WE’RE back, again. After months and months of gruelling, captivating basketball, we arrived back at the spot we all thought we would. A seven-game series between Golden State and Cleveland to determine who is the 2018 NBA champion. There have been unexpected lumps and bumps throughout the season and for a moment it seemed like the narrative might be different. No such luck.
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BEFORE I break down the upcoming series between the Cavs and Warriors let’s take a moment to talk about Boston and Houston. Two teams who entered Game 7 in their respective Conference Finals with a chance to become David in the battle against Goliath. Instead, they both miraculously shat the bed, combining to shoot 14-83 from the 3-point line on their own floor. Bummer.
FOR the fourth straight year we will see the same two squads try to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. Only four other teams have made the Finals in four consecutive seasons with the Celtics (’84-’87) and Lakers (’82-’85) meeting twice during their streaks in the 80’s. The recent stranglehold that the Warriors and Cavs have had over the league is tiring for all involved, but that doesn’t make this historic matchup important. All signs point to Golden State whitewash, but with LeBron James on the other side, anything is possible.
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AT half-time of the Rockets-Dubs Game 7 we wondered if for the first time in forever, maybe Golden State is mortal? Of course, it didn’t pan out Houston’s way with Chris Paul’s hamstring injury robbing the Rockets any realistic chance of grinding out a series win. Even with Houston leading by as much as 13 early in the third quarter of the deciding match, we were all waiting for the inevitable Warriors run. That ‘run’ took place over the next nine minutes as Golden State went on a 29-7 surge and reminded us just how quickly they can flip a game if they are clicking on all cylinders.
THERE haven’t been many games in the postseason where Dub Nation has looked at the peak of their powers. The scoring numbers are still daunting from their three-headed monster of Durant, Curry and Thompson, while Draymond Green is close to a walking triple-double. Outside of their awesome foursome, not many others are contributing for the Warriors. Kerr is struggling to find a big man rotation that he is happy with, which has led to Kevon Looney starting the last four games of the Houston series.
WITH ageing corpses on their bench in JaVale McGee (30 year’s old), Zaza Pachulia (34) and David West (37) you would think the young legs of Looney will be a factor in the Finals. Their reserve guards are hidden behind the talents of the ‘Splash Brothers’ but Quinn Cook, Shaun Livingston and Nick Young need to be better in this series to help their All-Star teammates. The biggest concern and one of the biggest factors in the entire Finals is the health of Andre Iguodala. The 2015 Finals MVP has proved in the past that he can at least make life hard for LeBron and if he isn’t at 100% then it could become a problem.
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LET’S be honest though, a healthy Iggy doesn’t stand much chance of stopping this LeBron James. I’m going to try and not spend the next 714 words talking about LeBron James. What more can really be said? He might be having the best individual playoffs that we have EVER seen. James continues to set unprecedented records and has single-handedly dragged this miserable Cavaliers team to the last series of the year. The biggest questions surrounding the Ohio based franchise aren’t orientated around LeBron though. Instead, we are focused to look at his supporting cast, which has been flat out awful. There’s no way to mince words anyone not named LeBron has sucked this playoffs for Cleveland. Period.
11 years ago a 23-year old (insane how young he was by the way) dragged another questionable supporting cast to the NBA Finals. That roster consisted of players such as Daniel Gibson, Drew Gooden, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic and of course, LeBron James. Compare that to the group of players that helped LBJ win Game 7 in Boston (George Hill, J.R. Smith, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jeff Green and Tristian Thompson) and there is a genuine argument over which group is worse. In fact, this 2018 Cavs team might be one of the worst Finals teams we have ever seen.
THE Cavaliers offense has dried up this postseason. We all knew defense wasn’t their strong suit, but when their 3’s aren’t dropping they stand no chance. After shooting 37.2% from deep for the regular season, the team has hit 33.9% of tries in the postseason, including just 27.2% of their attempts in losses. If the cold shooting numbers continue then I can’t imagine a world where the Cavs win a game this Finals, even if LeBron goes nuclear and drops 50. He needs his teammates to step up.
