NBA Finals Preview: Warriors Look to Win Third Title in Four Years Versus Cavaliers
For the fourth consecutive year, the NBA Finals will feature the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with the two squads vying for the championship. Both teams trailed in their respective Conference Finals series 3-2 before pulling off wins in Games 6 and 7 to make it to the Finals. Now what many predicted in the preseason to happen has occurred once again as LeBron James will look to win his fourth championship and Stephen Curry his third.
Can LeBron lead the weakest Cavaliers playoff team he has played for in his career to the promised land? Will the star power of the Warriors dominate the Cavs and make short work of them? The matchup that was much anticipated in its first two installments was severely noncompetitive in the third, what can we expect from this year?
Golden State Warriors
After making quick work of their first two opponents in the playoffs and finishing both series in just five games, the Warriors were faced with elimination for the first time since their 2016 Western Conference Finals comeback against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Houston Rockets rode the back of hot three-point shooting and the star duo of James Harden and Chris Paul in the series to take a 3-2 lead. However in the closing minute of Game 5, Paul suffered a strained hamstring and was forced to miss Games 6 and 7. But the Rockets still had home-court advantage and the series lead, things seemed grim for the Warriors. Unfortuantely for the Rockets, losing Paul ended up being crucial as they went on to lose Game 6 on the road and then Game 7 at home due in part to poor shooting performances. In both games, the Warriors trailed by double-digits going into the half and things were not looking good for them. Both times their three-point shooters came to life and they used their usual third quarter runs to storm back and take control of each game.
One of the big factors for Golden State is the loss of Andre Iguodala who plays a big role in protecting the paint on defense. The Rockets had no problem controlling the paint, especially in Game 7 with the absence of Iguodala who is expected to miss Game 1 of the NBA Finals with a leg contusion. It will be up to Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell to step up their games in the middle to help make up for the loss of Iguodala. They will likely be tasked with stopping Tristan Thompson in the paint and on the boards as well as Kevin Love if he is healthy and able to play in Game 1. Without question, if the four All-Stars on the Warriors in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant get going it will be a long series for the Cavaliers. The Warriors just have too much skill on both sides for Cleveland to match when they are clicking and it could lead to another blowout of a series like last season.
The ride for the Cavaliers has been a bumpy one this postseason. After gutting it out in seven games against the Indiana Pacers while riding the back of LeBron James, they continued their dominance of the Toronto Raptors in a four game sweep to face the Boston Celtics. Despite not having Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics were in a position to win this series and knock out the Cavaliers. Boston was dominating teams at home to the tune of a 10-0 record this postseason and it seemed inevitable that if this series went to seven games that Boston would take it given their play at the TD Garden. However like the Rockets, the Celtics shooting went cold following hot starts to both Games 6 and 7. The Cavaliers were ultimately able to weather the early blitz the Celtics brought both times and like LeBron James has done for most of the postseason, he was able to get them back into the game for the victory.
With the Cavaliers, this team has been very hit or miss for the entirety of the postseason. It is always a matter of which Cleveland team is going to show up in any given game. If Cleveland's supporting cast comes to life as they did in the series versus Toronto, then we have outselves an interesting series ahead of us. On the flip side, if the supporting cast that showed against Indiana or Boston emerges, then the Cavaliers will be hanging on for dear life as they attempt to ride through the NBA Finals on the back of LeBron James again. Whether or not Kevin Love plays is another important question given the help he provides both offensively and defensively on the boards. He suffered a concussion early on in Game 6 versus the Celtics and remains in concussion protocol with his status unknown for Game 1 tonight. While Tristan Thompson provides some relief in helping clean up the boards, he has been inconsistent this postseason which raises the question mark of if he can up big against this Warriors team. If Love plays in Game 1, this may be the opportunity for the Cavs to steal a game on the road if they can pick on the young guys in Bell and Looney down low with Iguodala out. You cannot rule out Thompson having a strong game against the Warrior's young centers either, so look for Cleveland to attack the paint early this series.
Golden State Warriors-Cleveland Cavaliers
When you look at these two teams, it is clear to see the Warriors are the better team in every aspect. It is hard to pick against a team with four All-Stars that even on an off night can find a way to steal games from their opponents. While the loss of Andre Iguodala definitely hurts the Warriors defensively, they still significantly overmatch the Cavaliers with or without him. LeBron James can only do so much for Cleveland and it is up to the players around him to step up in order to give the team a chance to win the series against a deep Warriors team. This is the weakest team LeBron has taken to the NBA Finals and the way they have played this postseason shows that. On a Cavs team that featured Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love along with James last season, the Warriors handled the Cavaliers easily in five games. Nothing about Golden State this season screams that they got any weaker than last year's team unless you look at their record and the fact they finished second in the Western Conference. Part of that can be attributed to minor injuries during the regular season that they sat out guys for in order to prepare for the playoffs.
But now the Warriors are fully healthy, riding the momentum of winning the last two games of a series against the team with the best record in the NBA this season, and facing a team that is far more inferior to their level of play. Do I believe the Cavs will try to make this series competitive? Absolutely. LeBron James will certainly lead this team in an attempt to make it a series, but I do not think it will be enough this time around. In fact, I truly expect the Warriors to win by double-digits in each of their victories during this series unless Cleveland's supporting cast shows up and delivers. There is just too many question marks for this Cavs team against a solid Warriors squad that will likely win their third championship in the last four years. As much as I want to pick the Warriors to sweep the Cavs, something tells me LeBron will single handedly lead Cleveland to at least one victory either in Game 3 or 4 to avoid it.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
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