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NBA Finals Preview: Cavs-Warriors III

By: Brandon Harrison

After seven months and a ton of games, we have the same two teams in the NBA Finals for a third straight year, and it is not at all a surprise that are the matchup. All season long the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have been the two best teams in the NBA.

The defending champion Cavaliers come into the finals with a 12-1 playoff record with the only blemish coming against the Eastern Conference top-seed Boston Celtics. The Cavs swept the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors before defeating the Celtics in the Conference Finals 4-1. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love have been on an absolute tear since the start of the postseason. Over the 13 games, the trio has averaged a combined for 74.2 points, 20.8 rebounds and 14.5 assists per game.

The Warriors, led by their all-star lineup, have been stellar this postseason, posting a perfect 12-0 record. Steph Curry and Kevin Durant have been on fire, averaging 28.6 and 25.2 points per game in the playoffs, respectively. Draymond Green has been stuffing his playoff stat sheet averaging 13.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game. As a team, the Warriors are putting up 118.3 points per game while shooting nearly 30-percent from three and over 50-percent from the field.

Both teams have been on a collision course since the beginning of the season, and now the finals is what has been expected. Headed into the series the two teams seem evenly matched, but somebody must have the advantage. This article will analyze the key match-ups and X-factors that will tilt the scale in this heavyweight fight.

Kyrie Irving vs. Steph Curry

Irving and Curry, two offensive juggernauts, will trade blows once again to see who is the better point guard. Well, maybe not to see who’s the better point guard but a lot will be riding on this match-up.

Curry has been on fire since entering the postseason. He’s shooting 50-percent from the field, 40-percent from three, and 90-percent from the free throw line. Even though Curry has been playing well over the last 12 games, his ability to play off the ball is even more important. Curry is shooting over 50-percent from the field on catch and shoot opportunities; converting those catch-and-shoot looks are important for a Warriors offense that values getting everyone touches on each possession.

On the other hand, Irving is more of an isolation star who thrives in one-on-one match-ups. Maybe the most gifted offensive superstar in the league, Irving caught fire during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics. During the series, Irving averaged 25.8 points while shooting 50-percent from three and over 60-percent from the field.

Both play well within their respective offenses and can change the outcome of a game. However, this battle will come down to which team’s defense will slow down the others top scorer. In that respect the advantage goes to Irving. Irving has outplayed Curry in each meeting since last year’s finals averaging more points and shooting a better percentage.

LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant

Arguably the two best basketball players in the world going head-to-head in a seven-game series with the NBA Championship on the line is a dream scenario that just came true. James and Durant met once before in the finals in what seems like ages ago. Back in those days, Durant was still playing on the Oklahoma City Thunder, and James was seeking his first championship with the Miami Heat. However, both players have grown their games since then, and both are still key factors in their team’s success.

James orchestrates and dictates the pace and style of play for his team. He has been dominating the playoffs averaging 32.5 points, seven assists, and eight rebounds a game. James can get a triple-double almost at will but does whatever his team needs most to win.

Durant signed with the Warriors last summer to accomplish one goal: win a championship. Now the former MVP is four wins away from achieving his goal with his new team. Durant has been a huge addition to this team on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. During the playoffs, Durant has a player impact estimate that ranks in the top ten in the league and a 123.2 offensive rating, which ranks second among starters. Durant can ignite the offense if the 3-pointers are falling for the rest of the team, which cost the Warriors dearly in the finals last year.

This individual match-up has been one of the more entertaining and talked about ones in recent memory. Durant at times looks like the most dangerous scorer in the league. He is almost seven feet tall but dribbles and shoots like a guard. James, on the other hand, will be competing in his seventh straight Finals, looking for his fourth win. Giving an advantage to either player almost seems unfair as both are arguably the best in the world. However, we give James the edge in the matchup as he is just too good in every facet of the game.

X-Factor for Warriors: Klay Thompson

Since the beginning of the playoffs, Thompson has struggled for this Warriors squad. His averages are down across the board compared to last year’s postseason run. Thompson is averaging only 14.4 points and shooting under 39-percent from 3-point range and the field. It simply comes down to the fact that Thompson is missing shots. This talented Warriors offense provides Thompson with plenty of open looks it’s just a matter of him knocking them down. The Cavaliers will have a tall task in trying to stop the scorer if he reverts to the old Thompson.

X-Factor Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson

Honestly, there’s more than one player on the Cavaliers roster who could become the X-factor in the finals. However, none of them can change the game or a team’s momentum the way the Cav’s guy named Thompson can, especially with how he rebounds.

Thompson wreaks havoc on the boards competing tirelessly on each possession to grab the ball. It’s almost an art form of how he projects the flight of the ball, boxes out and reaches above to grab the rebound. In the playoffs, Thompson is averaging over four offensive rebounds per game and has started off the postseason with five straight games of at least ten rebounds.

Thompson is a match-up issue since his primary focus for the team is crashing the boards each possession. His efforts will not always show up in the box score, but he causes issues for any team that dares relax on their rebounding. If Thompson can provide key rebounds across the entire series, he will change the whole complexity of the match up.

Prediction

This Finals match-up may be one of the hardest to predict in recent memory.

The Warriors a team that won 73 games last season but still added, former MVP, Durant to the roster. The Warriors have four All-Stars on their roster that can each take over a game at any given moment. Their bench is formidable as well, playing host to veteran players like Andre Iguodala and David West. All told, the Warriors have assembled one of the best, if not the best team in the league and come in as favorites to win the title according to Vegas odds makers.

However, discounting the King from Akron would be a huge mistake by anyone. James is as dominant a force in the league as any other player in history. Throwing in a healthy Love and Irving to James’ quest for a title bodes well for their chances.

With all the factors into consideration, this writer is picking the Cavs to win the series in seven games. The Warriors have put together a formidable unit to contend with the team. However, the greatness of James has proven too much for even the best of teams. If the team stays relatively healthy throughout the series, nothing should stop them from winning their second straight NBA Championship.

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Brandon Harrison

Staff Writer
Ever since his birth, you could not find Brandon without a ball in his hands. Any sport he could find Brandon played and played very well he might add. A remarkable baseball infielder, Brandon could play with the best of the best and even earned himself a full scholarship to play for Gilman, one of the best high schools in Maryland. Unfortunately, life (read: injury) did not permit Brandon to reach his full potential on the diamond but don't tell him that as he still believes he's the next Derek Jeter, but that is neither here nor there. Nowadays, Brandon spends his time attending Morgan State University as a Sports Management major. He hopes to change the world using sports to bridge the gaps that still divide people today and one day he just might accomplish this goal, as long as he doesn't get injured trying.

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