AN unlikely hero in Jeff Green emerged during Games 6 & 7 of the Celtics series. With their title hopes on the line, Green stepped up in Kevin Love’s absence and was a huge factor, especially in Game 7 where he dropped 19 points and grabbed eight boards. Don’t expect these type of games from Green on the regular with his rollercoaster output a perfect summary of how the rest of Cleveland plays night in, night out. The streaky shooting J.R. Smith has you yelling no, no, no as he loads up from behind the arc and Tristian Thompson can only provide offense when he catches the ball inside the paint. Oh, and the recruits that came in halfway through the season to ‘save the day’? Forget about it. Rodney Hood is getting splinters on the bench, Nance can’t find minutes on the court and George Hill is a shorter version of Green, incosistently frustrating the Cavaliers franchise.
FOR the Cavaliers to stand any realistic chance at winning this series, they need Kevin Love to refind his All-Star form and then some. His status for Game 1 is up in the air afte suffering a concussion in Game 6 of the Celtics series. If Love doesn’t play in the first match of the series it will be tough for me to see a way the Cavs can beat Golden State four times in six tries. On the other hand, if he can get hot and keep the Dubs off the boards, then it could swing momentum in Cleveland’s favour. If he fails though, they’re doomed.
AS a Cavs fan I am blindly optimistic that we can pull off the impossible, but let’s be honest there is about a 7% chance of a series win for my team. Golden State just has too much star power and are too talented to lose a best of seven series if they are all healthy. We saw first hand against Houston how they can change the course of a game in half a quarter and with the slow, unreliable defense of Cleveland the only thing in their way, we could be about to witness a bloodbath.
FOR Cleveland to stand any chance they need the 1,003 things I previously talked about to go their way. Yet, the true secret to success lies in how fast the series is played. In the regular season, Golden State averaged 101.8 possession’s a match, however, in the playoffs that number is slightly down to 99.8. Cleveland’s playoff (93.9) possession count is down from their regular season (100.1) one as well, which is understandable as most teams slow down and put more emphasis on efficiency of possessions come playoff time. However, slowing the game down and limiting the Warriors’ fastbreak opportunities has been a crucial element in determining a winner during this rivalry. During the 2016 NBA Finals, the average possession tally a match was 93.5 (Cavs win), while last seasons’ series saw that number increase to 103.1 (Warriors win). Coincidence? I think not.
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IT wouldn’t be a Finals preview piece if I didn’t at least mention the ongoing LeBron/Jordan duel for the title as the greatest basketballer ever. I refuse to spend too much time talking about this impossible argument….but. If LeBron is able to drag this motley crew to a championship it will definitely sway a lot of voters his way. There is no point in debating this topic until LBJ retires in my opinion and a lot of us suffer from recency bias when making a case for ‘The King’. Still, if James could turn his eight straight Finals appearances into his fourth NBA title then it’s almost futile to try and split the pair. They’re both just so god damn good.
THERE is a realistic possibility that we are watching one of the worst playoffs in the history of the NBA and barring anything crazy we could be in for another boring NBA Finals as well. It’s not impossible that Cleveland wins four of the next seven games, but a lot of things have to fall their way. A ton of the attention and the spotlight (deservingly so) is being thrust onto Kevin Durant, but I think Curry will be the Warrior who captures headlines over the next fortnight. Showing no ill effects of the injury that delayed his 2018 playoff run, Curry seems poised to go bananas and finally claim a Finals MVP trophy of his own.
WATCH out for fatigue to play a factor in this series as well. Not only have these players been playing for over seven months, but for a group of them, this is the fourth straight season of 100+ games. I don’t have enough balls to pick the Warriors in 4, which is a possibility. Instead, I will say Dub Nation repeats as champs in five games, the same result as 12 months prior. Will this series be boring? Maybe, but it might also be the last time that we get to see an epic battle between the ‘best team in the world’ and ‘best player in the world’. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts. Kind of.
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