The NBA Finals are almost here. The matchup that seemed inevitable at the beginning of the season and then again at the beginning of the playoffs tips off on Thursday. There is going to be a lot of hype and a lot of eyes on this series, so may as well start talking about it a couple days early.
I'm trusting LeBron in this series. On paper, the Warriors look significantly better. You can't cancel out an all-time great player like LeBron but this year the Warriors have someone in Durant that can at least cover up maybe 75% of LeBron's greatness? Now that Golden State has someone to at least come close to LeBron, I'm not sure that Cleveland has enough to hang with what's left over for the Warriors in Curry, Thompson, and Green. That's a large load for the Cavs to handle.
My problem with Cleveland is their lack of intensity on the defensive end so far this year, and specifically in the postseason. Their defense has just look atrocious for consistent stretches in the postseason and I'm not sure if that's a flip that can just be switched. Cleveland's best chance to win this series, in my mind, is to slow the pace down and limit possessions. This gives them chances on the offensive glass, limits the number of touches the Warriors get in games, and gives LeBron and Kyrie a chance down the stretch to win games. Tough to execute that game plan with a poor effort on the defensive end.
But ultimately, I'm trusting LeBron. Too many times basketball at this level boils down to "the team with the best player generally wins". And Cleveland will have the best player in this series. With Durant now on the Warriors that gap from "best player on one team to the best player on the other team" won't be as large but it's still there. I think Cleveland and LeBron can do enough to win this series in 7.
Now let's take a look at some other people who I think will have a large role in this series.
For the Cavs to win this series, Kyrie has to play well consistently. Not exactly in-depth analysis there but he has to be a star in this series and provide LeBron some help. With Durant, Curry, Thompson, and Green on the other end of the floor LeBron needs a tag team partner to go to battle with him. It was Irving last year and it will probably need to be Irving again this year.
It's hard to find someone on the Warriors roster who can defend Irving. He should have his way on the offensive end of the floor and I think he really enjoys going against Steph Curry. Superstars love competing against other superstars and it's tough to find a bigger matchup for Kyrie than Curry...but the problem is Steph really struggles to stay in front of Kyrie on defense. It's there for Kyrie to have a huge series.
This is probably my favorite under the radar story so far in the NBA Finals. And maybe it will gain some traction during the series since we are still quite a ways away from opening tip but one of these teams is playing without their Head Coach. That seems like a pretty big deal to me.
Sure maybe it's not a huge deal when prepping for the second night of a back to back against the Pelicans or somebody, but not having your Head Coach in the huddle with you in the NBA Finals has to mean something. When it gets close in these 4th quarter, how much rope do the Warriors players give Mike Brown? Are they all in with him or do they kinda shrug him off and go their own paths? I really think this is a big deal, especially when you add in the additional superstar dynamic on the roster with Durant.
This is Steph's team, along with Thompson and Draymond, but Durant is the best player on the team. That's a tricky dynamic to navigate on a basketball team....especially when things are amplified in big moments like the NBA Finals. Maybe Coach Kerr can navigate that because he's been with the team basically from their upstart, but can Mike Brown? Mike Brown doesn't exactly have the greatest NBA coaching reputation in the league, at least from the outside looking in. Maybe he's gained the Warriors players' trust but this is something I think we need to keep an eye on.