NBA Finals Preview: Cleveland vs Golden State

Wizards v/s Warriors 03/02/11
Stephen Curry could steal the spotlight during the NBA Finals.
LeBron will put on a show as well. Photo Courtesy: Keith Allison

By Patrick Malone

“Warriors, come out to play-i-ay,” said LeBron James, as he clanked soda bottles together, taunting Steph Curry who looked onward from the shadows with his fellow teammates.

Well, that’s not exactly how Hollywood scripted it, but I certainly couldn’t resist.

The NBA Finals will kick off June 4 in Oakland Thursday night between arguably the best two teams left in the NBA playoff picture, the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Four-time MVP James looks to bring home the first Larry O’Brien Trophy in Cavs’ history. This is only the second time the Cavs have been to the Finals, with the first back in 2007, also with James. The Cavs have limped into these Finals. They lost Kevin Love back in the first round and guard Kyrie Irving has been battling his own list of injuries.

For the Warriors, it’s their first appearance since 1975. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry, who shattered Reggie Miller’s playoff record for the most three pointers made (58) with 73 in 15 games, leads the Warriors. Golden State was the best team in the NBA during the regular season with a 67-15 record and has arguably been the best team in the Playoffs, dominating the Western Conference juggernauts along the way.

Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs have better playoff offensive and defensive numbers than their Finals counterpart. Don’t be fooled. Cleveland enjoyed the road less traveled, or however you want to spell it out (basically, the West is best). But that doesn’t mean they are an inferior team by any means.

Cleveland is shooting 43.6 percent from field goal range and 35.9 percent from the 3-point line. LeBron James (27.6 PPG) is the focal point of the Cavs team, and so he should be. One could definitely make the argument that he is the best player on the planet. He’s shooting 42.8 percent from field goal range and a 44.5 effective field goal percentage, but James is also proving to be vital on defense leading the team with 8.6 defensive rebounds.

Kyrie Irving (18.7 PPG) makes for a good sidekick. The 2011 lottery pick is hobbling through these Playoffs, but is still providing plenty of offense, shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc. If Irving has to miss any more time, Matthew Dellavedova will have to fill in, which he has done a decent job at averaging just under 50 percent in efficient field goal percentage.

Golden State Warriors
Golden State has home court advantage in this seven-game series, which could be this team’s x-factor. During the regular season, they went 39-2 at Oracle Arena. They are now 46-3 and are averaging almost 15 points per margin of victory. If Cleveland has any hope to upset those trends, they will have to use their No. 1 ranked road net rating.

The Warriors postseason offensive and defensive numbers are worse than their regular season numbers, but they’ve had to slow down their rate of play during the Playoffs from a league leading 100.7 to a little more than 96 per 48 minutes in part because of the Grizzlies series. Despite their possession decrease, they are still the best shooting team in the Playoffs, shooting 52.8 percent from field goal range and 35.8 percent from beyond the arc.

Just as James has his sidekick in Irving, Curry, who by the way has a 57.6 effective field goal percentage and 29.2 PPG (no big deal), has his in Klay Thompson (19.7 PPG). Thompson’s Finals status was put into question when he left Game 5 with a concussion. But rest assured, he has been cleared to play Game 1 of the Finals.

The Warriors will rely on their prolific three-point shooting offense. With the edge in defense shifting towards the Cavs (allow 92.6 PPG), Golden State will need to keep up the tempo and rely on making every possession of theirs count, which I don’t believe will actually be a problem.

The Cavs are entering the Finals on a seven-game winning streak. They took down the Chicago Bulls and they dismantled the Atlanta Hawks. They have no Kevin Love and are relying heavily on LeBron James to be their savior every game. They’ve truly accomplished something great this season and during these playoffs.

But the Warriors are just all around better. They rely on a team effort, but can rely on the MVP to take over games if necessary. They too took down some great teams to get where they are now, four wins away from hoisting up a championship trophy.

This won’t be a cut and dry series. To be clear, the Cavs will win some games. But it’s the Warriors who will emerge victorious.

Warriors in six.

Stephen Curry series MVP.

Full Schedule
Game 1:
Thursday, June 4 at Golden State, 8 p.m. CT (ABC)
Game 2: Sunday, June 7 at Golden State, 7 p.m. CT (ABC)
Game 3: Tuesday, June 9 at Cleveland, 8 p.m. CT (ABC)
Game 4: Thursday, June 11 at Cleveland, 8 p.m. CT (ABC)
Game 5: Sunday, June 14 at Golden State, 7 p.m. CT (ABC)*
Game 6: Tuesday, June 16 at Cleveland, 8 p.m. CT (ABC)*
Game 7: Friday, June 19 at Golden State, 8 p.m. CT (ABC)*

* If necessary