This year’s NBA Finals should be very interesting when the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meet up. Both teams have a first year head coach, both teams have lead players that have won an MVP award, both teams have solid #2 players that enter the Finals banged up, and both teams are making their second appearance in the NBA Finals. If we’re being technical this is the Warriors “franchise” 7th time reaching the Championship Series. They made it 3 times (2-1) as the Philadelphia Warriors and twice as the San Francisco Warriors (0-2). The “Golden State” Warriors are making their first appearance since 1975 when they won (4-0 over the Washington Bullets). While Cleveland is back in the NBA Finals after last reaching this destination in 2007 and losing (4-0) to the San Antonio Spurs.
The 2 teams met twice during the regular season with the home team winning in both instances. On January 9th, the Warriors won 112-94. All five starters for the Warriors reached double figures with Steph Curry leading the way with 23 points and 10 assists, Klay Thompson had 24 points, and Draymond Green was 2 assists (10, 11, 8) shy of a triple-double. The Cavaliers scrapped but they didn’t have enough firepower as they were without LeBron James (this was during his 2 week getaway to Miami and the BCS National Championship Game) and Iman Shumpert who didn’t play because of an injured left shoulder. Kyrie Irving dropped 23 and J.R. Smith put in 27 but both needed 23 shots to do so. Kevin Love gave a solid effort with 17 points and 14 rebounds but as mentioned the Cavs needed much more. In the return match on February 26th, the Cavaliers won 110-99 behind a monster night from LeBron James. James shot 15-25 from the field and went for 42 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. Irving scored 24 points but had another bad shooting performance. Draymond Green and David Lee were the only bright spots for the Warriors. The trio of Curry, Thompson, and Harrison Barnes combined to shoot a dismal 14-40 from the field.
Both teams have been very good this NBA Post Season combining to only lose 5 games. It may be fair to say that Cleveland has had the easier road coming out of the Eastern Conference. They swept Boston in the First Round, were pushed to 6 games by the Chicago Bulls in the 2nd Round, and then swept a frail Atlanta Hawk team in the Conference Finals. Despite the injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving the Cavs have found a way to manage. LeBron James hasn’t shot the ball well at 43% from the field and 18% from 3-point range but he’s still averaging 27.8 points per game and willing his team to victories. James is also averaging 8.3 assists per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. He ranks in the top 10 of all 3 categories for the Playoffs. Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) has looked his TV age while battling injuries but has managed to average 18.7, 3.3, and 3.7 while shooting 48% from beyond the arc. The role players like Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, and Matthew Dellavedova have all had crucial moments in the Playoffs when needed. But the biggest two have been J.R. “Swish” and Shumpert. J.R. has consistently provided the outside threat that the Cavs have needed to spread the floor while Shumpert has slashed to the basket, knocked down timely jumpers, and played solid defense on the opposing team’s top scoring threat. On the flip side, Golden State swept the New Orleans Pelicans in their first series, battled back from a 2-1 deficit to beat Memphis in 6 games, and then in the Western Conference Finals they beat Houston 4-1. Steph Curry’s play this post season has solidified the voters choosing him as the MVP. Curry is averaging 29.2 points/game, 6.4 assists/game, and 4.9 rebounds/game. Curry has scored 30 or more points (he’s reached the 40-point plateau twice) in 8 of the Warriors 15 postseason games. Draymond Green’s play has been exceptional during the Warriors run to the Finals. Green is averaging a double-double at 14.0 points/game and 10.8 rebounds/game. He has also chipped in with 5.3 assists/game and very solid defense. The First Team NBA All-Defense forward has guarded every position. He’s seen the likes of Anthony Davis, Zach Randolph, and James Harden. Klay Thompson is averaging right under 20 points/game but hasn’t shown consistent play. He and Harrison Barnes will need to bring it each game if the Warriors plan on being World Champs. They’ll also need their other role players like Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Andre Igoudala, and Shaun Livingston to play as they have all season.
These teams don’t mirror each other in style of play but the end results are the same. So far in the Playoffs both teams are holding opponents to field goal percentages below 44% (below 32% from 3 point range) and they both enter with +8.0 or more scoring differentials. Neither team is shy about jacking up 3 pointers. Both ball clubs are shooting at least 35% from 3 point range with GSW attempting 30.3 3 point FG/game and Cleveland attempting 29.1 3 point FG/game. I mean they’re even neck to neck in the team rebounding statistics. The Cavs are grabbing 46.9 reb/game (12.1 offensive) as a team and Golden State is grabbing 46.2 reb/game (12.0 offensive). The difference shows up in team assists. GSW with it’s free flowing offense leads the Playoffs averaging 25.1 assists/game while Cleveland is next to last at 18.9 assists/game in their more iso-dominant style. The one downside for Golden State is that they’re next to last in turnovers/game.
I’ve stuffed you all with stats so let me get this pick out of the way. The two teams are eye to eye in just about everything you look at statistically. So that means the games will come down to coaching and execution. On the surface the advantage appears to be in Steve Kerr’s favor but I think Blatt (with the help of LeBron) will make things tough. LeBron hasn’t shot the ball well from the perimeter but data from NBA.com Player Tracking shows that he leads four statistical categories related to Drives (to the basket) on offense. I fully expect the Warriors to pack the paint and mirror the defense the Spurs have thrown at LeBron. Look for Draymond, Iguodala, Livingston, Barnes and Thompson to guard LBJ at times during this series. The Cavs will need Shumpert, Smith, and company to knock down 3s. And which Uncle Drew will we get? The spry free moving one or the aching injured one? GSW will also need to keep Tristan Thompson and Mozgov off of the offensive glass. Cleveland has thrived off 2nd chance opportunities throughout the Playoffs. Defensively Cleveland will have to defend the 3 point shot. We’ve seen what happens when the Warriors go on one of their patent runs. According to NBA.com Player Tracking Stats, Curry is Top 6 this postseason in offensive stats related to Catch & Shoot, Drives (to the basket), Passing (that leads to points scored), and Pullup Shooting. I’ve already mentioned Draymond’s defensive needs but he’ll also need to keep up his all-around offensive threat. Klay Thompson needs to show that he’s fully healthy from the concussion he suffered in Game 5 against Houston and play with more consistency. The Warriors raucous home crowd will definitely play its part to help. I’m not making the same mistake twice so when it’s all said and done I expect Cleveland to be victorious. LeBron says he is “playing his best basketball” right now. He’ll need to show it at least 4 more times if he plans on beating a tough Golden State Warrior team and bring Cleveland it’s long awaited championship.