I don’t write much about the NBA on this blog, but I am intrigued enough by this year’s NBA Finals to look into the series as it begins tonight in Oakland.
This year’s Finals are a rematch of last year’s title series, won in six games by the Warriors after they had trailed 2-1 in the series. However, the Cavaliers were missing forward Kevin Love (17.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg*) due to injury coming into the series, then lost guard Kyrie Irving (24.3 ppg, 5.1 apg) to injury in the series opener.
This year, the Cavaliers are healthy, and have stormed through the Eastern Conference, sweeping the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds, before ousting the Toronto Raptors in six games to reach the finals. The Cavaliers are, of course, led by forward LeBron James (25.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 7.0 apg), the hometown player from nearby Akron, OH, who is trying to bring Cleveland its first professional sports title of any kind since 1964. James is in his sixth consecutive NBA Finals, although the first four of that run were during his tenure with the Miami Heat; James has won the title in two of his previous six Finals appearances overall.
The Warriors are the defending NBA Champions, after winning that series against Cleveland last year, and reached the finals in dramatic fashion, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a thrilling seven-game Western Conference Finals. Golden State had previously defeated the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers in the early rounds, each in five games. The “Dubs” are led by the two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, guard Stephen Curry (26.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 6.1 apg), although they would not be in this position were it not for the exceptional performances of guard Klay Thompson (26.2 ppg) against the Thunder. Forward Draymond Green (14.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 7.4 apg) has also been a key contributor, even through his controversial antics in the Thunder series (but that’s another story for another day).
The Warriors, of course, made history in the 2015-16 regular season, setting an NBA record with a 73-9 mark. The Cavaliers were 57-25 in the regular season. The two teams combined for the third-most combined regular season wins in history by two teams meeting in The Finals.
Guard play in this series slightly favors Golden State. Curry and Thompson, known as the “Super Splash Brothers,” have been the best backcourt duo in the NBA for at least the last two seasons. That being said, much of the Cavaliers success on their way to the Finals is because of strong three-point shooting, with guard J.R. Smith (12.0 ppg) and forward Channing Frye (8.6 ppg) complementing the Cavs three big-name players on the perimeter, and Irving is perfectly capable of holding his own against Curry and Thompson, so don’t be surprised if the Cavaliers hold their own in the backcourt.
In the frontcourt, I would give a very, very slight edge to Cleveland. James and Love are two of the best forwards in the game, although no credit should be taken away from Green and Harrison Barnes (11.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), and the job they have done all season for the Warriors. Rebounding could certainly be a key in these games, and while Tristan Thompson (4.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg) for Cleveland and Andrew Bogut (5.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg) for Golden State are not necessarily the best rebounders in the league, they are certainly capable of contributing to their respective teams in the Finals.
Two young coaches meet in this series, with Steve Kerr, 50, trying to win his second NBA title in just his second season at the helm, to go along with five rings in his playing career, and Tyronn Lue, 39, trying to do what Kerr did a year ago and win a title in his first season, after two titles as a player.
One factor that may or may not potentially help Cleveland in this series is the fatigue factor. Cleveland was able to comfortably close out Toronto six days ago, while Golden State had to battle tooth and nail to come from behind and beat Oklahoma City. The Warriors-Thunder series had the feel of one that could take so much energy to win that the victor would not have enough left in the tank to battle Cleveland as hard as they would like, resulting in a Cleveland series win in five or six games. Whether or not this actually happens is still to be seen, although if there is a team that can overcome this and go on to win the title, it is probably the Warriors.
The Warriors have home-court advantage for The Finals, hosting the first and second games, as well as the fifth and seventh if necessary, while Cleveland is home for the third, fourth, and (if necessary) sixth games of the series.
When these two teams met in the regular season, Golden State won both meetings. On Christmas Day in Oakland, the Warriors won 89-83, behind 22 points and 15 rebounds from Green. On January 18 in Cleveland, Golden State obliterated Cleveland, 132-98, behind Curry’s 35-point performance (in just three quarters).
Many pundits are picking the Warriors to win this series, and while that pick can certainly be backed up by the numbers, the Cavaliers should get the credit they are due as well, after a 12-2 mark in the first three playoff rounds. These two teams are both playing at a very high level, which is why I expect the series to go the full seven games, regardless of the victor. That being said, the Warriors have home court advantage, the league MVP, and as much or more momentum as the Cavaliers, and continue to show some of the most impressive chemistry the sports world has ever seen.
Prediction: Warriors in 7 games
*All statistics in this post reflect only the 2016 NBA Playoffs
2016 NBA Finals
Game 1: Thursday, June 2, 9:00 pm ET
Game 2: Sunday, June 5, 8:00 pm ET
Game 3: Wednesday, June 8, 9:00 pm ET
Game 4: Friday, June 10, 9:00 pm ET
Game 5: Monday, June 13, 9:00 pm ET
Game 6: Thursday, June 16, 9:00 pm ET
Game 7: Sunday, June 19, 8:00 pm ET