The quest for the Larry O'Brien trophy ends here. The NBA Finals are set, and it's the match up we had all hoped for.
LeBron James is the first player since 1966 to appear in five consecutive NBA Finals. He is looking to lead his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to that city's first ever professional sports championship. Standing in his way is the 2015 NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, who are making their first Finals appearance since 1975. This is the first time that two rookie coaches, Steve Kerr and David Blatt, respectively, have appeared in the NBA Finals against each other - unless you count 1946, the league's first year when everyone was considered a rookie.
James is playing inspired basketball and appears to be willing to drag this team to the title kicking and screaming if need be. The one part of his game that is struggling is his three point shot, where he is shooting an all-time NBA Playoffs low of 17.6%. However, he is still scoring 27.6 points per game on 42.8% shooting from the field, and is dishing out 8.3 assists per game with an assist rate of 43%. And that's with a supporting cast consisting of J.R. Smith and Kendrick Perkins. Even with Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving playing injured, the Cavs are still considered favorites by many, thanks to James.
On the other hand, while Curry has been his usual, most valuable self - scoring 29.2 points on an eFG% of 57.6% -his supporting lineup is a big cause for the Warriors winning 67 games this season and making their way through the Western Conference Playoffs. Klay Thompson is scoring 21.7 points per game, Draymond Green continues to show why he was the Al Gore of the Defensive Player of the Year race, Andrew Bogut is doing all the little things, and Harrison Barnes came up big in game five in the Conference Finals. While stopping LeBron James may seem like an impossible task, stopping any one player on the Warriors only opens up opportunities for someone else. They also have the deeper team, with a bench that includes former All-Stars David Lee and Andre Iguodala.
The two teams only met twice during the regular season and split that series, with the home team winning each time. Let's take a look back at those games.
January 9, 2015 - Oakland, CA
|Golden State Warriors||112||.500||.333||.941||44||35||9||8||13||114.9||95.8|
In the two teams' first meeting, the game was played at a pace of 97.8. That's pretty much right in between the Warriors' regular season pace of 100.7 and the Cavs' of 94.8. Both teams took 86 field goal attempts, but Golden State took more three pointers, at a higher percentage. While the Warriors are known for their offensive firepower, it was their defense that shined in this one, with seven players recording at least one steal, and Draymond Green leading the way with three of the team's eight blocks.
February 26, 2015 - Cleveland, OH
|Golden State Warriors||99||.424||.379||.526||44||32||10||6||14||100.3||111.4|
The Warriors played at the highest pace during the regular season, so you'd think a higher paced game would suit them better, right? Well, not always. The two teams' second encounter in Cleveland was actually played a higher pace than their previous matchup, 100.4. However, it was the Cavs who came out ahead in this one. The biggest difference maker? Free throws. Golden State is mostly a jump shooting team so they don't go to the line often - they only shot 19 in this one, compared to 35 from Cleveland - and they only made 10. The Cavs also outrebounded the Warriors, and while Golden State's defense was once again superb with 10 steals, the Cavs matched them, with J.R. Smith having four takeaways.
If we look at the averages of these two games, we see that Golden State overall played better in the two games, but not by much. These two teams, while playing differing styles, are pretty well-matched.
|Golden State Warriors||105.5||.462||.356||.734||44||33.5||9.5||7||13.5||107.6||103.6|
So what are going to be the keys to victory for each team? I'm glad you asked.
Keys to victory
|Cleveland Cavaliers||Golden State Warriors|
|Keep up. Part of the reason the Warriors are able to play at such a high pace is because of their depth. We mentioned their bench above, which also includes Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, and Festus Ezeli, who really came into his own during the Conference Finals. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Iman Shumpert are all averaging at least 34 minutes per game, with LeBron topping the 40 mark. If that trend continues, they could get very tired having to chase around Golden State's fresh legs at 100.7 possessions per game.||Stop LeBron James. Yes, I know this is like saying "stop a freight train," but it's really the biggest key of all. You have to force someone else to beat you. Unfortunately, 43% of the time that someone else is going to be working off an assist from James. The Warriors need to try and make someone else be the playmaker. Take the ball out of James's hands. How that's done is up to Steve Kerr and a whole lot of luck. We'll see if they have the ability.|
So there you have it, fans. The NBA Finals are set. Who do you think will win and in how many games? Let us know in the comments section and we'll see you back here June 4 for game one.