Every year when the calendar flips to June, it is synonymous with the beginning of the NBA Finals, the conclusion of the NBA season. More often than not, this last series of games provides us with epic and unforgettable moments that are forever etched into NBA history. This year provides one of the most intriguing matchups in some time, as the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors will matchup against the Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Warriors are a fan favorite, as budding star and MVP PG Stephen Curry has captivated the hearts and minds of the league with every deep three and Riley Curry press conference. Accompanied by defensive stalwart F Draymond Green and “Splash Brother” G Klay Thompson, Curry and Co. earned the league’s best record at 67-15 and have rolled through both the regular and postseason playing their high-tempo brand of offense.
On the other hand, the Cavaliers are led by F LeBron James, who is making his 5th straight NBA Finals appearance. James’ right hand man is G Kyrie Irving, who is a tremendous scorer. After that, the Cavs’ rotation is filled out by many quality role players, such as “3 and D” players G Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. The Cavaliers’ road to the finals was a tad more difficult, as many of the players on the roster had been together less than a year, and took much of the season to gel together and find their rhythm. The team also took a big hit when F Kevin Love was injured and ruled out for the playoffs following a first-round victory against the Boston Celtics. Nevertheless, the Cavaliers found their footing and won 53 games in the regular season, and are coming off a 4-0 sweep of the 1st seed Atlanta Hawks as they enter the Finals.
There are a number of intriguing matchups created when these two teams take the floor. Curry has been on fire in the playoffs, averaging 29.2 PPG, and it will be interesting to see if the below-average defense of Kyrie Irving will even be able to slow him down. There is a possibility that James may have to step up and cover the much smaller Curry in a pivotal late-game situation. Another thing to keep an eye on is how Thompson plays, especially early in the series, as he is recovering from “concussion-like symptoms.” He would most likely be guarded by a combination of Shumpert and Smith, with Shumpert being the much more superior defender.
For the majority of the series, I would expect LeBron to be on Draymond Green defensively. To me, Green is a poor man’s LeBron. Their size match up and skill sets make for the perfect clash for each team, but as I said previously, I could see a situation where James comes off Green defensively to take Curry in a late-game moment. Outside of consistent C Andrew Bogut, the Warriors have been using a rotation of Fs David Lee, Marreese Speights (injured in the playoffs, possible return for Finals) and C Festus Ezeli at the big man spots. Their play has surprised me during these playoffs, but the same can be said for the Cavaliers’ big men. When Love when down, the team knew someone had to step up to replace his production, and F Tristan Thompson and C Timofey Mozgov have stepped up their respective games. Thompson is almost averaging a double-double, at 9.4 PPG and 9.9 RPG, with Mozgov throwing down 9.1 PPG and 7.2 RPG so far these playoffs. Both players have shown improvement over their regular season performances, and it will be imperative that this play continues for the Cavs to have any chance in the Finals.
Overall, I believe this could be one of the best NBA Finals in the past decade. I fully expect this series to go seven games, with Cleveland winning the necessary last game on the road to clinch the city’s first title since 1964. I believe Curry will average slightly lower points than he has the entire playoffs, facing a now stingy Cavs’ defense, with Thompson only being average in the wake of Shumpert’s defensive efforts. I would expect James to stifle Green for most of the series, as I believe that LeBron is a faster, better version of Green.
However, the Finals will come down to three main factors. First, how each team’s respective depth and bench play throughout the series will be a large determinant of the outcome. Overall, I like the Warriors depth better than the Cavaliers, but in a series like this, coaches will often stick with an 8-9 man rotation, meaning that depth is not as important as it is in the regular season. The second factor is how each team’s big men will play. I never thought I would believe in Thompson and Mozgov, but I can see them slowing down Bogut offensively, and competing for rebounds against the Warrior’s big men. With James averaging 10.4 RPG so far this playoffs, the Cavaliers should continue to benefit from his larger-than-life play. The final and most important determining factor of the NBA Finals comes down to one matchup: LeBron vs. Steph Curry.
As we all know, LeBron has been in nearly clutch moment there is to be in on the biggest stage. This is Curry’s first go-around deep in the playoffs, let alone an NBA Finals appearance, and it is a lot to expect him to out-perform the game’s best player on the biggest stage. I’m betting that his shooting luck finally runs out. With LeBron this close to his ultimate goal with Cleveland, I can’t see him letting this opportunity slipping away.
Expect this to be a knock-em-down, drag-it-out series with both close games throughout. All in all, I expect LeBron and the Cavs to walk away the ’14-’15 NBA Champions.