WEDNESDAY MAY 31st - The eve of the most highly anticipated (and predictable) finals series since 2016 - It is the Warriors and Cavaliers TRILOGY!
A rivalry unlike anything we have seen in the past 20+ years. It is on the same playing field as the 80's Celtics vs Lakers, Bird vs Magic. Both teams genuinely HATE each other. From the champagne in the locker room comments, to the Draymond Green suspension, to the Halloween party jokes, to the Man's league comments, to the petty press conference t-shirts... all these things have been brewing and playing narrative to this very moment.
Warriors are riding hot off a perfect 12-0 post season run (first team to accomplish this feet since the 2001 Lakers) and have a staggering 27-1 record since March. It is a no brainer that this team is going to be hard (next to impossible) for the Cavs to overcome. Especially when you consider Cleveland had so many things go their way in last years finals:
- The Draymond Green suspension.
- Andrew Bogut's left knee injury in GM5
- Stephen Curry not at 100% health from an injury suffered in RD1.
- Harrison Barnes' woeful shooting performance in games 5 and 6 (2-22 FG)
All these things accumulated to Cavs clawing back from 3-1 and bringing Cleveland it's first title in over 50 years...
Only this time around you have to add KEVIN FREAKING DURANT into the equation. The second best player in the league, the 2014 MVP, the second best scorer in the game (only second to his own teammate), not to mention KD is an ELITE LEVEL DEFENDER and has been playing the best two-way basketball of his career..
So what chance do Cleveland even have? What will they need to do in order to pull off the upset of the millennium and repeat as NBA champions?
Ahead of game one on Thursday June 1st, here is where you can bet on the 2017 NBA Finals.
HERE ARE 5 KEYS FOR THE CAVS TO REPEAT.
1. Kevin Love needs to be better than Draymond Green
If I said 4 years ago - 'Kevin Love needs to be better than Draymond Green' you would have laughed at how stupid that statement sounded.
Kevin Love was a consensus top 10 player in the league, an NBA All Star and a top 3 big in the NBA. However the transition from being a superstar in Minnesota to a 3rd option 'role player' was clearly a tough adjustment for him to make.
Kevin Love has been a non-factor for Cleveland in both finals series. In 2015 it wasn't his fault as he was sidelined by Kelly Olynyk for the entire playoffs.
In 2016 he was exposed defensively in games 1 & 2 at Oracle arena. Game 3 he was out on concussion protocol which led to coach Lue inserting Richard Jefferson into the starting lineup. An adjustment that worked from a match-up standpoint. After that Love only averaged 9 mins of playing time for the rest of the series.
This time around it would seem we have a new and improved version of Kevin Love. He has been playing the best basketball of his career as a Cavalier during these playoffs and is back to looking like his All-star self.
Love is averaging 17.2 points, shooting an incredible 47.5% from downtown, and pulling down 10.4 rebounds. If those numbers can translate into this series and he can carry that same production, Cavs will be in with a red hot chance.
2. Win the rebounding battle
Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and Lebron James need to go on a GLASS EATING RAMPAGE. Rebounding is the only clear-cut advantage that the Cavs have over the Warriors.
The Warriors allowed an NBA-worst 11.8 offensive rebounds per game this season, which could pose a problem against the Cavaliers.
During last season's NBA Finals matchup, the team that won the rebounding battle went 5-2. Game 7 was one of the Cavs' most dominating performances on the glass, when they out-rebounded the Warriors 48-39.
If the Cavs can consistently win the rebound battle against Warriors (especially on the offensive glass), they have the ability to take possessions away from the Warriors and limit their deadly transition game. This will undoubtedly be one of the most important factors if Cleveland is able to pull off another upset.
3. JR Smith needs to limit Klay Thompson's impact
Cavs defensive focus is going to be so honed in on trying to stop the fire power of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry that it is inevitable Klay Thompson will find himself with a slather of great shot opportunities. Thompson's 'bread and butter' has eluded him during these playoffs. His shooting percentage is 38.3 percent overall and 36.4 percent from 3-point range — significant dips from his career numbers of 45.3 and 41.9 percent, respectively.
Although JR Smith hasn't earned the right to be considered an 'ELITE DEFENDER', he is still the best defender the Cavaliers have that is not named 'Lebron James'.
JR has the ability to play lock down defense in stretches, he just struggles to keep it up at a consistent rate. If JR can channel some discipline and limit Klays impact offensively that will put Cavs in a great spot. We have seen it time and time again, Klay Thompson is the kind of guy that can single handedly take over games in an instant.
4. Control the tempo
Cleveland MUST set the pace in this series. The same way they did in game 7 of last years finals and the same way they did on the Christmas Day game this season. It is crucial they avoid getting sucked into playing that fast pace shot for shot type brand of basketball that favours the Warriors offense. Keeping the possessions relatively low and turning this into a close game down the stretch will only help Cleveland.
The Warriors are too explosive and talented on both ends. Cavs need to turn this series into a grind-it-out, half-court type of series that can ultimately be won through physicality, rebounding, and running sets to generate open shots and allow LeBron and Kyrie to run switches on PnR to exploit Golden State’s proclivity to constantly switch on the PnR as they did in last year's Finals.
5. Lebron and Kyrie need to be superhuman
This is the biggest factor of all of these and that goes without saying. Lebron James and Kyrie Irving MUST out perform Kevin Durant and Steph Curry if the Cavs are with even a chance of repeating.
The Warriors have four of the top 20 players that ESPN rated on its pre-season NBA player rankings: No. 2 Steph Curry, No. 3 Kevin Durant, No. 14 Draymond Green, and No. 16 Klay Thompson. Cleveland has No. 1 LeBron James and No. 15 Kyrie Irving.
Common sense tells us the Warriors are the better team. But during the playoffs, the King is the King. He has put up playoff averages of 32.5 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists. He has post-season career bests in shooting (57 percent) and three-point shooting (42 percent). He is simply playing the best basketball of his career. If he can keep this superhero level up, while avoiding his kryptonite of over-passing into sloppy turnovers and clanging outside jumpers, he will put Cleveland in a good spot to repeat.
Kyrie Irving is coming hot off the greatest post season shooting of his career. He dropped a career high 42 points in game 4 against the Boston Celtics and continued his offensive dominance in Game 5 with 24 points (60% FG) in just 30 mins.
Irving has consistently outplayed his counterpart Steph Curry in the NBA Finals. Last year Irving averaged an impressive 27.1 points on 40.1% shooting from deep while Curry averaged 22 points on 40% shooting.
Kyrie must once again win the point guard battle and continue to do what he does best..... GET BUCKETS.
Written by Byron James