Series Prices: GSW -190; CLE +165
Game 1 Time: 9 PM EST
The long-awaited NBA Finals are here, and both of the respective favorites from each conference have advanced to it. LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers will take on league MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors, with series odds at Bovada favoring the Warriors in the series.
Cleveland has rolled through the Eastern Conference, the “JV” of the NBA according to most observers. Having lost Kevin Love along the way has pressed the Cavs into a tough matchup against the 67-win Warriors.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown position by position in this series to get a feeling on how many games it may go, and who its victor may be.
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving / Matthew Dellavedova vs. Stephen Curry / Shaun Livingston
This is the Warriors’ biggest edge with the league MVP strutting out against a very average defender in Kyrie Irving. What’s more is that the Cavaliers need Irving’s contributions on the offensive end every bit as much as the Dubs need Curry’s. In the postseason, Curry is seeing 38 minutes of play per night and averaging 29.2 points per game while shooting 43.7 percent from three with nearly five makes a game.
The reason the Warriors are favorites in this series begins with its backcourt, and if the Cavs expend extra effort on Curry, it’s just going to open things up for Klay Thompson. It is reasonable to expect Iman Shumpert to see some time trying to slow Curry, while J.R. Smith stays on Thompson to bring the necessary size to the 2-spot.
Curry could be in for his biggest series of the postseason with full knowledge that he’s dominated thus far, and nothing should reasonably stop him. His affected field goal percentage is 58, which ranks higher than all of his teammates despite being the volume shooter.
Shaun Livingston has a huge edge over Matthew Dellevadova in the second unit, but Irving and Curry will spend the majority of the time on the court. Expect Livingston to get sufficient run backing up Thompson given that he’s 6’7” and has the size to be interchangeable at both guard spots. Dellevadova has been instrumental in getting opposing stars hurt, and don’t put it past the Aussie to do more dirty nonsense that could rapidly shift the favor of this series. It’s almost too ominous to type.
Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith / Iman Shumpert vs. Klay Thompson / Leandro Barbosa
The Warriors have a true star alongside Curry at shooting guard. Thompson has already found his way onto an All-Star team, and he would be the No. 1 option on no less than half of the other NBA teams. Putting him next to Curry is just devastating, and for doubters, turn to his 37-point quarter this season as proof that he can scorch the nets. Thompson is averaging 19.7 points per game in the postseason on 45.9 percent shooting (including 42.5 percent on threes on 7.1 attempts per game).
J.R. Smith has become more valuable in his advanced age, but he still takes atrocious shots with good regularity (he’s even cited wide open shots as “boring,” metrics-nightmare). Smith has never been one to focus his efforts defensively, which ultimately may render him sitting for long stretches in this series.
Shumpert brings a lot of defensive presence and is a plus-defender, which the Cavs will need if it is to have any hopes of containing “The Splash Brothers.” Smith is averaging 13.5 points per game in 30 minutes a night, but Thompson doesn’t really use defense as a chance to catch a rest, staking his reputation on that end of the court as well. Barbosa is bench fodder, but he has his moments in the Warriors’ fast paced attack.
Small Forward: LeBron James / James Jones vs. Harrison Barnes / Andre Iguodala
It’s fortuitous for the Warriors that as good as LeBron James is, the Warriors have two of the premier wing defenders able to split time covering him. Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala complement one another well as tough defenders to put on James. LeBron is still going to get his, make no mistake, but the Cavs will need more than just LBJ going wild to keep this series close.
James has averaged 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game in the postseason, while also coming up with 3.08 steals/blocks on the defensive end.
It’s dominant, there is no denying that. But Barnes is a far better defender than the casual fan thinks, because his effect comes without the additional puff of big numbers. The same applies to Iguodala, though Iggy does play passing lanes better than Barnes. Steve Kerr does have a huge luxury being able to keep a fresh defender on LBJ at all times. While LeBron might still do his triple-double jig throughout this series, the Warriors should be able to mitigate it with two premier wing defenders.
Power Forward: Tristan Thompson / Shawn Marion vs. Draymond Green / Marreese Speights / David Lee
This matchup hurts the Cavs, because it would have been relied on as a last bastion of strength against a tough Warriors defense. Tristan Thompson, for as good as he has been, is a shadow of the talent Kevin Love is offensively. Thompson averages 9.4 points per game to go with 7.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. But even as great as his energy has been, Draymond Green may abuse him in this series. Green is making his push for a max-contract and has been ramming it down frontcourts’ throats the entire postseason.
Green has averaged 14 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.87 steals/blocks in 37.5 minutes a night in this postseason, and Thompson will spend just about all his energy on the defensive end contending with Green’s multifaceted offensive contributions. While Green may not ever be a 20-plus point per game scorer, his impact wedges itself deep into games and he makes big plays.
The Dubs also bring in super-sub Marreese Speights, whose range and offensive talents can result in big second unit runs. Shawn Marion is a once-great defender, but Speights gets the shots up in a hurry.
Center: Timofey Mozgov / Kendrick Perkins vs. Andrew Bogut / Festus Ezeli
Andrew Bogut has quietly been playing an absolutely huge role for the Warriors. While he’s playing about half the game (24.4) minutes, his impact has gone far beyond numbers. 8.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals/blocks per game begins to tell the story, but he’s now faced Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard and mitigated all three to the point the Warriors have lost just three games in the postseason.
Going against Timfoey Mozgov will be one of Bogut’s few chances to out-class the opposing center offensively, and Bogut is not entirely devoid of scoring ability. This is the least exciting position on the court in this series, but Bogut is the best talent at the 5-spot. Mozgov has slightly better numbers with 9.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, but he hasn’t been facing three of the top centers in the league through the first three rounds.
Kendrick Perkins and Festus Ezeli are entirely irrelevant.
The Warriors are superior at every position except for LeBron James’ dominance at the 3-spot. Even that is going to be tempered by the Warriors superb defense at small forward. Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala could rightly be called the key to this series for Golden State, because all each has to do is provide the intensity they typically do to turn this series into a sweep. That said, a sweep is still somewhat unlikely because the Cavs are too good to not at least get one game in this series.
Series Prediction: Warriors in 5