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This Week In Sports: The Rubber Match

by Brian Bernstein

This is what we’ve been waiting for all season. After three playoff rounds of sorry basketball, the NBA Finals are finally here and it features the two best teams. For the first time ever, we will witness two teams facing off against each other in three straight Finals. And honestly, no basketball fan wanted anything less than the Cleveland Cavaliers Golden State Warriors rubber match.

With a combined postseason record of 24-1, both teams have proved they are in a league of their own. So who has the edge?

Well, the Warriors have the Big-4 whereas the Cavs have the Big-3. However, one of those three is LeBron James, and surly the King counts as more than one man. He has to. He’s the greatest player in the game today and is simply unstoppable. No matter how you break it down, if Bron Bron is on the floor than his team always has a chance.

Unlike the previous two years, where each team had to deal with injuries, this year both teams strut into the Finals healthy, firing on all cylinders, and restocked with new weapons.

Lets begin with the most obvious. The Warriors won the lottery last year by stealing free agent Kevin Durant away from the rest of the league. Durant brings his pinpoint accuracy to a team already equipped with heavy artillery, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Teams already had to worry about the Splash Bros catching from behind the arc, but by adding KD to the mix makes them damn near impossible to shut down. Average teams can stop one, the good teams can stop two, but no one has been able to stop all three. The reality is that once one gets going, then that opens the floor for either one, or both of the other two guys to get rolling.

The Cavs, excluding Bron Bron, attack you with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Just like there is really no stopping Curry, there is no stopping Irving. He may have the best handles the game has ever seen, and pairing that with his shooting skills and ability to finish around the rim makes him a nightmare to defend.

Then there is Kevin Love, who since coming over from Minnesota has adapted his game to be more of a perimeter threat than a low post one. Unfortunately, Love will most likely be a non-factor in this series because the Warriors best scheme would be to have KD guarding him. This allows Durant to exert little, or no, energy on defense as Love mainly sits around the three-point line. And the length of Durant will make it extremely difficult for Love to have any clean looks.

So the x-factors are going to have to come from the role players, and this is where the Cavs have the edge. In the previous years, the Warriors have had the superior bench unit and role players, but this season it’s the Cavs.

Tristan Thompson will be the Cavs biggest key to having a shot at winning this series. He provides a service that doesn’t show up in the sat sheet, grit, combined with his uncanny ability to rebound the ball, especially on the offensive end giving Cleveland extra possessions.

As for the other guys, Cleveland will need Kyle Korver, Channing Fry, and J.R Smith to continue their hot shooting, and Deron Williams to be a leader when James and Irving are off the floor.

For the Warriors, Draymond Green has to keep his cool and continue to make big plays while Klay Thompson MUST find his shooting stroke. Green is the heart and soul of this team, and he has to stay on the floor to provide the Warriors a motivational pick-me-up. Whereas Thompson needs to stop pressing the issue of fewer shot attempts per game and allow himself to get into a rhythm through the flow of the game.

Honestly, you can break it down anyway you’d like, but the only way Cleveland can match Golden State’s firepower is for their role players to continue to shoot lights out from behind the arc. If this series turns into a punching bout between the starting lineups, then the Warriors have too much talent for the Cavs to match. If the Cavs do not get consistent contribution of their role players, the combination of Durant, Curry, Green, and Thompson will be too much.

Warriors take the series in six games. 4-2

 

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