Thursday, June 4, 2015

2015 Finals Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers Vs. Golden State Warriors

The talk of the Finals will be about Stephen Curry and LeBron but the attention should go to the role players.

It is the NBA Finals that the majority predicted, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will face Stephen Curry and the high scoring Golden State Warriors. Last year both teams were in limbo fired their respective coaches, Cleveland fired Mike Brown for his second stint after one failed season where Cleveland finished 33-49 that didn't match the ambitions of owner Dan Gilbert who was eager to give the state of Ohio success in the post-LeBron era. Golden State Warriors on the other hand were fresh off a promising season where they finished 51-31 and gaining the 6th seed in the Western Conference. However, the Warriors were eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers in 7 games which led to the subsequent firing of Mark Jackson which caused displeasure among Golden State fans and players, especially Stephen Curry.
         The main reason for the firing of Mark Jackson was the lack of trust between him and the coaching staff as well with ownership and offensive playstyle that did not utilize the vast depth that the Warriors possessed as it was mainly Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson that was relied on to produce the bulk of the offense. 
        On May, 14, 2014, the Golden State Warriors hired Steve Kerr to be their head coach. Steve Kerr became the latest of a recent trend that saw former players take the jump to become a head coach of a team without any prior coaching experience although Kerr was the GM for the Phoenix Suns. Speaking of the Phoenix Suns, Steve Kerr decided to hire Alvin Gentry to be his assistant who was the coach at the time Kerr was General Manager of the Suns. Gentry is highly responsible for the uptempo style of play that Golden State play. Steve Kerr has also done a good job incorporating the role players into the fold of the offense which saw players like Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green have career seasons.
       The Cleveland Cavaliers were looking at another season to sneak into the NBA Playoffs, and signed David Blatt to become their head coach making it his first stint as a head coach in the NBA. David Blatt was famous for being an international head coach leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to defeat a Real Madrid squad that featured former NBA players Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez in the championship in 2014 ending his stint with Maccabi Tel Aviv at 225-55.
      LeBron James and the Miami Heat lost in the 2014 NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs leading LeBron to assess his future in South Beach as he had an aging injury-prone Dwayne Wade and a Chris Bosh who was inconsistent as well as a bunch of role players whom unperformed.
       After months of speculation, LeBron James made his decision to return to Cleveland in hopes of bringing back his promise of returning a championship. Cleveland's front office were so dead set on that aspiration that they traded #1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett for Kevin Love (who eventually went down to injury in the series against Boston).

The last time Golden State won a championship was about 40 years ago in 1975 while Cleveland never won a championship since they were founded in 1970. The closest the Cavs have ever gotten was in 2007 when LeBron and the Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State are the favorites to win this NBA Finals but the game of basketball is all about matchups so how do they fare against Cleveland.

Kyrie Irving vs Stephen Curry


Kyrie Irving only played the final game of the series against the Atlanta Hawks where he played 22 minutes but scored 16 points. If the Cavs wanted to, they could have rested him the whole series so he can get his legs together as he is dealing with tendinitis in left knee. Kyrie Irving is expected to play and judging by how he played against Atlanta he may have no ill effects although knee issues tend to come and go. Stephen Curry is of course the reigning MVP and have been taking victims with him with his combination of ball handling and shooting skills. While Curry is the MVP of the NBA if Kyrie Irving is 100 percent I will label this matchup a push. While I can not see Kyrie Irving guard Stephen Curry I also can't see Stephen Curry guard Kyrie Irving. Both players are possibly the best ball handlers in the NBA and will make for exciting crossovers and highlight clips.

Winner = Push

J.R. Smith/Iman Shumpert vs Klay Thompson

Both guards love to score in bunches and can get hot at any moment and can become nearly unstoppable when heated. J.R. Smith has been instrumental in Cleveland's success without Kyrie Irving giving opposing teams another threat on the perimeter other than LeBron. Klay Thompson although is more consistent than J.R. and is an excellent defender as well. Iman Shumpert will rotate SG duties with J.R. throughout the series.

Winner = Klay Thompson

LeBron James vs Harrison Barnes

I don't think I have to say who is the winner of this matchup but it will be interesting to see how the Golden State Warriors will defend Lebron. Harrison Barnes possesses great length at 6'8 and enough quickness to keep LeBron from driving the lane. While he lack the strength, his backup Andre Iguodala can matchup muscle for muscle against LeBron as well as runner up defensive player of the year Draymond Green. LeBron also can not sleep on defense with Harrison Barnes and his ability to stretch the floor.

Winner: LeBron James

Tristan Thompson vs Draymond Green

Both these players have been just as influential to their teams as the respective star players LeBron and Steph Curry. Tristan Thompson has been one of the top sixth men during the regular season and has done more than enough to replace the injured Kevin Love. Draymond Green has had an amazing season where he finished second in Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year, I have never seen a player with that type of versatility that he has the on-ball perimeter defense to guard James Harden and the interior defense to defend Dwight Howard.
This video explains the importance of Draymond Green:

This may be the most important matchup of the series and whoever wins the matchup will win the series.

Winner: Draymond Green

Timofey Mozgov vs Andrew Bogut

Both bigmen are not going to make the front page of the papers but do what their coaches ask of them with the dirty work on rebounds and the defensive end. Timofey Mozgov is better offensively than Bogut around the rim and has completely changed his reputation from 7 foot stiff to a solid starting center. Andrew Bogut may not score many points but is good in help defense and can give LeBron problems driving the lane, I will give the slight edge to Andrew Bogut.

Winner: Andrew Bogut

Best backups the NBA has to offer.

The reason the Cleveland Cavaliers have got this far into the NBA Finals have been their contribution from the bench. Matthew Dellavedova especially has stepped up for Kyrie Irving's absence and has gave the Cavaliers a spark with his gritty play and his three point shooting. Iman Shumpert has been improving his jumper as well as being one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA. Golden State's bench although is like a second starting lineup. With Andre Igoudala, David Lee, Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa coming off the bench is unmatched by any other NBA roster.

Winner: Golden State

David Blatt does not get enough credit for the coaching of the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the creative offensive sets he uses get players such as Dellavedova effective as well as incorporating LeBron in more ways to be effective. The coaching in this series is even as both teams know how to improvise on the offensive end to keep opposing teams guessing. This will be a high scoring series and while the Cavaliers will put up a fight, I do not think it will be enough as Golden State's depth will be too much for Cleveland in the same way the San Antonio Spurs defeated LeBron and the Miami Heat last season.

Warriors in 6