The NBA finals start tonight, and both teams should be well rested after a full week off. Basketball fans have been waiting all year to see this matchup, but who will win? And why? Let’s break down the 5 keys that will determine the outcome of this series:
Defending The King
The Atlanta Hawks were predictably dominated by Lebron and the Cavs, and that’s mainly because the Hawks simply didn’t have anyone that could make LBJ work for his points (sorry Demarre Carroll and Paul Millsap). Jimmy Butler and the Bulls gave Lebron his toughest test of the playoffs by hedging their entire team defense towards James. Ultimately, Butler wore down as the series went on because he was asked to do too much on both ends of the court. The Warriors, however, are in a much better position to defend the King. Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are all excellent defenders who will be asked to guard James for stretches. That means James will get several defensive looks, and the Warriors shouldn’t wear down because none of them will be asked to do what Butler did, taking on James for 40+ minutes per night. I would expect Iguodala to spend the most time defending James, with Green and Barnes getting plenty of chances as well.
Edge: Lebron always has the edge in any matchup because he is the best player in the universe, but the Warriors will be his toughest challenge yet. Golden State was number one in defensive efficiency this season, which is the main reason they are in the Finals today.
Remember when the Warriors were down 2-1 against the Grizzlies during the conference semis? That’s when Phil Jackson took to twitter to remind everyone that 3-point shooting cannot be the foundation of a championship team’s offense. Fast forward to the conference finals, and the four best 3-point shooting teams in the NBA happened to be the only ones left standing. Reading this should make Knicks fans cringe because it indicates that PJ has lost touch with the modern NBA. Indeed, it was Jackson who handed the Cavs Iman Shumpert and JR Smith for a party sized bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos (admittedly delicious). My guess is we’ll see a league record for most 3-pointers attempted in NBA Finals history, and the team that makes more at a higher percentage will win the series.
Edge: The “Splash Brother” definitely have the edge, and really there isn’t anything Cleveland can do to stop it. Unlike the Hawks, many of the Warriors 3-point attempts don’t come from set plays. James has been in a woeful slump from behind the arc, but I suspect that will not last long.
No, relax, this is not a “Lost” reference. Those whispers you hear are just the voices in your own head. The “others” is a term coined by the venerable Kazaam to refer to what we commonly know as role players. For the Cavs, that would be everyone not named Lebron or Kyrie. For the Warriors, everyone not named Curry or Thompson. Depth is a concern for the Cavaliers, as they have the lowest scoring bench of any playoff team.
Edge: Golden State has depth in spades. Smith, Shumpert, Dellavedova, Mozgov and Tristan Thompson have played out of their minds during these playoffs, and they will have to sustain that level of play to win this series.
Blatt vs. Kerr
Blatt narrowly escaped the biggest brain fart in NBA history against the Bulls when Tyronn Lue put his body on the line to stop the coach from calling a timeout he didn’t have. Just one game later, Blatt tried to draw up the game winning shot attempt for someone other than James, but was quickly overruled. Essentially, Blatt’s only job is to not do stuff like that … Let’s be honest, Lebron has been coaching this team for a while now, and now he will have to match wits with Steve Kerr. Kerr is a rookie coach, but a damn good one. His Warriors have led the NBA in assists per game during the playoffs, and it seems like they haven’t even played their best ball yet. He also did a great job of righting the ship when his team went down 2-1 against Memphis.
Edge: Easily Kerr. He was brilliant in handling the matchup problems presented by the Rockets, and there is no question he will test Blatt’s ability to make in-game adjustments by putting unorthodox lineups on the court.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week you know the Warriors are 46-3 at home this season, which is bananas. This is the reason Golden State is favored to win this series. If they lose a game at home, I believe they will lose the series. Kerr’s group can win on the road, but rest assured knowing LBJ will get the benefit of every whistle on his home court. For a young, inexperienced team, it is imperative to defend home court and take a 2-0 lead going to Cleveland.
Edge: The Warriors have the clear edge. They have lost just once at home during the playoffs. The Cavs have been great at home too (just one loss in the playoffs), but the atmosphere in the Q just doesn’t compare to the noisy Oracle Arena.
Prediction: Warriors in 7. Golden State is head and shoulders better than anyone the Cavaliers have played so far. They have the clear edge in depth, shooting and coaching. As amazing as Lebron James is, nothing short of the best series of his career will deliver a series W.
Image Credit: Creative Commons/Keith Allison