It’s (finally) about to go down!
The rematch, aka the trilogy, NBA fans have been patiently waiting for since the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers stunned the basketball world by erasing a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors, tips off tonight at 9PM/ET on ABC. The hype surrounding this matchup can’t be overstated. The two most dominant and consistent NBA teams over the past three seasons meeting again in a rubber match for NBA supremacy is the reason we watch sports. But how will the unknowns of this series factor into who walks away victorious? I ask and answer 10 questions on all of our minds as we count down the hours to gametime.
1. How will nine days of rest impact the Golden State Warriors after completing its sweep of the San Antonio Spurs on May 22? Everyone has a theory when it comes to determining how idleness impacts a team’s readiness. Since sports is largely about momentum, some believe that a week or more in between games is a complete buzzkill. While others theorize that teams have a greater potential to be rested, clear-minded, and hyper focused. Thankfully, fans don’t have to wait long to receive an answer to this question. It’ll be obvious which team, if any, has an edge five minutes after tipoff. Though, I’m going to go out on a limb and give the advantage to the Warriors because the fans at Oracle Arena will have that place rocking early. There’s no way the Warriors aren’t spurred by #DubNations’ energy.
2. Will Klay Thompson become the impact player he’s capable of being? This postseason Thompson’s presence has taken a backseat to Stephen Curry (28.6 ppg) and Kevin Durant (25.2 ppg). He’s averaging 14.4 ppg and shooting 38-percent from the field on 13.9 shot attempts. From the arc, he’s averaging just 5.5 shot attempts, which is down from 8.3 in the regular season, despite playing the same amount of minutes –34. While Thompson’s numbers are down, the Warriors have been fortunate to cruise into the Finals unscathed without an impact performance from the lost Splash Brother. But, the team’s approach must be different if they plan to get four wins over the Cavs. That means, actively involving Thompson in the offensive scheme, something the team has failed to do up until now. Acting head coach Mike Brown and Steve Kerr have a strong weapon in Thompson that must be utilized for the benefit of the team.
3. How do the Warriors play Kyrie? Listen. I’m a strong believer that Kyrie is the Cav’s x-factor. Defensively, Kyrie will irritate TF out of Curry. While Curry will get off his shots, and have his hot moments, I fully expect Kyrie to wear Steph out. Offensively, Kyrie, if defended by Curry, will transition into a streetball player right before our eyes only to expose Curry’s weakness on defense. His ball handling, speed, and footwork is too much for Curry; or most defenders to be honest. But especially Curry who for whatever reason gets a pass when it comes to assessing his defensive prowess, or lack thereof. It will be beautiful to watch; unless you’re a Warriors fan, of course.
4. Can the Cavs win at Oracle? Yes, they can. Need proof? Look no further than the Cavs completing a historic comeback last season.
5. How will Steve Kerr’s limited coaching role impact the Warriors game plan? Very minimally. Despite being plagued with back issues the majority of the postseason, Kerr is reportedly considering returning courtside to coach in the Finals. With hours to go before tipoff, we still do not have a final word on Kerr’s status. But with the Warriors at home, I expect Kerr to be present in the arena for Games 1 and 2, making me less concerned about his influence on the in-game plan. However, when the series shifts to Cleveland, that’s a different story. The Cavs will come out swinging early in Game 3, its first home game of the series. If Kerr opts to remain out West, a hint of worry about Mike Brown’s ability to make in-game adjustments starts to creep in. That’s never been his strength as a head coach and considering the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs weren’t major competition for the Warriors, Brown hasn’t had to flex much during his interim status. But on the other hand, the success of Luke Walton last season and Mike Brown this season (thus far) strongly suggests that the Warriors are about those wins regardless of who’s calling plays. Plus, Brown has a lot to gain from defeating his old team. Not only in the series, but in his old building. All eyes will certainly be on Brown’s decision making when players rack up one foul too many, or when the game is on the line; but he won’t collapse under the pressure.
6. Will the Cavs poke the bear to try to get a rise out of Draymond Green; and will he bite? Tensions will be on ten in this series, there’s no doubt about that. And Draymond will almost definitely be at the center of any heated exchanges. But in order for the Warriors to give their best, Draymond must remain on the floor. That means, he must exhibit discipline and demonstrate maturity, compared to the player he was last season. The Warriors, inclusive of Kevin Durant, can’t afford to lose Draymond due to an ejection or suspension. They just can’t.
