Like most movie franchises, if you happen to make a third film chances are you are doing pretty well in the industry. The same goes for both the Cavaliers and the Warriors.
Now in the movie industry, their is the clichè saying that sequels are never as good as the originals, but their are some exceptions – i.e. Toy Story 3, Back to the Future Part III, Men in Black 3, etc. – and this year’s finals has a chance to join that company.
Two years ago in the first matchup, Cleveland headed into the finals without star big man Kevin Love who they had just acquired that prior offseason and after one game, the team lost star point guard Kyrie Irving to injury. Not to mention the Cavs were still head coached by Steven Blatt at the time and no disrespect to him, but he was not the man for the job.
Nonetheless, I do not want to take anything away from that championship Warriors team. Who can forget their slogan ‘Strength in Numbers,’ that has stuck around, but was more representative of them back then over today’s team. The depth willed Golden State to their first title since 1975 and they became the model for how NBA front offices should aspire to build their team through the draft rather than bringing in free agents.
Fast forward a year, the same two teams met again in the finals only this time the the Cavaliers were fully healthy and were coached by Tyronn Lue, who took over Blatt halfway through the year.
But it looked like nothing was going to slow down the Warriors that year as they posted the best regular season record in NBA history with a 73-9 record and got off to a 3-1 series lead in the Finals.
But things went south at the end of game four for the Warriors when Draymond Green was given his fourth Flagrant foul of the playoffs for retaliating against Lebron James, who stepped over Green in a similar fashion Allen Iverson once did to Tyronn Lue, therefore causing him to miss game 5 due to suspension. If that did not make things worse, Warriors starting center Andrew Bogut suffered a season ending knee injury in game 5.
The Cavs, who looked like they were going to play possum, suddenly regrouped and surged to win the next three games to win the series 4-3. Cleveland had their first championship title in any major sport since 1964 ending one of the longest droughts in any city’s history.
Now let’s flash forward to present day…or actually before this season even started. After star forward Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City to join Golden State in the offseason, it only solidified that both these two teams would meet in the Finals once again.
The two ‘super teams’ now meet for the third straight Finals, a feat that has never been accomplished before in the NBA. And to save you some time before you look it up, no Bird and Magic did not play three in a row in the 80s, nor did Jordan and the Jazz in the 90s. It has NEVER been done before in NBA history.
Both teams enter the series fully healthy, with plenty of recent rest because both teams went for a combined 24-1 during their playoff runs. The only loss was tagged to the Cavs when they fell to the Boston Celtics in game 3 of the Eastern conference finals. Neither team had to break a sweat this postseason (which is not good for the NBA if you ask me but that’s a different topic).
With Game 1 of the Finals tonight, here are my predictions and X-factors that are going to need to step up if either team wants their second finals in three years.
Warriors X-Factor(s) – Javale McGee, David West, Zaza Pachulia
It does not matter who is the center on the floor for the Warriors, any of the three are going to be the X-Factor in boxing out and keeping Tristian Thompson and company off the offensive glass. The Celtics struggled to keep the rebounding margin even close for the majority of the series which allowed Love, Thompson and whoever else crashed the glass to roam with ease. We saw the Warriors struggle a bit on securing defensive boards against the San Antonio Spurs before Kawhi Leonard’s injury. Draymond Green will lead the charge on grabbing the boards but because of Green’s versatility on defense, he will be out on the perimeter on pick and roll switches plenty so these other three players will need to step up.
Cavaliers X-Factor – Kevin Love
Look, we know what we are going to get from James, Irving and even Thompson. But one starter that will need to step up after a subpar Finals performance last year is Love. After being injured and missing the first Finals matchup between the two, Love was pretty much absent again in the 2016 Finals averaging 8.5 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game in six games. The good news for Cavs fans, Love is shooting 47% from beyond the arc this postseason and has been lights all around. If he can continue this success, that will be a huge plus for the Cavs and their efforts.
Prediction: Golden State Warriors in 5
As good as players Lebron, Kyrie and company are, the Warriors have four of the best 10 players in the league. Sure they may not have as deep as a roster as they used to, but upgrading from Harrison Barnes to Kevin Durant this offseason is like upgrading from a Toyota to a Lamborghini. I believe all the games will be close (or at least I hope) but I do not see the Warriors dropping more than one game to the Cavs with the way they are playing now. They play really good team defense, they share the ball, they force turnovers and like to run fast breaks, they can make a bunch of threes but are talented at finishing at the basket as well. If I am coach Lue right now, I am having nightmares on trying to slow down this Warriors team in this year’s Finals.