NBA Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers III

Tale of the Tape

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors enter the finals undefeated, after sweeping their way through the West. They beat the Blazers, Jazz, and Spurs all in four games.

The Warriors own the best net rating in the playoffs, a historically dominant +16.8 net rating per 100 possessions. They own the best defense in the playoffs, and are the only team allowing below 100 points per 100 possessions (99.1). On the offensive end, they’re second to only Cleveland, and have been putting up 115.8 offensive rating. The Warriors have shot 38.9% from three, about on pace with their regular season totals (38.3%). Golden State boasts a 57% EFG, once again about on pace with their regular season numbers (56.3%). The Warriors played two great defenses in the Spurs and Jazz, and neither team was able to slow them down. – Mark Chajkowski

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs enter the Finals after cruising their way through the East in the playoffs, going 12-1 over the first 3 rounds, sweeping the Pacers and Raptors and then beating the Celtics in 5 games.

Cleveland has turned it on in the playoffs, playing better on both sides of the ball. They’re offensive rating has jumped up 9.8 points, going from 110.9 during the regular season up to 120.7 in the playoffs and their defensive rating has gone down 3.4 points from their 108.0 in the regular season to 104.6 in the playoffs. They have also been shooting the ball better as a team, shooting 43.5 percent from three and having a 59.8 percent effective field goal percentage in the playoffs up from 38.4 percent from three and a 54.7 percent effective field goal percentage in the regular season.

The Cavs return basically the same team from last years championship run with all 8 of their top minute getters from last years playoffs still on the team along with the additions of veterans Kyle Korver and Deron Williams. – Tony Romanello

Things to Watch

Mike Brown’s Coaching

With Steve Kerr in back pain, Mike Brown has taken over as the head coach of the Warriors. While they still play Kerr’s system, and Kerr no doubt has a lot of say in what the rotations and substitutions will look like before the game, coaches still have to adapt on the fly, and it is unlikely Kerr has given Brown a ton of guidelines for different situations. Brown will probably ride their stars for more minutes than Kerr did last year and also run more pick and rolls. The offensive system will remain in place for large portions of the game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown goes away from it to let his stars attack more than Kerr would.

Kerr struggled with rotations in the NBA Finals last year, including playing 11 different players in the first quarter of game 7. We won’t see that this year.  Brown is more willing to go to the death lineup than Kerr seemed, and puts his stars back out quicker than Kerr does when the team is struggling.

It will be interesting to see how much creative license Brown is allowed on the sidelines. Brown has plenty of experience coaching, but is not an elite coach. However, if Cleveland gets out to early leads, we will have to see how much Brown is allowed to improvise as opposed to staying with the gameplan he and Kerr discussed. Brown could lose Golden State a game by mishandling situations, but it could also cost Golden State a game if Brown is not allowed to make many adjustments when the Warriors fall behind.

Finally, the late game situations will be interesting. Kerr likes to continue running the system, and search for high percentage shots from any of their players. But Brown is different. Late in games, he has seemed more willing to let Durant and Curry go to work in ISOs and pick and rolls. Cleveland was able to play airtight defense on Curry and Thompson moving off ball late in games last year, and maybe Brown decides to be more direct and less cute. The outcome of this decision could affect a lot of games late. – Mark Chajkowski

Cleveland’s defense

The Cavs defense has been a topic of concern for most of the season as they finished 22nd in the league in defensive rating during the regular season at 108.0 which was tied with the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic. As mentioned above, they have improved their defensive rating to a 104.6 in the playoffs which would have ranked 8th best during the regular season. However, the Cavs have yet to play a team as good offensively or with as many weapons as the Warriors this postseason.

During last years Finals, the Cavs defense was able to do a good job on the Warriors due to LeBron James being able to basically play safety on defense because of Harrison Barnes struggling and LeBron being able to sag off of him. This time around, that player in the corner will be Kevin Durant, who is shooting 41.7 percent from three this postseason and obviously a better all around scorer than Barnes

LeBron not being able to sag off his man and play safety on defense will make it harder to guard the Warriors high-powered offense this time around. This along with the questions already surrounding Cleveland’s defense this season will be something to keep an eye on this series. – Tony Romanello

Important Stats

Golden State’s ability to control the defensive glass

In order for Cleveland to have a shot in this series, they have to dominate the offensive glass. Love and Thompson are both good to great offensive rebounders, and with all the shooting Cleveland has, the lane is more open for their big men to crash the glass.  Golden State loves to go small, and their three traditional bigs, Zaza, West, and McGee will probably only see about 30-35 minutes a game combined. This should, in theory, allow Cleveland to dominate the offensive glass like they did against Boston. However, that might not be the case.

The first statistic that jumps out at you is that Golden State is leading the playoffs in contested defensive rebounds per game (10.0) and uncontested defensive rebounds per game (27.5). Despite Golden State going small for portions of the game, it still doesn’t hinder them on the defensive glass. Durant and Green are both very good rebounders, and the threat of Golden State running keeps teams from crashing the glass with numbers (Golden State leads the NBA with 20.7 fast break points per game).  

How Cleveland managed crashing the glass versus playing transition defense will be very important in this series. Draymond is one of the best grab and go players in the league, and if Cleveland puts Thompson on him, he will have to be conscious of transition defense as well as offensive rebounding. Committing LeBron to the offensive glass is probably a bad idea, as he’s the only good transition defender on Cleveland. Leaving only two of Korver, Smith, Williams, and Irving back to defend a Golden State fast break will probably be unfruitful, so Cleveland has to find a way to own the glass while being wary of Golden State’s ability to score in seven seconds or less. If Golden State can control the boards and get out on the break, it will be a short series. – Mark Chajkowski

Cleveland’s shooting

This postseason the Cavs are having an historically good shooting run as they have posted a 59.8 percent effective field goal percentage so far, which is an NBA playoffs record, while scoring 37.5 percent of their points from three (a playoff high this season) and just 34.1 percent of their points in the paint (a playoff low this season) and shooting a crazy efficient 68.9 percent effective field goal percentage on catch-and-shoot jumpers this postseason. They are also making 14.6 threes per game this postseason which is the most in playoffs history.

As you can see, the Cavs score a bulk of their points on jumpers and rely heavily on the three point shot (which is kind of funny because the Warriors have this connotation more than the Cavs). They are also shooting incredibly well on those shots so far this postseason. The Cavs jump shooting, three pointer especially, will be very important for them as they will have to keep up their impressive shooting in this series in hopes of keeping up with the Warriors offense. – Tony Romanello

Prediction

Warriors in 5

I’m all for picking the sweep. But I just can’t. While Golden State has the best defense in the league and four of the best five players in the series, I’m not sure if that’s even enough to shut out LeBron. The Warriors should be able to limit LeBron and Kyrie in a few games, and outshoot Cleveland in close games. However, there will probably be at least one off shooting night for the Warriors, and Cleveland can jump on that opportunity. Even if the Warriors stay hot during the Finals, Cleveland has also been red hot all playoffs, and may be able to outshoot them for a game or two. However, there are a lot of issues for Cleveland. If Smith faceguards Thompson, Golden State will happily play four on four with Thompson in the corner. Also, Smith struggled with Bradley’s off ball cuts in the Boston series, and Thompson is amongst the best cutting guards in the league. He’ll burn Smith going towards the basket, and if he can get open on the perimeter the games might not be close. Also, with LeBron having to guard Durant, it makes Cleveland’s defense much worse. LeBron is at his best playing as a roaming free safety on defense, but if he’s on Durant, his ability to help will be limited, and that could kill Cleveland’s defense. Even if LeBron and Kyrie can manage to play Durant and Curry to a draw, which is a stretch considering how much better Curry is than Irving, the advantage still goes to the Warriors. I would love to see a competitive series, but I think it will be short.  – Mark Chajkowski

Warriors in 6

While I think the Warriors do have the advantage on both sides of the ball and are the overall better team, I still think this series is going to be closer than some might think. The Warriors have been playing extremely well lately despite Klay Thompson struggling. Stephen Curry looks to be back to his MVP ways, Durant has been incredible all playoffs and Draymond Green has been his usual all-around beast self and has seen his three-pointers falling at a higher rate during the playoffs. But I still just can’t see these guys steamrolling over LeBron James. LeBron will probably just straight up will the Cavs to win at least one game and Kyrie will likely go off a game or two and the Warriors are likely to have an off shooting night during the series and I think the likelihood of those events happening give the Cavs a fighting chance at this series even though everything I know about basketball from this season and all the numbers tell me they have no chance. So I think the actual outcome will fall somewhere in the middle so I’ll go with Warriors in 6. – Tony Romanello

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