The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are meeting yet again in a highly anticipated rematch that has basketball fans salivating for the start of the NBA Finals. To no surprise, many basketball pundits made the prediction that both teams would meet in a rematch — and now that moment is here.
After a year of waiting, both teams look to give basketball fans an epic showing during the 2016 NBA Finals. The result of last year’s series created suspense to what this year’s could be since Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were in street clothes last June. Coupled with the Cavs being healthy and the Warriors morphing into a behemoth of a team, it sets the bar high for what could be the most epic NBA Finals in recent memory. Here's why.
The Battle Of The Big 3s
Which Big Three will play its best basketball? Will it be Steph Curry and his crew, or will it be LeBron James and his guys? That question will loom until a team hoists the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but whatever threesome plays better has a better chance of winning it all.
The Cleveland trio of Love, Irving and James will face off against Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Steph Curry for the first time as a unit during the series. The Warriors’ bunch is more battle-tested than the Cavs, but that doesn’t necessarily give Golden State the edge. Two MVPs spearhead both groups, and it will likely fall on the other two all-stars for both squads to make the difference.
The Cavs and Warriors both go as their power forwards go, so a lot hinges on Golden State’s Green and Cleveland’s Love, as we have seen in the playoffs thus far. In four wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Green had a +45 rating compared to his -73 rating in three losses against the Thunder. In Love’s case, Cleveland is undefeated during the playoffs when he scores over 15 points and hauls in over 10 rebounds.
Kyrie Vs. Steph
In last year’s NBA Finals, Irving and Curry squared off against each other for one game, and in the lone game, Kyrie wasn’t himself due to injuries. Irving "Irvingually" had to bow out for the remainder of the series, so basketball fans weren’t able to see two of the most exciting point guards in the league respond to each other’s play.
Fast-forward a year, and we will finally see Steph vs. Kyrie in its full splendor. The Chef vs. Uncle Drew will be a three-point shooting, crossover dribbling and no-look passing spectacle from both players. Unlike last year, the reigning MVP has gone through a gauntlet of point guards in the playoffs, facing off against Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. As expected, Curry has had the last laugh against all of the point guards thus far, but the matchup against Irving could be the most intriguing.
After struggling to find his niche during the regular season, Irving has picked the perfect time to play his best basketball during the playoffs. He is averaging 24.3 points per game to go along with five assists. While Irving is not the best on the defensive end (he was ranked No. 83 out of 85 point guards in defensive real plus/minus), he will be a handful for the Warriors’ defense with his assortment of moves to the bucket and ability to extend the defense with his range. Now that we are on basketball’s biggest stage, we will see what point guard takes his game up to another level.
The 3 Ball
The use of the three-point shot has changed the landscape of the NBA. Some old-school NBA fans may not like it, but when teams are hitting from deep, it’s a thing of beauty and allows the offense to flow better when talking about ball movement and spacing.
When it comes to both teams, the love for the three ball is evident. The Cavs broke a playoff record for most three-pointers made in a playoff game with 25, while for Golden State, Curry and Thompson broke a playoff record for most three-pointers made in a series with 32 and 30 respectively. As we’ve seen during the playoffs, both teams have had red-hot shooting performances. As you’d expect, the outlook of the series may come down to who is more efficient from deep.
Both Teams Are Better Than They Were Last Season
Last year’s Golden State team is arguably the least respected NBA champion due to its route to the title. Despite winning the crown, many questioned if the Dubs were that good since they didn’t play a single healthy team during their run. The criticism sparked the Warriors, and they responded with their record-breaking 73-win season. Now they are just four more away from repeating as champions. Last year’s team was very unique to say the least. When you look around, Curry, Thompson, Green and Harrison Barnes are all better than what they were compared to last season.
Cleveland had a total makeover compared to last season’s run to the Finals. Of course, having Love and Irving available this time around will make the Cavs better, but the coaching switch from David Blatt to Tyronn Lue has been paramount to their success. Lue has been able to hold James accountable, and he has challenged his other all-star players on the team. On the court, Lue has preached ball movement to the team instead of relying on “iso ball,” and the team has bought in to trust the pass.
The acquisitions of veterans like Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson have helped bolster the bench, and guys such as J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert will be placed in proper roles in the rotation behind the Cavs’ Big Three instead of being relied on to be second, third and fourth options as they were a year ago.
History Is At Stake
The Warriors are looking to capitalize on a historic season by winning back-to-back NBA championships, and in LeBron James’ sixth straight Finals appearance (seventh overall), he is trying to deliver a championship to the city of Cleveland. History will be made either way depending on who wins the series. I am sure that neither team wants to be on the wrong end of history.
All Eyes On The King
Last year in the Finals, LeBron had to channel his inner 2Pac as he played with a "Me Against the World" attitude. This year, he hopes to have a different feel since he is playing with a full roster. No matter what LBJ does, the hate-watching will be in full force. Comparisons to Michael Jordan will overshadow anything that he accomplishes, and whispers of what it means if LeBron takes a fifth Finals loss will grow even louder, if it comes to that.
It’s no secret that LeBron is 2-4 in the NBA Finals. We are talking about a guy who made SIX CONSECUTIVE, not to mention he’s done so with three different coaches, three different systems and a variety of teammates. No matter how many championships he’ll win, the litmus test of being 6-0 set by Michael Jordan will always hold a dark cloud over LeBron. Nobody is arguing that James is the G.O.A.T., but in the words of Pat Riley, he is the B.O.A.T.: Best of All Time.
Against the Warriors, he will need to play like a man possessed, but he also has to instill trust in his teammates. Last year, he did everything for the Cavs except for driving the team bus as he averaged 35.8 points, 8.8 assists and 13.3 rebounds. He was the first player to lead his team in all categories in the NBA Finals history. LeBron knows what it feels like to play all by himself (word to Celine Dion), but this year he has help on the sidelines with a new coach and on the court with a healthy Love and Irving. Now that help has arrived, the excuses will be held to a minimum.
LeBron’s legacy is already cemented as one of the best players that the NBA has ever seen, and with a third championship against what many have called the best team in league history would be an awesome achievement to add to his undeniable basketball résumé. Whether James walks away with a ring or not, all eyes will be on No. 23.
Thursday can’t come soon enough. In the words of the great Terrell Owens, get ya’ popcorn ready.