By Justin Thomas
For the 4th year in a row the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers will be battling it out for the Larry O’Brien trophy. Although many people foresaw this fourth meeting happening at the beginning of the year, it was an uphill battle for both teams throughout the playoffs. The first game of the series starts May 31st at 9pm EST. A complete schedule of the series is at the bottom of this article.
How They Got Here
The Warriors finished the season second in the Western Conference with a record of 58-24. It was a shaky season for the Dubs as their stars suffered injuries throughout the year. It was hard to build chemistry and their record showed it. Going into the playoffs the Warriors were without Stephen Curry for the entire 1st round against the Spurs and for the first few games against the Pelicans in the 2nd round. The Warriors encountered their hardest challenge in the playoffs in 4 years when they went up against the Houston Rockets. The Warriors were down 3-2 in the series and were able to come back and win the series due in large part to a Chris Paul hamstring injury as well as a historical bad shooting performance by the Rockets in game 7.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers it has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride of a season. The Cavaliers had traded away Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas in the off season with the hopes of having more of a playmaking point guard in the backcourt with LeBron. However I.T. was plagued with a hip injury for the majority of his time with Cleveland and only played a few games before he and half the Cavs roster was shipped off at the trade deadline. It was such a drastic change which brought younger players to the team which included Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr, George Hill and Rodney Hood. These changes didn’t do much as the Cavaliers went into the playoffs as a 4 seed. After an exciting 7 game series with the Pacers, the Cavs made quick work of the Raptors for a 3rd straight year. It took a herculean effort by LeBron however, to will his team past a young and hungry Celtics team who were without Kyrie and Gordon Hayward.
Warriors Keys to Winning
- Force others to beat you– Let’s face it. LeBron has been carrying his team all playoffs and has sensational numbers to back that claim. That being said, the Warriors should key in solely on LeBron and to a lesser extent Kevin Love on defense. The Cavs supporting cast haven’t proven to be all that reliable this postseason aside from a handful of game. Force guys like Jeff Green, J.R. Smith and Larry Nance Jr to beat you.
- Exploit Mismatches– The Warriors are heads and shoulders more skilled on the offensive side of the ball than Cleveland and should look at where the mismatches are early. It would be wise to utilize Kevin Durant in the pick and roll early as well work the ball inside early to cause some fouls. The Dubs biggest advantage is speed, so use that especially in transition.
- Don’t Play Around– The Warriors have a history of playing around with other teams by trying to act cute on the court. It’s key for them to not get too cocky and start throwing flashy passes or taking crazy shots. If they aren’t careful they might let LeBron and the Cavs stick around a little too long in the game and at that point anything can happen.
Cavaliers Keys to Winning
- Role Player Contributions– This entire playoffs the spotlight has been on LeBron James and how much he’s had to do. To many it feels like he’s doing it on his own. Role players who have had solid careers so far have been just about no-shows. Guys such as JR Smith, Jeff Green, George Hill and even Tristan Thompson need to be on their A games if the Cavaliers intend to pull off the upset. J.R. Smith especially could be huge bonus for the Cavs if he ever finds his jumper.
- Survive the 3rd Quarter– The Warriors infamous 3rd quarter is something every team has experienced and it’s never fun for the opposition. The Warriors are notorious for coming out of halftime guns blazing. Usually these runs in the 3rd are the big turning point in the game as was the case in them coming back against the Rockets in game 7. If the Cavaliers want any chance at winning they must quell the run that comes right after halftime because it is unavoidable.
- LeBron needs to be Superman– As much as the focus could be on the supporting cast and their improvements, the main factor is LeBron. King James is going to have to play the best series of his NBA career during these Finals. Even better than his previous Finals against the Warriors. He could possibly have to average 40, 13 & 10 and even then it might not be enough. That being said it’s hard to imagine him producing anymore than he already has in the playoffs this year.
NBA Finals Schedule
Game 1: Thu, May 31: Cavaliers at Warriors, 9 p.m. ET
Game 2: Sun, June 3: Cavaliers at Warriors, 8 p.m. ET
Game 3: Wed, June 6: Warriors at Cavaliers, 9 p.m. ET
Game 4: Fri, June 8: Warriors at Cavaliers, 9 p.m. ET
*Game 5: Mon, June 11: Cavaliers at Warriors, 9 p.m. ET
*Game 6: Thu, June 14: Warriors at Cavaliers, 9 p.m. ET
*Game 7: Sun, June 17: Cavaliers at Warriors, 8 p.m. ET