7. Everyone talks about how deep the Cavs bench is — Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert, Deron Williams; but are people sleeping on the Warriors bench? Nah for real. Are you? Because if so, please stop. Ian Clarke, Javale McGee, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and David West are not bums. While the Cavs added additional shooters and scorers to its roster, most notably Korver, it’s not enough to neutralize Curry when he’s hot. Or Durant. Or Thompson. Or even Green who can also shoot it from downtown. And the addition of Warriors McGee and West offer extra physicality to assist Draymond. It’s unfortunate Iguodala hasn’t been fully healthy during the playoffs because when it comes to defending LeBron, he’s the best the Warriors have to offer. But again, when he’s at full strength. Remember, Iggy won 2015 NBA Finals MVP for controlling LeBron down the stretch of that series. Notice I didn’t say shutting LeBron down? Well, that’s because shutting LeBron down is an impossible assignment for anyone in today’s league, save for maybe Kawhi Leonard. In summary, the Warriors have a deeper, more offensively talented roster. And defensively, the edge goes to the Cavs. But it just might be a push when it comes down to assessing which team is better equipped to have an impact on the game in the areas that don’t show up in the boxscore.
8. Does it matter that the Warriors won the regular season series 3-1? Nope, not even a little bit. The playoffs are a whole new ballgame. And again, LeBron James & Co. came back from being down 3-1. Granted, I do believe that if Draymond had avoided a suspension the Warriors would be playing for a 3peat –or not — because if Kyrie hadn’t gotten injured in 2015, the Cavs would’ve probably won that series. Soooo, what I’m saying is, the past has no bearing on the present. Anything can happen.
9. If LeBron James beats the Warriors, the best all-around team in the NBA for a second consecutive season, does he eclipse Michael Jordan as the GOAT? Absolutely not. LeBron opted to take his talents to Miami after failing in Cleveland from 2003 -2010. In South Beach, he teamed up with already NBA champion Dwyane Wade because he was chasing a ring, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan. Meanwhile, Jordan, a rookie in ’84, endured all Los Angeles Lakers – Boston Celtics – Detroit Pistons everything before eventually ascending to champion level status in ’91. Did MJ bail on Chicago and go to LA to team up with Magic Johnson or Detroit to play with Isiah Thomas? Nah. Instead, he remained in Chicago and eventually dominated with the roster that head coach Phil Jackson and general manager Jerry Krause built; winning six championship titles with one organization. No shortcuts. And another thing, the Eastern Conference during the LeBron James era is weak AF. While diminishing LeBron’s eight straight trips to the NBA Finals seems unfair, when you review the competition you must admit, there hasn’t been much competition at all. Yes, you must play the hand you’re dealt and LeBron can only control the preparedness of the team he represents, but let’s be honest, this league lacks parity compared to Jordan’s heyday. There have literally not been any consistent Eastern Conference teams posing a threat to LeBron’s Miami Heat or Cleveland Cavaliers. Admittedly, not his fault. But you must take that into consideration when evaluating his entire body of work and when comparing him to Jordan. For me, that’s enough to never view LeBron on the same level as Jordan. Ever.
10. How will a win or loss for Kevin Durant, against the Cavs, impact his reputation and legacy? I’m beyond exhausted of people shading Durant for his personal choice to achieve a professional goal. I don’t judge Durant for exercising his right to choose at all. I didn’t in July and I don’t today, almost one year later. However, I pray the Warriors don’t go down to the Cavs, if for no other reason than to spare all of us the wrath and rants of Stephen A. Smith. Are you listening, basketball gods? No one wants it. However, if the Warriors lose, Durant will rightfully be dragged so hard; especially after the type of season that Mr. Triple Double Russell Westbrook notched. And if that’s the case, I just have one request. Please redirect all previously reserved Carmelo Anthony slander regarding his lack of NBA rings towards Durant. It’s only fair given that Melo has never had the privilege of playing with as many great players in the heart of their prime as Durant. Furthermore, let’s not forget that Durant’s already lost to LeBron during the 2012 NBA Finals. If Durant can’t win with Golden State, then he legit can’t win anywhere. What happens following this season becomes a non-factor because the self-inflicted damage will already be done. Conversely, if the Warriors win, most will be clamoring to put an asterisk by this championship and any subsequent Durant titles won with the Warriors. And that’s their right. I’m sure Durant will agree that you can call him anything you’d like as long as you don’t forget to call him NBA champion too.
And now for my prediction: Warriors in 6.
photos via NBA.com/The Big Lead.com/CavsNation.com