For a fourth straight season, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the NBA Finals. After both survived grueling conference finals where they had to outlast their opponent in Game 7 on the road, they’ll now square off for the NBA championship.
Even though these two teams have reigned over their conferences for the last four seasons, the Warriors are viewed as the much stronger team at this point. They are posted as a -1200 series favorite in this spot and as a 12-point favorite in Game 1. If that line holds up, it would tie the largest spread in an NBA Finals game in the last 25 years.
For the Cavaliers, the issue is that their supporting cast surrounding LeBron James is viewed as weak. Kevin Love is dealing with a concussion and might not be cleared for Game 1. Besides him, the Cavs are looking at a starting lineup that includes George Hill, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and possibly Jeff Green. Hill, Smith and Thompson have all played well at times but all are far off from the best form of their career. Smith is shooting 35.6 percent from the field this postseason while Thompson was so bad in the early going that he was hardly used in the opening round. As for Hill, he’s been hit-or-miss but is nowhere near the player who averaged 16.9 points per game while shooting 40.3 percent from three-point range for the Utah Jazz last year. As for the Cavs bench, they have been virtually non-existent as only Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. have been useful at times, although Korver has just 16 points in his last three games.
The other concern – both in Game 1 and in the series – is that the Cavs are an old team. James, Smith, Korver, Green and Hill are all 31 or older. They’ll have to compete with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, all of whom are 30 or younger.
Cavaliers can’t get into shootout with Warriors
The Warriors boast a starting lineup with four all-stars and a bench that’s backed up by Jordan Bell, Nick Young, Pat McCaw, David West and others. They figure to have extreme mismatches all over the place as Hill tries to guard Curry, Smith tries to guard Thompson and even James tries to guard Durant. The Cavaliers have played well defensively in the playoffs but they’ve also faced a mediocre Indiana Pacers side – who nearly ousted them – a soft Toronto Raptors team that they own, and a Boston Celtics squad missing two all-stars. One might say they’ve had the much easier path.
For the Cavs to win Game 1 of the NBA Finals, they’re going to have to make this an ugly, slow, grind-it-out type of contest. They’re not going to be winning any shootouts. The good news is that their defense has really shined this postseason as they are allowing just 99.9 points per game – the second-best mark. And we saw the Houston Rockets, a relatively bad defensive team, find ways to slow the Warriors down. The Warriors scored 105 points or less four times in the Western Conference final. If the Cavs can keep them to that number or lower, they’ll have a chance to win games.
The other key is that intangible desire to win. The Warriors looked sloppy and nonchalant at times in the West final, simply assuming they’d win if they showed up. That allowed the Rockets a chance to nearly win that series. If the Cavs can show up with effort and take it to the Warriors, they just might be able to cover and steal Game 1.