For the fourth straight year and for the first time in major professional sports history, the NBA Finals will include the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the match up that was always going to happen.
Some NBA fanatics would have preferred some new blood teams, given it is the eight-straight year LeBron James is featured in the biggest stage in basketball. On the other hand, for the fourth season in a row, the Golden State Warriors won the Western Conference Finals. The main worry for fans is that the Cavs barely won a game in the Finals last year, with a better team and with former point guard Kyrie Irving. What gives us the hope that we will see more than four games during the month of June?
According to VegasInsider.com, the Warriors opened as 1/10 favorites to win the tittle. The Cavs are listed as 6/1 to win it all. They are also the 12-point favorites in Game 1, tied for the largest point spread in an NBA Finals game since 1991, according to ESPN Stats & Information, which also said that James has been an underdog in seven of his nine Finals appearances.
Both teams are starting off Game 1 on Thursday without one of their starters, Kevin Love(status unknown), who was placed on the league’s concussion protocol during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Warriors will be without 2015 Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala (out).
Injuries are part of the game, and if the Cavs want to complete the biggest upset in NBA Finals history, or at least, be competitive during this series, they must hope the Warriors beat themselves, which is easier said than done, but if someone can do it, it is a James led team.
How do the Cavs do this?
It all starts on the defensive end, as cliche as it sounds, defense wins championships. And the key on the defensive side to winning this series is letting Kevin Durant score how many points he wants, without letting Steph Curry average more than 24 points per game. The Warriors are actually 0-5 when Durant scores 39 or more points this season. And although Durant won Finals MVP last year, he scored 31 or more points in every single game, including the Game 4 loss at Cleveland, a player who did struggle big time in that loss, that did not struggle in the other four games was Curry, scoring 14 points in 37 minutes, in the other four games, he averaged 30 points per game. The most important part of this plan is to let Durant play isolation basketball most times, like he did at times against the Houston Rockets. Given that Durant used to play in a heavy iso system in Oklahoma City, at times he can get too carried away with it, which hurts the Warriors, who run a motion offense, meaning they love setting off ball screens and moving the ball. Once you let Durant play iso ball and contain Curry, the Warriors will offensively collapse, they will mentally lose themselves and will not be able to be as good offensively.
Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds, every small detail counts, meaning that the Cavs defensive game plan has a lot of different techniques. They should switch everything, if forced, the only obvious mismatch advantage that the Warriors hold over the Cavs is Kevin Love, who you should live with. They should always help off non shooters, the Warriors’ young players, and their big men. The defending champions have inexperienced young players and a bench that cannot shoot the three ball well, Cleveland has to help off them whenever Klay Thompson and Curry have the ball in a position to score, and dare their teammates to shoot and score the basketball. The best set the Warriors will try and run is the Durant/Curry pick and roll, whenever this happens, the defense should blitz and double the pick, making Curry make the decision under pressure, something he struggles with. As long as the Cavs do all these little defensive techniques, they will be close at the end of the game, the most important part of defense in this series is rebounding and being physical, if James and company do this for 48 minutes they will be in good position to steal some games.
On offense, what now?
The Cavs’ role players struggle on the road, most of the time James does not get any help during these playoffs. And that’s why like in the 2015 NBA Finals, Cleveland should slow down its offense and pace. They are not going to win this series only with their three point shooting, they have to post up James over and over again and score in the paint, especially since the player who guards him the best is injured. They should establish physical dominance during games, James and Love should both be posted up on the paint more often than not. At times, to give James some breathing time, they should run some George Hill/Love and Hill/Tristan Thompson pick and rolls, forcing Hill to be aggressive at times, something he struggles at.
Speaking of struggles, they should not play Thompson and Love at the same time, they will get outscored every single time. They should be careful with stupid mistakes, they have to make their free throws, make wide open shots, should not turn the ball over, and have good designed out of time out plays,. If the Cavs are going to play slow, they should take care of their possessions.
The bench has been an issue all throughout the playoffs, but could play a key in this Finals, the Cavs bench is young and loves to run, it benefits them that the Warriors bench is full of old guys or big men who cannot run the floor. Cleveland’s bench does struggle scoring, that is why they should run and get some easy buckets whenever James is either sitting down or on the court with them. The bench plays a major role in the outcome of these games.
Besides the bench scoring, slowing the pace down and being physical, the Cavs have to execute and have big scoring runs during the first and third quarters, those being the two most important quarters in the 2018 NBA Finals. The most physical team, and the one with the most points in the paint will hold the Larry O’Brien trophy at the middle of June. And if it is going to be the Cavs, LeBron James will have to pull off the best performance of his career.
Who do you guys think will end up with the golden trophy this 2018 NBA season? Tweet us @TheUtilityMan17 with your thoughts!