The Golden State Warriors will square off versus the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for the third time in as many seasons.
It’s the match-up everyone’s been wanting. Adding to the theater even further, Kevin Durant has joined the Warriors — making this series even more tantalizing. This piece will look at five reasons why each team is capable of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.
5 Reasons Why Cleveland Will Beat Golden State
1. Hitting Shots From 3-Point Land
Though Golden State has earned the reputation as being a team chock-full of gunners from behind the three-point line, it’s actually Cleveland attempting more threes per contest.
In the playoffs, the Cavs are averaging two more three-point attempts (33.6) than the Warriors (31.3). In addition, Cleveland is shooting a blistering 43.5-percent on these chances. Comparatively speaking, Golden State is connecting on only 38.9-percent of their attempts from beyond the arc.
The addition of Kyle Korver has helped to space the floor even further. As a means to account for the barrage of three-point shooters on the Cavs’ roster, opposing teams must be disciplined when defending. As such, it opens up the lane for the likes of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to create.
2. The Kyrie/Steph Battle
We don’t definitively know this for sure, but one has to assume Irving is in Steph Curry’s head after last year’s Game 7.
Irving’s three over Curry in the final minute of last year’s finale propelled the Cavs to a title. During the series, Irving took it to Curry — as he averaged 27.1 PPG. In the final three games of last year’s finals, Irving pumped in 30 points-per-contest — whilst shooting 52.3-percent from the field and 52.9-percent from three. In comparison, Curry did average 24.7 PPG, but shot only 36.7-percent from the field and 35.7 from beyond the arc.
It will be fascinating to see whether there’s any residual impact emanating from last year’s performance.
3. Cleveland’s Transition Defense
While far from an elite defensive team, Cleveland has tightened the proverbial screws as it pertains to defending in transition.
During the regular season, the squad was the worst in the NBA in points allowed per possession. They also were in the middle of the pack when it came to opponents’ fast-break points per 100 possessions.
In the playoffs, Cleveland ranks No. 1 in total defense. Overall, the Cavs also have the fifth-best opponent mark in fast-break points per 100 possessions, and the third-best transition rate defensively.
Golden State has been rather pedestrian when it comes to transition offense. While the Warriors are universally known as a juggernaut on the offensive end of the floor, they rank No. 12 in transition points-per-possession throughout the playoffs.
4. The Struggles of Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson’s numbers across the board have been down when compared to the regular season. The sharp-shooter is converting at a paltry 38.3-percent from the field during the playoffs. He’s also only hitting threes at a 36.4-percent clip during this time.
Thompson’s ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter is integral to Golden State’s success — primarily against the Cavs. His effectiveness allows for much better floor spacing. This in turn will help Durant and Curry isolate when need be, and it also helps to keep the paint unclogged.
If Thompson continues to struggle, it could lead to a sputtering of Golden State’s offense somewhat.
5. LeBron James
LeBron is the best player on the planet — and may ultimately be the best player of all-time when it’s all said and done.
During the playoffs, James has been averaging 32.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.4 BPG, and 2.2 SPG. Perhaps most impressively, he’s shot 56.6-percent from the field and 42.1-percent from three-point range.
His ability to influence the game in all aspects is truly second to none. He can cement his legacy even further with another finals win over what many believe to be the most talented squad in NBA history.
Image Sources: Brett Davis, Kelley L. Cox, Rick Osentoski, Brian Spurlock, Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports
5 Reasons Why Golden State Will Beat Cleveland[amx slot="auto_fill_26" ]
1. Golden State’s Defensive Depth vs. LeBron
While no one is stopping James outright, Golden State has a plethora of defenders it can utilize to pester the all-time great.
Andre Iguodala is a crafty, smart defender with long arms and lateral quickness. The same can be said for Shaun Livingston — who’s a bit taller than Iguodala. Golden State can opt to use Thompson on James, and it can also utilize the likes of Green and Durant. Green is regarded by many as the best defender in the league, and Durant perhaps matches up with James size-wise better than anyone.
Expect Golden State to try and get James to expel a ton of energy on both ends of the floor. Any defender on James will be pestering at a high rate.
2. Consistency Within The Starting Lineup
Golden State is 12-0 in the playoffs. The big four (Durant, Curry, Thompson, Green) have not lost a game together since February 4th versus the Sacramento Kings. Let that sink in for a moment.
Cleveland will be tasked with beating this squad four times in a seven-game period. Adding to this statistic, the Warriors have won 27-straight times when Thompson has dressed for the game.
3. An Edge in Overall Talent
On the eye test alone, Golden State appears to be the more talented team. It’s a versatile bunch — particularly on defense. Green’s ability to marshall the backline with his shot-blocking ability and uncanny timing is simply special. Thompson has established himself as one of the best “3-and-D” players in the league.
And then there’s the duo of Curry and Durant. When it comes to scoring the basketball, there’s not another one within the current NBA on that level. Either player can go off for what seems like an effortless 40-points on any given night.
Factor in the likes of Iguodala, Livingston, JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, David West, and Ian Clark, and you’ve got a very deep and athletic roster. Additionally, the “trade” of Harrison Barnes for Durant makes Golden State much scarier.
4. Effortless Integration of Kevin Durant
Since jumping ship over to the Bay Area from Oklahoma City, Durant has fit in with the Golden State culture exceptionally well.
His efficiency was through the roof offensively. Durant shot a career-high 53.7-percent from the field during the regular season. He also set career-highs in rebounds (8.3) and blocks (1.6).
Golden State’s ability to stretch the floor has given Durant more space to work with. Defensively, he’s played at a higher level than ever before — using his length to neutralize opponents. In the playoffs, Durant is shooting 55.6-percent from the field and 41.7-percent from three. Should these numbers continue, Cleveland will have a tough time upending the Warriors.
After how last season ended, Golden State is chomping at the bit for another match-up versus Cleveland.
The Cavs have unquestionably been the center of the Warriors’ focus dating back to last year’s Game 7 loss at home. The tough situation surrounding head coach Steve Kerr and his health will only add to the motivation this team is coming in with.
Expect a fired-up and physical Warriors team from the opening jump.
Main Image Source: Kelley L. Cox/USA TODAY Sports
Image Sources: Brian Spurlock, Kelley L. Cox, Kyle Terada, Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports