We have finally reached the pinnacle of basketball, as it is game day for Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals. This year its a repeat of last year’s NBA Finals, as the Western Conference and reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors take on the Eastern Conference Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers. But who will win the second go around? Will Cleveland prove something that few believed last year and finally bring a championship to Northeastern Ohio? Or will Golden State cement their 73 win season with a back-to-back championship? We are going to break down it all, from the stars matchup, to who is the x-factor of the series, to the keys to win, and finally the prediction of who wins it all. This is the Sports to Watch Special Edition for the 2016 NBA Finals.
Analysis: This matchup has been done eight times already, and six out of those eight Steph Curry has gotten the better of Lebron James. Stylistically, this is a dream matchup because it pins the best shooter(Curry) against the best all-around player(James). But who has the advantage going into this series?
Advantage: Virtual Tie. Normally I would say Curry has the advantage, but due to him still not at one hundred percent, it brings him down a bit. The fact of the matter is that Curry, especially in the last series, has been more of a closer than a threat. This could be due to the injuries he has suffered in the playoffs, but that remains to be seen. Lebron is playing at an unseen level, which is something coming from someone like a Lebron James. I think when it comes to star power, both teams come in equally matched going into the Finals.
2. X-Factors To Decide the Series
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie ability to score at will
Uncle Drew could hold this entire NBA Finals in his hands. After watching the Conference Finals, you realize two things: if Kyrie Irving is dropping buckets at this level of consistency, he is going to give the Warriors problems. Secondly, you realize that the last thing Golden State wanted to be weak on is interior defense and Oklahoma City showed that anyone with speed has an open lane to the basket. Kyrie has that in spades. If Kyrie is able to average 25 points and at least 6 assists, Cleveland can easily steal a game in Oakland, thanks to him..
Golden State Warriors fans might not like it, but Draymond’s emotional state could win or lose them this series. After the infamous groin kick against Steven Adams in the Western Conference Finals ( it hurts just to say it), Draymond will have a spotlight on his behavior and Cleveland knows it. If Draymond gets two more technical fouls or one more flagrant foul, he is suspended one game. Imagine if Cleveland is up 5-10 points with 5 to go in the 4th quarter and Draymond does something that results in him getting a technical. Not only will it force Steve Kerr to go small ball, but it could decide the outcome of not one, but two games in this series. Cleveland could easily sacrifice a bench player if it meant getting Green out of the series for a bit, so Draymond has to play good ball without the one thing that helps him the most: his emotions.
3. Keys To the Series
Cleveland biggest weapon other than the Big Three is the way they have dominated teams with customized lineups and playing the opposite of the team against them. Against Atlanta, they became a perimeter team that used the fast break not to set up dunks but to set up perimeter shots for the entire starting five. Against Toronto, they dominated the paint, looking for passing lanes inside the paint, and then going to the outside when a shooter was open. Against Detroit, they played stretch by having Channing Frye play center that can go out to the three-point line and average 15-21 points. The point of this is that this teams biggest strength is not playing to beat the opposition at their own game, but the complete and utter opposite.
If Cleveland wants to win this series, they have to play to their strengths. That means they can not try to play speed ball with Golden State, not try to get into a shootout with the Warriors. The Cavs need to focus on going inside, posting them up, and punishing them for having open lanes to the basket. And once they close it out, dish it to the outside and hit perimeter shots and cover your rebounding lanes. Cleveland does that, Cleveland will win this series.
Golden State Warriors: Take Everything Seriously, Your Slope is Getting Slippery
The biggest thing that Golden State prided itself on this season was that they were pretty much unstoppable . This playoffs, they have five losses against three teams, Oklahoma City included, that they had no business losing to. Sure Golden State fans will say Cleveland shouldn’t have lost to Toronto twice in the Air Canada Center, but people forget that the Toronto Raptors were the second best team in the east, while Golden State lost to the 8th seed Houston Rockets, a Portland Trailblazers team that only got to the second round because the Clippers imploded, and a Oklahoma City Thunder that went up 3-1 against them.
Now why is this? Because Golden State unfortunately likes to rest on their laurels and not play up to the challenge. And that could hurt Golden State in the long run, especially in the Finals against Cleveland. If Golden State wants to win this series, they need to rip the heart out of the Cavs seven straight times in order to beat them. Golden State is high-powered and can take out anyone but they need to do it with complete focus or it’ll be their heart taken out, along with a championship.
Prediction: And the Winner Is….
Cleveland in 6.
Now a lot of people will say I’m being biased in my pick of the NBA Finals, but I’m not. I give you three reasons why Cleveland will win this series over Golden State.
First, Golden State’s and Cleveland’s road to the Finals have been completely different. And in that sense Golden State had more trepidation. Golden State beat a horrible Houston Rockets team in five hard-fought games without Steph Curry, who was injured. Cleveland beat their first round competition, the Detroit Pistons, in four, with no injuries. Golden State then played Portland to five more hard-fought games and won. Cleveland blasted Atlanta out of the Dirty South in an embarrassing way. Then Golden State played the third ranked Oklahoma City Thunder in a knock down drag out seven game series, that legitimately should not have gone past five or six games. Cleveland faced its first adversity in Toronto, who were only able to win in Toronto twice before getting blown out in Cleveland and then clinched the East in six games. Sensing a pattern? Cleveland has a record of 12-2 while Golden State comes in 12-5. Golden State is coming into the Finals feeling the same way Cleveland felt last year: dead tired, scrapped to get to the Finals and facing a team they know can beat them.
Secondly, Cleveland’s biggest weakness is not as big as Golden State’s. Sure Cleveland has some defense and transition issues, but Golden State’s weakness fits right into how Cleveland is playing: they can’t defend the interior defense. Draymond is afraid to do it or he might foul someone or get something that leads to a suspension, Harrison Barnes can’t guard Lebron, which was evident last year.
Finally, I count on two things. Steph Curry is injured, and everyone knows it. He just ran a gauntlet with Russell Westbrook and now he has to do the same against a fully healthy Kyrie Irving. That is going to play a factor. Plus, since his injury, he has played more of a closer, which has hurt the Warriors, especially in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Finally, let’s be real: Golden State should not be in the NBA Finals. They were down 3-1 in the WCF and had their playoffs lives on life support. If Golden State were to get past Cleveland, they could be argued as the best team in basketball history. But Golden State’s luck feels like its running out and no one is willing to realize it yet.
The second thing is that Cleveland is not the same Cleveland Golden State played last year in the Finals. The 2015 Finals version of Cleveland had no Kyrie Irving, no Kevin Love, no bench scoring and an exhausted Lebron James. This year, the Cavs are none of that. EVERYONE is healthy, Lebron is well rested and the bench has incredible scoring. I expect Cleveland to push Golden State every night and win a championship in Game 6 in “The Land”
Well those are predictions for this years NBA Finals, and personally I can’t wait to watch it all go down. I want to see a competitive games, no blowouts, no controversy. This is going to be a great NBA Finals and no basketball fan should miss this.