The Warriors and Cavaliers are facing off head to head in the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year. LeBron James seems to be Cleveland’s only hope, once again. Has anything changed? Or will this end like the last time they met?
It’s here. The inevitable has become the present, and the fourth straight Finals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers is upon us. While it was the league-wide expectation that this was coming, both teams were actually down 3-2 in their respective Conference Finals series. They were able to overcome the deficit and now the encore to The Trilogy is here.
The Warriors outclass the Cavaliers in just about every relevant context. The starting lineup is superior. The defense is superior. The depth is somehow superior, given how unplayable most Cavaliers players appear to be. The options for Cleveland are limited and desperate.
With Kevin Love still in the concussion protocol for the foreseeable future, the Cavaliers are presented with a new strategy that Tyronn Lue has rarely utilized in the past: lineups based on defense and a slower pace. Starting Jeff Green allows a somewhat capable defender to play Kevin Durant that isn’t named LeBron James. George Hill looks as healthy as he’s been all year. He could pose problems for Steph Curry with his length and smarts.
LeBron needs to rest as much as possible on defense, but against the Warriors, this is a lot to ask of a defense. He will start on Draymond Green, the least imposing offensive player of the four premier Warriors. Klay Thompson will take on JR Smith, and most likely will roast him thoroughly.
The most intriguing of the Cavs defensive personnel is Tristan Thompson. Thompson has reverted back to his peak play we saw during the 2016 Finals. After such a disappointing regular season, it looked like he was out of the rotation. Now he is back as solid as ever, with punishing screens and surprisingly effective switching skill.
The revitalized Thompson is the key to a Cavalier defense that slows down the offense of Golden State, but also punishes the Warriors on the offensive glass. A Cavalier lineup of George Hill, JR Smith, Jeff Green, LeBron James, and Tristan Thompson gives at least the skeleton of a one through five switching defense, which the Houston Rockets proved was a viable tactic to win against the Warriors. If Thompson is able to dominate the glass as well, Golden State has to adjust their small-ball technique to stifle him.
As far as positives for the Cavaliers, that’s about all there is to it outside of LeBron James isolation basketball. If the Cavs are going to even get to six games, LeBron must not only play as well as he’s played all playoffs, but do even more. He is averaging 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 54.4 percent shooting. That line carried the Cavs through a weak Eastern Conference that featured two seven round series.
The Warriors, on the other hand, demolished the first two rounds without a healthy Curry. Then they beat the Rockets in seven, but the series felt like it could have been shorter in the Warriors’ favor just as easily as the Rockets could have won.
Durant has been unguardable in isolation this postseason. P.J. Tucker, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, and more have looked like ghosts trying to contest his shots. Stephen Curry is looking more and more complete on offense as time goes on, and his jumper is wet once again. Thompson also is on fire, playing some of the best ball of his life. Green has been less than effective on offense, but he’s still one of the league’s most competent defenders, especially on LeBron.
Speaking of which, the Warriors, even with Andre Iguodala out for at least Game 1 with a knee injury, have the highest number of people who can slow LeBron down. Durant, Green, and Thompson all will get time on him, and when Andre is back, that’s yet another option. There is too much firepower on Golden State for the Cavs to actually get far. The margins are razor thin for Cleveland. They are notorious for their sluggish effort, and that will be punished to no end over the coming weeks if they act like they can just “flip the switch.”
In the series against the Rockets, the Warriors were barely able to play their bigs. Against Cleveland, they will once again tap into their center depth and bring out Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney, and David West.
The Cavs depth has reached dire levels. Rodney Hood was dropped from the rotation. Jordan Clarkson has had one positive game all playoffs. Kyle Korver will find it hard to play defense on anybody. In the end, the Cavs have one hope: superhuman efforts by LeBron in every game combined with a defense that plays better than it has all year. The Warriors should be able to handily take the championship home.
I would say Warriors in 5, but LeBron James has been playing so well I expect this to play out how it did in 2015 when he took the Cavs without Love and Kyrie Irving to six games against the Warriors.