What to Watch for in Part 4 of Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors
If it feels like we’ve been here before, it’s because we have.
“Yeah, we’re all happy to be a part of history,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said before Game 1 at Oracle Arena. “You think about all the great rivalries in not just basketball but sports around the world, but (to be the) first two franchises do it, it’s pretty cool.”
For a record fourth consecutive year, Cleveland and Golden State will face off for the NBA Championship. Though this may seem redundant, new storylines emerge every time. Here are a few of the biggest:
King James’ Quest
Any discussion of the Cavaliers, and of much of this year’s playoffs in general, begins and ends with one man.
Nearing the end of his 15th season, Lebron James is still chasing greatness with the fervor of his youth. The signature player of his era, his stature has risen to the point that he is now considered by some to be superior to Michael Jordan, or to anyone else who has ever played the game.
Burdened by a lackluster supporting cast, Lebron has been playing at an especially high level this postseason, by even his own lofty standards. James is currently the only player in NBA history to average 30 points, 8.5 assists, and 8.5 rebounds per game over at least 15 playoff games.
“Listen, Golden State is one of the best teams I’ve ever played … one of the best teams that’s ever been assembled,” James said of his upcoming opponents. “For me as a competitor, it’s fun. It’s truly fun to know when I’m done playing the game of basketball to know that I played against some of the greatest teams that ever played, ever been assembled. And this is one of them.”
Lebron’s spearheading of Cleveland’s come-from-behind series win over the 73-win Warriors in the 2016 Finals was deemed by many to be his greatest performance. Now, considering his relative lack of help, combined with Golden State’s addition of Kevin Durant, a victory in 2018 would top that accomplishment, further elevating James into the upper reaches of the NBA stratosphere.
Who Steps Up?
Now, about that supporting cast.
Thus, Cleveland struggled to distance themselves from the rest of the pack during the regular season (lessening James’ rest), and has gone life-and-death with the Pacers and Celtics in the playoffs.
The Cavs were able to get this far, largely on the back of incredible play from James. However, Golden State is not Indiana or Boston. It will take far more than a one-man show to topple a juggernaut as multi-faceted as the Warriors. Someone has to step up. The question is, who?
Normally, the answer to this question would be the all-star Love. However, Cleveland’s big man is coming off a concussion suffered in the Boston series, and is likely not at 100 percent.
Who then, if not Love?
Jeff Green was tremendous in Game 7 against Boston, but has never really shown that he can play like that on a consistent basis.
Kyle Korver has had a few strong games of his own, but is more of a catch-and-shoot player, rather than someone who can create his own shot to take some pressure off of Lebron.
If Cleveland is going to have a chance against a team with 4 all-star caliber talents, one of these players will have to show more than they have thus far.
Who Guards Lebron?
Shifting over to the defending champs, this is the obvious question, one which they have usually been able to answer better than just about any other team.
However, Andre Iguodala, noted defensive stopper and Golden State’s best hope to stifle Lebron, will be out for at least Game 1 of the Finals.
Who will fill the void left by Iggy’s absence? Luckily for the Warriors, they have some pretty good options, starting with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
With his length and versatility, Draymond Green has established himself as one of the league’s elite defenders, and could very well end up going head-to-head against James on the defensive end.
If that fails, Durant provides a solid alternative. With his freakishly long arms, KD has become an excellent two-player, his strong defense often overshadowed by his incredible scoring talent.
Coming out Strong
If you watched the Western Conference Finals, you may have noticed a trend regarding when Golden State decides it wants to put the game away.
In their final two wins over Houston, the Warriors were down early, only to 3-point shoot the Rockets into oblivion in the 3rd quarter. This phenomenon has not been limited to one series either. Over the course of the entire playoffs, Golden State has outscored teams by a total of 130 points in the 3rd frame, compared to just 20 points over the other three quarters.
While the Warriors have destroyed teams in the 3rd, Cleveland has looked downright pedestrian in the same quarter, having been outscored 438-437 in 18 games so far, hitting just 34% of their shots.
Not exactly a recipe for success if you’re a Cavalier.
The Bottom Line
At this point, we have learned never to doubt Lebron. Shouldering an incredible burden, his stamina has been inhuman. However, James has to wear down at some point, and the Warriors possess the necessary tools to bring him down.
When it comes down to it, Golden State has too many weapons, and Lebron has not nearly enough help.
Prediction: Golden State 4 – Cleveland 1