2018 NBA Finals Preview/Prediction
For the fourth straight year, the Golden State Warriors will meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. We know the story well at this point. The Golden State Warriors won the 2015 NBA Championship, but the Cleveland Cavaliers were without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. So in the mind of Cavaliers and LeBron fans, that doesn’t count. The following year, the historic 73-win Warriors went up 3-1 only to see LeBron and Kyrie go berserk and lead the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history. But if you ask a Warriors fan, they’ll tell you the combination of Draymond Green’s suspension and injuries to key players cost them the series. Meanwhile, in the Warriors front office, they completed their master plan and brought Kevin Durant into the fold. What followed was domination of the highest order as the Warriors reclaimed their championship with a 16-1 playoff record. So for the fourth time, let us take a look at this familiar matchup.
Keys For The Cavs
Defense/Rebounding/Physicality: I know these are three things, but they can make up one huge key for the Cavs victory. Last year, the Cavs attempted to use their 2016 strategy against the 2017 Warriors. They focused so much on doubling and getting physical with Steph Curry that they allowed Kevin Durant to become confident. Go back and look at the footage of the first two games. To start, they have to keep Jeff Green in the starting lineup as the primary defender of Kevin Durant. After that, they should give Houston’s strategy a shot. The Rockets switched everything in the pick and roll game and turned the Warriors into an iso team for about three games in the Western Conference Finals. By forcing that style of play, the Warriors are out of their element. Their offense is at it’s best when they have freedom of movement. The Cavs must restrict that and force turnovers. That means the Cavs must come in as the more physical and borderline dirty team. Get right in their face, fight for every 50/50 ball, foul hard, and allow nothing to come easy for the Warriors. And they must make it a point to attack the glass on both sides of the court. The Rockets found great success by exploiting the Warriors lack of presence in the paint. This will be the perfect opportunity for Tristian Thompson to redeem himself after last year’s abysmal performance.
Kevin Love Plus One: Cleveland has to make it a point to get Kevin Love some touches on offense. And no, I don’t mean the drive and kick out for a three. I mean run sits with Kevin Love in the post as well. Love has to try and be the best player in the post for this series. That means scoring when needed and controlling the glass. So basically, Minnesota’s Kevin Love will have to show up. He must play like the All-Star he is. Furthermore, the Cavs will need their supporting cast to show up as well. In particular, they’ll need one or two players to rise to the level of a Kevin Love at least. Jeff Green is a good candidate for one player that should step up. For the second player, I nominate JR Smith or Kyle Korver. They have to be knocking down some shots and one of them should be averaging around 17 points for the series. That should be sufficient enough help for LeBron since I believe he’ll have his best Finals performance (in terms of stats) yet.
Pace: This is the most important key of all. The Cavs have to control the pace of the game. Last season, the Cavs attempted to run and gun with the Warriors. It worked for one game when they broke many NBA Finals records. However, that is not sustainable for a seven-game series against this team. Plus, that pace will eventually wear on LeBron. They should focus on half-court sets with high levels of efficiency and a low amount of turnovers. I also want to see LeBron operate out of the post more and far more movement by the other Cavs around him. Furthermore, they should avoid falling in love with the three-pointer. That’s the reason we’re not seeing the Celtics and the Rockets in the Finals now. Plus, the Warriors will rarely be beaten in that area.
LeBron: And last but not least, LeBron James will need to be the best version of himself. Somewhere along the lines of 42 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists per game. The Greatest of All-Time in the eyes of some will really need to play at that level. Think Jordan in the 1993 Finals.
Keys For The Warriors
Turnovers: Once again, this is the Warriors most glaring weakness. Far too often they get a little careless in their offense and turn the ball over. It almost killed them against the Rockets and could do the same in this series. Turnovers mean easy buckets for role players on the other end or a LeBron James dunk. Both will lead to increased confidence for Cleveland. Golden State should know they have to tighten up on the turnover seeing how this crucial stat helped cost them Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals and a few games in their last series. So this needs to be preached constantly to a Warriors team that often times let their ego get the best of them.
Sticking To The System: One glaring weakness that the Rockets exposed is what the Warriors turn into when they’re forced out of the offensive flow. When the Warriors become an iso team, they resemble Kevin Durant’s old Oklahoma City teams. That stagnant style of offense is the recipe for the Warriors demise. Steve Kerr has to emphasize to his players (especially Durant) to keep moving. The Cavaliers will try to switch on everything like Houston did, but the Celtics showed that their defense can easily be exposed. An isolation style of offense will only hide the weaknesses of the Cavs offense. They have a hard time keeping up and communicating on the floor. The Warriors need to exploit that like only they can.
Eliminating The Help: No one should know better than the Warriors what LeBron is capable of. Statistically speaking, LeBron has been unstoppable when going up against the Warriors. And with Andre Igoudala’s status up in the air, that trend will likely continue. What the Warriors can control is the impact of the other Cavaliers. They cannot allow them to impact the game in any meaningful way. They have to close out their shooters (or don’t leave them at all), keep their energetic bigs off the glass, and snuff out Kevin Love. The Warriors have shown the ability to flip the switch on defense. They must be ruthless in taking away any chance of help LeBron may get.
Rotation: And finally, the Warriors should return to the planned rotation they implemented last season. In case you missed it, the Warriors have four All-Stars on one team. What Coach Kerr did to maximize that fact was to keep two of them on the floor at all times. This allowed the Warriors to go to their bench with little fall off last season. I believe the Warriors should return to this strategy and go deeper into their bench.
The NBA Finals is something this blog usually gets correct. It started with picking the Warriors in six games in 2015, the Cavs in six games in 2016 (series went seven), and the Warriors in five games last season. For the fourth installment, I’ll be going with the Warriors to take this series in six games. I believe the Cavs will put forth a great effort, and make people believe they may be able to pull it off. But eventually, the cream will rise to the top and talent will win out.