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Who has the upper hand over the Larry O’Brien trophy?
Much like round three of any side-view fighting game, the third installment of the ongoing battle between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals is bound to come with bragging rights for the winners and an endless avalanche of crying Jordan memes for the losers. With both teams easily dancing their way through the NBA Playoffs up until this point, the two teams are the first real challenge in a while. After last year’s epic comeback by the Cavaliers after being down three games to one, this years contest is bound to be close with no team having a huge advantage over the other. With a league record seven all-stars playing in the 2017 NBA Finals, let’s take a look at what each team is bringing to the table, and where on the court each team has an advantage.
Point Guard: Kyrie Irving vs Steph Curry
Aesthetically speaking, Kyrie Irving is one of the most impressive players in the league, known for his ability to change speeds quickly and unrivaled handles (Seriously, anyone that can dribble in a full grandpa suit is impressive).
Irving has had an amazing post season so far, averaging 24.5 points and 5.6 assists per game. From a statistics standpoint, Irving is playing within his team well, but I can’t see him outdoing his counterpart here. For years, Steph Curry has been regarded as one of the best players in the entire league, taking home two MVP awards so far. As the greatest three point shooter of all time, Curry has not only set himself a place in the league, but in league history. At 41.1 per cent from deep this year, Curry’s worst three point shooting season of his career is still way better than that of the average player, so even on his off days you can count on him. There’s no doubt that Irving is a great player, but going up against the two time, only unanimous MVP in league history is his task and quite frankly, Curry takes the win here.
Shooting Guard: J.R. Smith vs Klay Thompson
Off all the starting lineup match ups, this one here is the biggest discrepancy. Klay Thompson has evolved from simply a spot-up shooter and has developed into a solid two-way star in the league. Though his offense may be streaky at times, Thompson gives the Warriors a reliable third scoring option in a league where he would be some team’s first. Speaking of streaky, J.R. Smith’s offense comes and goes very fast. Smith has found himself a role in the Cavaliers offense, giving the team another threat from deep and the ability to stretch the floor. Despite this, Smith only averaged 6.0 points per game in three of the Cavaliers losses in last year’s finals. A non-factor when he isn’t scoring, don’t expect Smith to dig the Cavs out of any holes if they so happen to get themselves in any.
Small Forward: LeBron James vs Kevin Durant
“My Next Chapter” memes aside, joining the Warriors was the best thing Kevin Durant could’ve done for his career. With their core relatively young and blessed with good health, the Warriors are going to be good for a very long time, better than the Oklahoma City Thunder team he was on. Rather than getting beat in every Western Conference Finals match up every year, Durant recognized what his best option would be if he ever wanted to win a ring, adapting the “If you can’t beat em, join em” motto. Even though he’s having his worst scoring year since his rookie season, Durant fits well in the Warriors offensive scheme, playing as a 1B option to Curry’s 1A. Think about that for a second though, Durant can have his worst scoring year in a long time and Curry can have his worst shooting year, yet this team swept through the playoffs.
I imagine that King James remains unscathed, however. With seven NBA Finals appearances in the past seven years, LeBron has been toying the rest of the eastern conference for years, keeping every other team in his back pocket. Regardless of how good Durant is at scoring, James is just as good in almost every facet of the game. The once in a generation talent has the ability to make everyone else around him better, something very few players can do. He facilitates the floor, defends the other team’s best player and hustles to almost every loose ball. The Cavaliers only go as far as the king takes them and as he’s proven before, he can take them pretty far.
Power Forward: Kevin Love vs Draymond Green
It’s very rare to have a player shoot 47.5 per cent from deep during a single playoff run. It’s even more rare to have your power forward do so. Arguably the best stretch power forward in the league, Love as established himself as an all-star caliber player and a force to be reckoned with. During his time in Cleveland, Kevin Love has taken a back seat to James and Irving, but will step up when need be. Sure, he doesn’t touch the ball every possession, nor is he the centre of attention that he was in Minnesota with the Timberwolves. Not to mention, Love has by far the best outlet pass in the game.
Although Love has found a niche in his team’s offense and does it well, Draymond Green offers more to his team than just a stretch. From role player to starter, then all-star and all the way to All-NBA third team forward, Green’s rise to success in the league is something you’d expect to see in NBA 2K‘s MyCareer mode. Elite level defense, scoring, rebounding and just about everything you would want from a basketball player can be found in Green’s arsenal of skills. Although Green is the better player that Love, expect both of these two to have a large impact on the series.
Power Forward: Tristan Thompson vs Zaza Pachulia
This match up will probably get the least attention, simply because these two teams utilize the centre position the least. Watching Zaza Pachulia play basketball reminds me of the 50-year-old guys who show up at rec centres everywhere looking to get next. They’re a little slow, somewhat heavy and sweat profusely from everywhere on their body. Despite their awkward, lethargic play style, he’s still does a good job of doing the dirty work for the team. Tristan Thompson does similar work for the Cavs, but statistically speaking is way better at it than Pachulia is. During the regular season, Thompson averaged 3.76 offensive rebounds a game, good for fourth best in the league. Every shot matters in the NBA Finals, and any extra opportunity given to a team is surely welcomed. Expect Thompson to give his team as many extra opportunities as he can, which may swing the favour of a game or two.
Having the luxury of a former NBA Finals MVP is something that not many teams can boast about, yet the Golden State Warriors can rely on the skills of Andre Iguodala to help out the second unit. Another two way player, Iguodala is an impact player on both sides of the court and plays well in transition. Another player to keep an eye out for is centre JaVale McGee, who has found a career second wind in Golden State. McGee used to be the butt end of many jokes around his mental lapses and simple mistakes while playing, but since then has become an important part of this year’s Warrior’s team. With his size and athleticism, we might see McGee start in place of Pachulia to help combat Tristan Thompson.
The Cavaliers also hold a strong bench, with the likes of Kyle Korver, Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson all available of the pine. It’s no doubt that the Cavs are a deep team, but what worries me is what their bench offers in terms of style of play. Korver much like J.R. Smith excels when used as a spot up shooter. Frye much like Kevin Love is best when used as a stretch power forward. Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith (play style wise) can have their own version of Looper and it would resemble the original one in many ways. While both teams are indeed deep, the Warriors have the ability to switch up their style of play with their bench, while the Cavs are forced to do more of the same.