The Cleveland Cavaliers may not have escaped the Eastern Conference undefeated, but they were just as impressive as the Golden State Warriors were out West. Good. Because this is the series we wanted and it’s the series we knew we were getting. The Warriors aren’t going to sweep the Cavaliers. Here’s why.
The Cavs briefly stumbled against the Boston Celtics, but it was only because LeBron James was under the weather and Marcus Smart, a career 29% 3-point shooter, went 7-of-10 from downtown in the Fluke Game. Meanwhile, the 67-win Warriors beat a .500 team that they have owned over the last few years in the Portland Trail Blazers. Then they beat the just-happy-to-be-there / no-expectation-having Utah Jazz. Finally, they trailed the Spurs by 23 in the 3rd quarter – at home – when Kawhi Leonard left the Western Conference Finals. And in last year’s WCF they trailed the Thunder, 3-1. Don’t let any of that distract you from the fact that everyone on the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead last season.
If you need proof the 2016-2017 Cleveland Cavaliers can beat the 2016-2017 Golden State Warriors, look back to Christmas when the the Cavs beat the Warriors, 109-108. Klay Thompson hasn’t lost a game since when? Who cares. Last I checked (which is just now) Klay Thompson played on Christmas. In fact, all four of Golden State’s All-Stars played that day. You know who didn’t? J.R. Smith. That’s right, the Warriors lost to a team that started DeAndre Liggins and played him 22 minutes.
As for Klay Thompson, I distinctly remember him playing in Games 5, 6, and 7 in last year’s Finals. You know who else was there?
Kyrie Irving averaged 27 points during last year’s Finals. In Game 1 of the ’15 Finals he had 22 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals before he hurt his knee in overtime and was lost for the series. You want to talk about revenge? How about the fact that the Cavaliers could be going for their third straight title right now if Kyrie and Kevin Love hadn’t both been hurt in 2015. You want someone young enough and good enough to go up against 2-time MVP Stephen Curry, this is your man. As he’s already proven and wants to prove again.
The Cavaliers are shooting more three-pointers per game in the playoffs than the Warriors (33.6 for Cleveland, 31.3 for Golden State) and they’re making a higher percentage (.435 for Cleveland, .389 for Golden State).
Nobody can shut down anyone else. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are all unstoppable. As far as offensive basketball goes, they are as good as it gets and the Cavaliers have just as much fire power.
Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are tremendous 3-point shooters, but you know who has shot 3’s better over their playoff careers? Kevin Love (.439) and Kyrie Irving (.414). J.R. Smith is shooting 45% from downtown during these playoffs. Kyle Korver has struggled and is only around 41% – behind Deron Williams and Iman Shumpert.
Still, let’s not pretend that Deron Williams’ or any other reserve’s early-round 3-point shooting is going to make that big of a difference. The rotations are going to get super tight next week. We will see these guys for minutes at a time. Both teams basically went with 7-man rotations during the ’16 Finals. So good luck to Mike Brown as he juggles JaVale McGee, Patrick McCaw, Ian Clark and 36-year old David West’s minutes. So it will come down to the best players playing the best which brings us to…
You know those annoying debates about whether Michael Jordan is the still the greatest basketball player ever? Well the other guy in that debate is LeBron James and he just averaged career highs in rebounds (8.6) and assists (8.7) this season to go along with 26.4 points on 55% shooting and he’s currently scoring 32.5 points a game in the playoffs on 57% shooting. And considering he was sick for two of those 13 games against the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, that’s not bad.
Yes, the Warriors have some quality defenders to throw at LeBron, but so what? The Toronto Raptors were literally built with nothing in mind but bothering LeBron James. How’d that work out? At 33-years old Andre Iguodala can’t have much more to offer defensively against LeBron than P.J. Tucker did. No one does. Draymond Green is a great defender? Cool. LeBron averaged 27.8 points and 9.1 assists in the 6 games he wasn’t suspended during the ’16 Finals. LeBron has seen all of these guys in the NBA Finals before and he’s beaten them all.
I’m not saying the Cavaliers are going to sweep the Warriors. That’s ridiculous. Both these teams are too good and this is exactly what we’ve been building to for months. Years even. But when it comes down to it and the best players in the world decide who wins the title there aren’t really five reasons Cleveland or Golden State will win. There is one reason. It’s the one guy who has determined who got to win the title each of the last 6 years and the one guy who will determine who wins this year. There is one reason the Cleveland Cavaliers will win the 2017 NBA Championship and that reason is LeBron James.