Here’s a look at the 15 most important Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors for the 2018 NBA Finals.
15. Larry Nance, Cavaliers: After two seven-game series during the Cavaliers playoff run, an injection of youth should do this team some good. Hence, Nance and Clarkson nudge some of the other peripheral players off this list for these finals.
14. Jordan Clarkson, Cavaliers: He’s been one of the best defensive players in these playoffs (102.3 defensive rating), and may get consistent minutes defending Steph Curry,
13. J.R. Smith, Cavaliers: He could go off — maybe. The declining veteran still gets hot. What’s more likely is that Smith keeps doing what he’s been doing for the regular season and the playoffs: roughly 30 minutes, eight points, two rebounds and one assist per game.
12. Shaun Livingston, Warriors: The most efficient defender on a Golden State bench, which isn’t saying much. Livingston boasts a 104.5 rating, which is exemplary, in part, of Livingston’s dependability on and off the court.
11. Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers: The Cavaliers will need boards and defense. They can’t let Draymond Green and company bully them around — or Steph Curry for that matter. After all, Curry had eight rebounds per game to Thompson’s 5.8 in the 2017 NBA Finals.
10. George Hill, Cavaliers: Find this man some Chipotle barbacoa tacos with guacamole, Hill’s lucky pregame dinner. Cleveland is going to need his best on both ends of the court. And they haven’t exactly been getting it. He’s shooting well from the field (46 percent). It’s a different story from 3. He was hitting 41.5 percent of his 3’s in the regular season, but is at 25.7 percent in this postseason.
9. Kyle Korver, Cavaliers: LeBron appears to be sharing the fountain of youth with 37-year-old Korver, who was energetic at times for Cleveland. Like so many of these Cavaliers, however, Korver needs to find consistency as a scorer. Ty Lue could also do Korver a favor by making him more than just a matchup player.
8. Jeff Green, Cavaliers: When Kevin Love returns from his concussion, Green’s minutes will wane. But maybe Ty Lue will try to get Green on the court more often after his Game 7 performance against the Celtics (19 points, eight rebounds, 50 percent from the field, 42 minutes). He has been an efficient shooter in the last two games by hitting 44.4 percent from the field against the Celtics and 54.8 percent against the Raptors. He could be an x-factor for the Cavaliers.
7. Andre Iguodala, Warriors: Steve Kerr said he thinks the Warriors would have won the Western Conference Finals in five games, had Iggy played. While it’s an exaggerated sentiment, his value is tremendous, particularly as a world-renowned LeBron-stopper. If Iggy can get healthy and find ways to stop LeBron from putting up 40 every night, the Warriors would be incredibly happy. Without Iguodala, the Warriors have a significant conundrum in defending LeBron.
6. Kevin Love, Cavaliers: LeBron is going to need help from someone – anyone. Love has been a monster on the boards, but has been inconsistent as a scorer. He won’t have to put up 30 every night (even though we saw in Game 2 against the Raptors that he’s capable of it). But he’ll have to do better than what he did against Boston (15 ppg in the games he finished). Love is still in the concussion protocol as we head toward the series, after missing Game 7, so his return is vital.
5. Klay Thompson, Warriors: The run of Warriors’ All-Stars begins. Thompson showed in Game 6 against the Rockets that he can be the most influential scorer on Golden State. He went off for 35 points while hitting 9 of 14 from the 3-point line. But with so many (more) talented scorers on the roster, Thompson happily plays third fiddle to Steph Curry and Kevin Durant.
4. Draymond Green, Warriors: In the past, his value wasn’t completely apparent until he was gone (see: the 2016 NBA Finals and the 3-1 phenomena). Green has a plus-8.2 on-court rating this postseason with 11.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game. He was abysmal shooting from 3 during the Western Conference Finals at 11.8 percent. If he can find his range, he’s an incredibly versatile tool, and he’ll also help with defending LeBron.
3. Steph Curry, Warriors: Curry’s rare shooting woes against the Rockets showed just how infallible he’s been in his career. From behind 3-point line, he was 2 of 13 in the first two games of the series, and then was 2 of 8 in Game 5. We’re genuinely shocked when his 3-pointers don’t go in with staggering efficiency. Another 3-point shooting slump might open the door for the Cavaliers, much like it did for the Rockets.
2, Kevin Durant, Warriors: Against the Rockets – probably the second best team in the NBA – Durant could do pretty much whatever he wanted. He’d make plays where there would only be one response: How? Durant is not far off from LeBron in terms of skill. It’s just that Durant has Curry, Green and Thompson to help carry the load. He’s just as talented, but his impact on the series is lessened by all the help.
1. LeBron James, Cavaliers: He’s the best player in basketball and in the NBA Finals. And he’ll have to play like it. If LeBron doesn’t average almost 45-10-10, then the Cavaliers won’t win. He barely beat the Celtics with 41-9-8.5. He’ll have to do better against the Warriors.