Tale of the Tape
Golden State Warriors
Golden State returns to the Finals after coming back being on the brink of elimination against the Thunder. The Warriors rallied from down 3-1, and in the last two games outscored the Thunder by 84 points at the three point line. Overall, the Warriors have been impressive in the playoffs, holding a 12-5 record despite the fact that unanimous MVP Steph Curry missed time in the first two rounds.
The Warriors are back to defend their Championship, and even though the same core is present, it would be remiss to think that the Warriors aren’t at least a little better. Draymond continued his evolution as an offensive weapon, and their execution is a little better, but most of that comes with being more comfortable in the offense (it is common for teams to not fully grasp a new coach’s schemes until year two).
Their defense is still stellar, and it stifled the Thunder during the closing minutes of Games 5-7 where the Thunder looked to slow things down. They allowed the sixth fewest threes per 100 possessions in the regular season, showing off their unreal help defense to run shooters off the line. They also defended the three at the second best rate in the league in the regular season (33.2% opponent’s 3 point shooting) and it has continued in the playoffs (34.2% OTPS). In the playoffs, the Warriors have allowed their opponents to shoot more threes a game, but they predominantly gave tons of open shots to poor three point shooters like Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Andre Roberson, and Russell Westbrook. When faced with the likes of Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, Channing Frye, and Kevin Love, we’ll see what gives, Cleveland’s three point shooting or Golden State’s three point defense -Mark Chajkowski
The Cavaliers come into this series after beating the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games. The Cavs more or less ran through the Eastern Conference during the playoffs, sans games 3 and 4 of the Toronto series.
During the playoffs, the Cavs have gone a combined 12-2, sweeping their first two opponents and as mentioned beating Toronto in six games. The Cavs have been playing extremely well on the offensive side of the ball, posting an offensive rating of 116.2 during the playoffs, which is the top mark in the playoffs. They’ve been shooting the ball from the outside extremely well during the playoffs, sinking 43.4 percent of the their shots from the beyond the arc.
With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love coming back healthy to join LeBron this year after missing last years Finals with injuries, the Cavs will look to avenge last years loss and take home Cleveland’s first NBA title. – Tony Romanello
Things to Watch
The Death Lineup
During the Thunder series, The Death Lineup suffered a moment of uncertainty; the Russ-Waiters-Roberson-Durant-Ibaka lineup was killing them, and even when Adams played against it in Games 2 and 3, he wasn’t exposed. It had a terrible net rating, and basketball analysts were wondering if the Warriors could keep going to it when it seemed so much more beneficial to have someone like Bogut in there to deter the Thunder from easy layups.
But this matchup is different. The Cavaliers don’t have a Steven Adams, someone who will dominate the glass and make them go big. Draymond can handle Tristan, and Frye and Love are always on the perimeter. There’s no reason the Warriors can’t go to the death lineup at any point in the game, and Cleveland doesn’t really have an answer for it. Love and Frye will get killed on defense against it (so will Kyrie), but you can’t take all three off the court. Cleveland’s best option against it might be Kyire-(2 of Delly/Shump/JR)-Bron-Tristan, but even that lineup feels vastly inferior to that of the Warriors. I expect Lue to try everything, he’s a very bold coach who hasn’t been afraid to throw Love or Frye out there at center, but he’s going to have to have something up his sleeve to stop this lineup from trouncing Cleveland like it did last year. -Mark Chajkowski
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love
One of the biggest storylines during last years NBA Finals was that the Cavaliers were without two of their three best players in Kyrie Irving, who played in Game 1 but missed the rest of the series, and Kevin Love, who missed the series entirely, due to injury. This year, both Kyrie and Love are healthy and we finally get to see how much of a difference these two will make in the series.
So far this postseason, both Kyrie and Love have been playing quite well. Kyrie is averaging 24.3 points and 5.1 assists per game and is knocking down 45.6 percent of his threes. Love is averaging 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game while shooting 44.6 percent from three, although just making 39.1 percent of his field goals.
While these two do make the Cavaliers much better on the offensive end, they are, however, minuses on the defensive end. I believe part of the reason why the Cavs were able to give the Warriors some problems during last years Finals was because of the Cavs defense, which was due to Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson, who are both better than Irving and Love defensively, getting more playing time.
This postseason, teams have been attacking Irving and Love in the pick-and-roll. According to a Zach Lowe piece on ESPN, as of after Game 4 in the Cavs-Raptors series, in the playoffs opponents scored 1.09 points per chance that ended in a shot, foul or turnover when Irving and Love were the primary defenders, which would rank last among the 119 duos that defended at least 250 pick-and-rolls during the regular season. And if Kyle Lowry and Patrick Patterson can kill them on pick-and-rolls, Steph Curry and Draymond Green will surely do some damage.
