul at this year’s trade deadline. They got rid of guys like Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, and Jae Crowder, and they brought in George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Rodney Hood. Other than Hill, none of the guys Cleveland acquired at the trade deadline have made much of an impact. It hasn’t mattered though, because LeBron has been playing out of his mind, and carrying their team. So far in the playoffs, James is averaging 34 points per game, 8.8 assists, and 9.2 rebounds. He’s also playing a ton of minutes. LeBron played the full 48 minutes in Game 7, and he had to for the Cavs to win, because they’re getting little to no production from anyone else.
As for the Warriors, their roster is pretty much the same since last year. They signed Nick Young in the off-season, but other than that, their rotation has stayed the same. Golden State has the advantage of team chemistry over Cleveland here. They’ve just played together for longer and they haven’t had the insane roster turnover that Cleveland had. When the Warriors are on their game, they’re playing as a cohesive unit. They’re making good passes, giving up good shots for great shots, and getting everyone involved. Unlike the Cavs, they don’t rely on one guy for all of their points. There will be situations where Durant or Curry makes a play by themselves, but compared to Cleveland, the Warriors have a much more well-rounded scoring attack.
Injuries are already a headline in this series, with both teams having key guys that are hurt. For Cleveland, it’s Kevin Love, who’s dealing with a concussion. Love didn’t play in Game 7, and it’s not clear when he’ll return to the lineup. If the Cavs have any shot in this series, they’re going to need Kevin Love to play, and play well. I realize how well Jeff Green played in Game 7 against Boston, but the Cavs can’t expect that level of play from Green in the Finals; they need Love back in the lineup. As for the Warriors, they’re currently without Andre Iguodala. Iguodala missed the last 4 games of the Western Conference Finals, and while many people didn’t think he was that important to Golden State’s success, their play without him shows why he’s so important to the team. He can start or come off of the bench and be a valuable 3-and-D player. He’s also a very experienced leader, and can always be counted on by Steve Kerr in big moments.
Obviously, the main stars of this series are LeBron, Durant, and Curry, but there are a few players who could prove to be X-Factors for their teams in this series.
- J.R. Smith- He’s definitely streaky, but if Smith can catch fire in one of these games, it’ll be very hard for Golden State to stop him. When he’s on the floor, he’s there for one reason - to shoot, and he’ll be doing that a lot in this series. If the Cavs are going to win, he’ll have to hit some shots from deep.
- Nick Young- This guy is very similar to J.R. in that he’s on the floor to shoot. Now, he won’t get the playing time that Smith gets, but if Young can get in a rhythm from deep, it’ll make the Warriors impossible to guard. Imagine having Young get hot, while also having to deal with Curry, Durant, Klay and Draymond.
- Tristan Thompson - With most of the Warriors’ lineups not featuring a centre, the Cavs could use Thompson to gain a size advantage and dominate the glass. Thompson’s been inconsistent at time, but if he’s given the right matchup in this series, he can put up some good numbers for Cleveland and make a big impact.
My pick for the series: Warriors Win in 5 Games
My pick for Finals MVP: Stephen Curry
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