By DEVIN HALL
Photo credit goes to sportingnews.com.
"I think sometimes the word 'valuable' or best player of the year, you can have different results," LeBron James told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "When you talk about most 'valuable' then you can have a different conversation."
"I think he definitely deserved it," James said. "You look at Steph's numbers, he averaged 30 (points per game, led the NBA), he led the league in steals (169), he was 90-50-40 (shooting percentages from the foul line, the field, and 3-point), and they (the Warriors) won 73 (games). So, I don't, do you have any debate over that, really, when it comes to that award?"
It’s about to go down.
The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers’ rematch from last year’s finals will be an intriguing one. Both teams were expected to make it back to this point and did not disappoint. Cleveland looked like an offensive juggernaut in the Eastern Conference, while the Warriors have looked inconsistent on the offensive and defensive end.
However, they were able to put together three great offensive games and a concentrated defensive effort on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s stars. This Cavaliers team, however, is even better offensively than the Thunder and will pose matchup problems on the court for Golden State.
Although the Cavaliers have been dominant offensively, their defense has been inconsistent -- especially on the road. The Warriors will be primed to take advantage of their defensive lapses. Both teams are great, but key matchups and players will determine the winner of this series.
For Cleveland, its big-man rotation is important. The Cavaliers should be able to own the boards against the Warriors. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Golden State’s defensive rebounding percentage during the regular season was 76 percent, which is about league average. In the playoffs, that percentage has dropped to 72.7 percent.
Tristan Thompson is a great offensive rebounder and will kill the Warriors on the boards. The Cavaliers’ big-man rotation of Channing Frye, Kevin Love and Thompson also have another wrinkle: The Warriors have not faced legitimate big men that can shoot the 3.
Frye has shot incredibly well using the pick-and-pop with LeBron and Kyrie as well as spotting up from 3-point range. He doesn’t have any post moves, but his presence at the 3-point line keeps the opposing team’s big man from helping off him, freeing the lane for Kyrie and LeBron. Love has a similar effect, but he is needy and wants his occasional post touch, which isn’t very efficient.
His points-per-possession in the post is only 0.86 per SportVU tracking data. Also, Love is not a great defender and will be singled out on the pick-and-roll. If they switch and Love has to guard Curry, that is a near guaranteed bucket for the Warriors. The Cavaliers’ big men will provide space and offensive rebounding on offense with their skill set but may struggle defensively with the Warriors’ pick-and-roll. The Cavs’ big men will have the advantage against the Warriors’ trio of flawed centers in Bogut, Ezeli and Speights. The Warriors may have to go small to stop Cleveland’s 3-point shooting.
"Tristan Thompson is a great offensive rebounder and will kill the Warriors on the boards."
Tristan Thompson. Photo credit goes to Bleacher Report.
Another key to the series will be the match-up of the guards. Steph Curry has been good in the playoffs, but the Warriors need him play on his MVP level again in order to ensure the victory for Golden State. He hasn’t been the 50-45-90 Curry like he was during the regular season, but injuries have played a part in that. In order to make Steph struggle, the entire Cavaliers defense has to key in on him, but that allows openings for the four other players on the court.
Klay Thompson has been shooting lights out from 3, and the Cavs have to keep a man on him, as well, but he can be incredibly streaky. Cleveland has the one-on-one savant, Kyrie Irving, who is a good shooter in his own right and can create his own shot on anyone. Irving, however, is also a feast or famine type of player.
He’s the worst defender of Curry, Thompson and himself and will struggle fighting through screens. They may have to hide him on one of the Warriors’ wing players. The Cavs will also put Matthew Dellavedova on Curry to annoy him, but the MVP will devour him. Since Cleveland has the edge in the frontcourt, the Warriors’ backcourt will have to dominate offensively.
LeBron James against the Warriors’ wings will also be a key. Golden State’s wings have to be able to handle him in isolation, pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop plays. LeBron has not shot the 3 well but has still been extremely efficient and effective by finishing at the rim and becoming a facilitator.
LeBron is going to find ways to draw double teams to kick out to his wings for 3-pointers and his big men at the rim. As the main facilitator, LeBron has to make sure the Cavaliers move the ball offensively. When they pass the ball around like the Warriors, their offense looks unstoppable.
But when the Cavs play one-on-one ball, they become much easier to stop. LeBron usually is the one determining whether or not that one-on-one ball is being played. Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green have to make it tough on LeBron defensively and be ready to guard the Cavaliers’ big men on the pick-and-pop. LeBron and his production will be a big part of result of this series.
This will be a closely contested series between two great teams with deep rosters. The main matchups are important, but supporting players such as Shaun Livingston, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert will also play a big role.
Prediction: The Warriors will win the series in six games, just as they did last year. Curry and Thompson will be too good for the Cavaliers, and the Warriors will be able to match-up really well with LeBron. Cleveland’s big men may have a field day against the Warriors, but I don’t think it will be enough. The Warriors will validate their 73-win season because of their depth, defense and the Splash Bros.