The NBA Finals kicks off tonight, and NBA fans are in for a special treat. This whole season it has felt like the Cavaliers and the Warriors have been on a collision course, which we all knew would meet in the Finals, but that road would not come without any adversity. Of course everybody knows the Warriors set the regular season record for wins, notching a 73-9 record, but this postseason has featured it fair share of adversity, and injuries for these Warriors. Stephen Curry, the first unanimous MVP in league history, missed six games throughout the first two rounds due to knee and ankle injuries. On top of that, the Warriors overcame an improbable 3-1 deficit against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Cavaliers have not faced much adversity in these playoffs, but the Cavs are playing with a rookie head coach, again. The Cavaliers entered the Finals last year with rookie head coach David Blatt, and now this year with rookie coach Tyronn Lue. Blatt was fired after a 30-11 start. Both teams have proved to be the best their conference has to offer, and the Finals this year are certainly going to be one to remember.
What’s At Stake
For Golden State, validating their 73 win season with a championship is enough to get them motivated to win this title. The previous generation of NBA stars have been on the record saying the NBA is watered down, and that 73 wins means nothing without a championship. How much would the Warriors validating their record help prove that the NBA is every bit as good as it used to be? Also at stake for the Warriors is trying to become the 12th team in NBA history to win back to back NBA championships.
For Cleveland it is simple, breaking the drought. 52 year without a major sports championship can kill a fan base, and that is something that the city of Cleveland has had to deal with. LeBron James promised when he came back from Miami to deliver that elusive championship to Cleveland, and looked like he was going to do it last year until Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both got injured in the playoffs. This year there are no excuses. LeBron must deliver on his promise, or the once wide open championship window will be quickly closing on LeBron James.
Keys to the Series
How will Cleveland combat the “Death Lineup” of Golden State?
The lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green has proved to be near unstoppable for opponents. How will Cleveland guard that lineup, while still being able to rebound against the Warriors? The best option would be to put Kevin Love at the center position, but that would put Love in a position to have to guard Steph Curry on switches, which Curry dominated the bigs of OKC in the previous series. LeBron has the ability to guard Curry, but that would pull him off of Draymond or Iguodala, giving them a mismatch at that position. The Cavs have to find a middle ground, which would allow them to play James, Love, and maybe Tristan Thompson, while still being able keep Love and Thompson from guarding Curry when Golden State sets screens.
Will Kevin Love play with an interested mindset?
Kevin Love has gotten heat this postseason for playing “Disinterested”. In games 3-4 against Toronto, Love was an abysmal 5-23 from the field, and was a no show on defense. Love’s matchup in the Toronto series shot 65% against him in the paint during the series. Love is going to be tasked with guarding Draymond Green for a lot of this series, and he cannot allow Green to shoot 65% in the paint. Love also must be involved on the offensive end. Shooting the open shots, and driving to the basket, and drawing fouls on the bigs of Golden State.
Who will guard Steph Curry?
This has been the question of the decade it seems. Curry has been magnificent for the better part of two years, and especially this season. Last year in the Finals, Kyrie Irving was out, but did a decent job guarding Steph before he got hurt. When Irving was out, Matthew Dellavedova helped out on Curry, and kept Curry from doing what he does best. The Cavaliers are not going to keep Curry under 20 points, but the Cavs can limit the impact Curry has, by keeping him out of his flow. When Curry hits one three, it’s easy for that to turn from one three pointer, to three or four, and even as we have seen this postseason, scoring 15 points in 118 seconds. Curry will be guarded by Irving, Dellavedova, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and LeBron James, the question is, who will have the biggest impact in slowing him down.
Can Draymond Green stay out of trouble?
Draymond Green was the topic of debate during the Western Conference Finals, but not as much for his play. Green delivered a kick to the groin of Steven Adams in game 3 of the series. Green is now one flagrant foul point away from being suspended for a game, and two points away from being suspended for two games. Losing Green would be detrimental to the Warriors. He brings to mad dog approach, to the Warriors. Without Green, the Cavs would be considered the favorite to win this series. Green must be able to walk the tight line between mad dog, and being reckless.