While these two do offer a lot on the offensive end, they do take away on the defensive end. These two could help the Cavs get over the hump and defeat the Warriors, or they could only make a slight difference and only make this series a shootout, and the Warriors don’t usually lose in shootouts. Either way, this will be something to keep an eye on during the series. – Tony Romanello
Warriors: Fast Break, The Pace of Play
The Warriors led the regular season (20.6 ppg) and the playoffs (16.8) in fast break points per game, with their litany of ballhandlers and three point shooters making defending the fast break hell for most teams. However, during the regular season, Cleveland allowed the sixth least amount of fast break points to their opponents (11.9 ppg) and ridiculously improved on that in the playoffs (7.9 ppg). While Cleveland doesn’t have the perimeter defenders that some teams do, they make an effort to get back and the whole LeBron James thing always help.
During the regular season, the Warriors were second in pace (101.65 poss/game) and in the playoffs have played around the same speed (101.67) in the playoffs Teams like to play slower in the playoffs; defense gets tighter, your rotation gets shorter, and sometimes you need those extra couple seconds to find a good shot or let your stars catch their breath. Cleveland has skewed that way, going from 95.48 poss/game (28th in the NBA) to 91.38. The Cavaliers are playing very slow, milking the clock hunting for good shots. Kyrie and JR are amongst the best bad shot makers in the NBA, and LeBron can consistently create something out of nothing in about three seconds, so there is no reason to rush their offense. Add in that 6 of their 9 rotation players are shooting above 44% in the playoffs, and there’s no need to get trigger happy (although I’m sure JR would disagree).
Controlling the pace could be big for Golden State. They put Oklahoma City’s halfcourt offense in a stranglehold, and there was belief that the Warriors would be better off playing slow in that series, but the Warriors are at their best playing fast. They play well in the half court, but they ultimately thrive in a fast-paced chaos where Steph and Klay are firing every time they get a glimpse of the rim and Draymond is attack the basket like a wrecking ball. Their chemistry is phenomenal, and if they get going there’s no stopping them – Mark Chajkowski
Cavaliers three-point shooting
This postseason, the Cavaliers have started knocking down their three-pointers at a higher clip. During the regular season, shot 36.2 percent from beyond the arc, which was good for the eighth best mark in the league. In the playoffs, they’ve been shooting a scorching 43.4 percent from three.
The 43.4 percent from three is the best mark in the postseason and would have been the best mark in the league during the regular season. While I think the Cavs will come back down to earth a little bit with their outside shooting, this is a good sign for the Cavs that they are making their threes at a more efficient rate.
One of the Warriors main advantages is that they simply destroy teams from outside. If the Cavs are making their threes, they can take some of this advantage away (because you aren’t going to take it completely away against the Warriors). Last season in the Finals, the Cavs mostly just traded 2s for Warriors 3s, and math tells me that’s a losing strategy. But, if the Cavs can make more threes and make them more efficiently, they may be able to even the field a little bit. – Tony Romanello
Warriors in 6
Although the Cavs will be at full strength this time around, I think the Warriors still have the upper hand. I’m just still not convinced the Warriors will lose four out of seven games. The Thunder came extremely close to beating the Warriors and I think the Thunder are a better match-up against the Warriors than the Cavs are.
I don’t think the Cavs have the defense to slow down the Warriors and the Warriors are still better on the offensive end. LeBron will absolutely be able to take a few games from the Warriors and make this interesting but I think the Warriors are the better team still. As I mentioned above, I think the Warriors will attack Kyrie and Love in the pick-and-roll and I’m not sure the Cavs can keep up their hot shooting against the Warriors defense.
I think this will be a good and entertaining series and I think the Cavs feel like they have something to prove against the historically good Warriors. Steph vs. LeBron, Round 2 should be a good one, but I think the Warriors will be going home with another title. – Tony Romanello
Warriors in 5
This isn’t meant to be a knock on the Cavaliers, but the two best teams in the NBA already played. The Thunder pushed the Warriors to the brink; they played incredibly tight defense, rebounded well, and rode the hell out of their stars on offense, and it almost worked. Now, Cleveland probably won’t go through a three point drought like the Thunder did in games 6 and 7, but that might not matter.
What kept the Thunder in these games was defense. They held the Warriors to their three worst points per possession games this season, and guess what? They lost. Cleveland cannot switch their bigs (outside of Thompson) onto perimeter players, which the Thunder did to prevent open looks on the catch. Cleveland is going to have to bank on JR Smith (who couldn’t handle DeRozan last series) and Kyrie to defend Steph and Klay. It probably won’t work.
At the other end, Cleveland can space the floor immensely well, but after watching Steph play some solid defense, and Klay and Iggy defend Russ/KD better than Green and Kawhi did, I’m beginning to worry about Cleveland’s offense. Granted; LeBron brings a strength element Durant doesn’t, and may be able to force his way to the hoop for some buckets, but, I just struggle to see a series where the Cavs get a bunch of good looks from the field, and we know the Warriors will. -Mark Chajkowski