Cavs – Warriors: Part III
It’s the rematch that the entire basketball would has been waiting for since the season began. The inevitable third matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors is finally here after the week-long wait and we can only hope that the matchup delivers on the hype.
Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31)
LeBron James – Yawn. LeBron is the best player on the planet and is clearly vital to his team’s success. However, the LeBron that we are seeing in these playoffs has been unprecedented, as he has clearly flipped a switch and is averaging 32.5/7/8 (Pts/Ast/Reb) thus far. Continuing with the improvements he has made to his three point shot in the regular season, he is shooting 42.1% from three-point range in the playoffs, a career high. If LeBron is hitting threes, there is really no way to guard him.
Kyrie Irving – Again, the key players in this series are not going to surprise anyone. Kyrie decided to take over against the Celtics in game 5, showing he is capable of winning a game by himself when needed. He is averaging a solid 24.5/5.6/2.4 line in the playoffs this year, and his play against Stephen Curry will be in the spotlight this series. Kyrie might be the best isolation player in the NBA, and Curry’s weakness is clearly his defense, which Kyrie will probably be asked to exploit throughout the series.
Kevin Love/Tristan Thompson – I decided to group these two together because the most important part of these guys’ game that will matter is their rebounding. The Warriors are a bigger team and the Cavs will need to rebound to create second-chance opportunities and prevent the same opportunities for the Warriors. Thompson can dominate on the boards when he’s feeling it, and his play will be key in controlling the paint. However, when the Warriors go with a smaller lineup, Kevin Love will have to be the main rebounder, and his ability to stretch the floor on offense with his three-point repertoire will also be key.
Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green – Green is the Swiss army knife for the Warriors and when they decide to play small, his role expands further, making him arguably the most important cog in the Warriors’ well-oiled machine. Green is a threat for a triple-double every game, and is averaging 13.9/7/8 in the playoffs this year. Green is also an emotional player, and the Warriors will need him to stay away from extra-curricular activities after the play is over and stupid fouls in the heat of the moment that have cost him in the past. When he can stay on the floor, he is going to be tough for the Cavs to keep off the glass.
Kevin Durant – This series is the reason the Warriors signed Kevin Durant. They were one piece away from defeating the Cavs last year, and Durant’s most important job in this series will be attempting to guard LeBron. If there is anyone in this league besides Kawhi Leonard who has a chance at guarding Lebron, it is Durant, and his offense takes a back seat to his defensive role this series. Now, Durant’s offensive output cannot be ignored, as it is clearly an added worry for the Cavs to guard the best pure scorer in the league, averaging 25/8/7 this playoffs. However, it can be argued that his offense is just gravy, and what the Warriors really need out of him is a good defensive series against LeBron, who single-handedly (with some help from Kyrie) carried the Cavs to the 3-1 comeback last year.
The Cavs will need to keep up with the Warriors offensively to have a chance in this series, and I think they are capable. The pick-and-roll with Kyrie and LeBron that the Cavs have been featuring more frequently this playoffs is almost unguardable, and this play will most likely be the go-to for the Cavs when they need a bucket. This is where the defense of Kevin Durant becomes so important, as he will face relentless isolation offense from LeBron and will likely have to cover for Curry’s deficiencies in these pick-and-roll situations. In addition, the ability of Kevin Love and Kyle Korver to sit at the three point line and stretch the floor on these pick and roll plays makes it all the more difficult to guard, and the Warriors will likely have to pick their poison in these situations. While Kyrie’s isolation plays usually end with Kyrie taking the shot, LeBron is a much different isolation player, as his unique passing ability allows him to break down the defense and pass out to an open player, like Korver, Smith or Love, and demoralize the defense.
The Cavs, on the other hand, will have their hands full with the Warriors’ ball movement and shooting capabilities. While the Cavs feature some good shooters, the Warriors are clearly superior when it comes to three pointers. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson can heat up and win a game by themselves if they are on a streak, and Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith will have the predominant defensive stress on them with the scoring capability of the guards. The titanic matchup between Durant and LeBron will be a sideshow, with each capable of guarding the other, a rare situation for both players. In addition, Draymond Green will be a tough matchup for whoever the Cavs have on him, most likely Kevin Love. Green’s play inside and as a passer will be key, and he can tip the balance in this matchup if he is on.
Steve Kerr is an underrated factor in this matchup as well. While the Warriors could likely make the Western Conference Finals every year with any average Joe as their coach, matchups against the Spurs and Cavs require a good coach for when the Warriors star power cannot will them to a win. In these cases, it would be preferable to have Steve Kerr on the sidelines than Mike Brown. Thus, if the Warriors drop a game or two early in the series and the coaching comes into question, it would not be a surprise if there is pressure for Kerr to return, whether it is fair or not given his serious medical situation.
Prediction: Cavs in 6
All in all, it seems there are not many believers in the Cavs this year in this matchup. The Warriors are favored by 7 in game 1 and are a series favorite in every Vegas sportsbook. However, count me among those who believe in the Cavs once again. LeBron has been at his best in these playoffs, and if he can hit threes at the 42% rate that he is currently sporting, I am not sure there is a way to slow him down. Kyrie is going to have his moments, and the pick and roll offense that the Cavs can run with him and LeBron should be the focal point of the offense. The series will be hard-fought and could clearly go either way, but I like the Cavs in 6, as LeBron is on another planet and will carry his team to another title.