At various points throughout the season, it seemed nearly impossible that we’d be faced with yet another incarnation of the Warriors vs Cavaliers saga which has engulfed the NBA for almost half a decade. Entering June, however, here we are. The league appears to be stuck in a Groundhog Day-like cycle from which it may never exit, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited for this matchup. Though the two teams are an incredible mismatch on paper, this rivalry has created some incredible moments in the past. It would take a monumental effort from LeBron James and his supporting cast to make a series out of this edition, but this is sport, and stranger things have happened. Many may think that the outcome of this series will depend solely on whether LeBron can defeat four All-Stars single-handedly, and while this is true to an extent, it isn’t the only thing worth discussing in the lead up to the 2018 NBA Finals.
Keys to the NBA Finals
When does Iggy return?
As strange as it seems to talk about Andre Iguodala before any of Curry, Durant, Thompson or Green, the health of the fifth member of the Hampton’s Five will have a huge impact on the series. Iguodala is the ideal final piece of the Warriors starting lineup, particularly against the Cavs. He is a competent enough ball-handler and passer to warrant attention and help to space the floor at the offensive end, and he is comfortably the Warriors’ best option to guard LeBron James.
A report by ESPN highlights just how much impact Iguodala’s defense can have on LeBron’s effectiveness. In last year’s Finals series, James managed only (“only” being by his standards) 31 points per 100 possession on 52.9% effective field goal percentage when Iggy was guarding him. Durant is the Warriors next option to take the King, and these numbers jumped to 42 points and 64.7% with this matchup.
LeBron’s supporting cast
Obviously LeBron himself will be the single most important player for the Cavs by an absurd margin. If the Cavs are to stand any sort of a chance though, he will need some serious help from his teammates. LeBron will perform to an incredible standard, that is a guarantee, but that alone won’t be enough against the juggernaut that is the Warriors.
Love is comfortably the most competent “other” on the Cavs, and his availability as he recovers from concussion will be a huge factor. He shouldn’t miss more than a game though, and his return will be a welcome one for Cleveland. For all of the criticism he cops, Love is a five time All-Star; a legitimate scorer and an excellent rebounder. He may have his flaws, but he is a far better player than he is often given credit for, and he will need to stand up this series.
Guys like Hill, Thompson, Korver and Smith won’t provide consistent offense for Cleveland, but all are capable of having big games and big moments. If the Cavs manage to win any games, they will be accompanied by a box score in which at least a couple of these guys come up big.
The big dogs
Of course, for all the discussion of the Iguodala’s, Love’s and Hill’s of the world, it’s the stars who will have the biggest say in the outcome of the series. Fortunately for the Warriors, of the five such players in this series, four belong to them. LeBron is the number one guy, but Golden State have numbers two, three, four and five. Essentially, what this means is that if they play to anywhere near their best then they will win the series. Certainly not a statement which elicits a whole lot of excitement for the matchup, but a valid one nonetheless.
LeBron has shown a remarkable ability to put a team squarely on his own shoulders and carry them to victory, and to even steal a couple of games in this series, he will need to do something phenomenal. Expect multiple 40+ point games and very few minutes on the bench as he tries to achieve what would probably be his greatest accomplishment yet.
After disappointing performances in Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Rockets, Thompson reminded everyone that he is far from an afterthought on this incredible team, putting up 23 points in Game 5 before exploding for 9 3-pointers and 35 points in Game 6. With Curry also hitting decent form, these kind of performances make it nearly impossible to beat the Warriors. Highlighting this point is the fact that in the past two games of the Rockets series, the Splash Brothers combined for an incredible 24 3-pointers on 60% shooting. With Durant also chugging along for a lazy 30 points a game and a very well-rounded defensive lineup, it’s easy to see why Cleveland are major underdogs.
As unsatisfying as it is to say, at the end of the day the Warriors will win this series in a canter if they play anywhere near their best. Having said that, the Rockets showed that they are not the unbeatable force they are generally purported to be, and even if Houston is a far better all around side than Cleveland, this is enough to at least add a little excitement to this matchup. The Warriors will win this one in five, but I hope I’m wrong and the Cavs can make a series out of it.