It’s that time of the year again. Haters are running wild. Trolls are in peak form, ready to unleash fury on the poor schmucks who catch their ire. Oh, and the NBA Finals is a few days away, which means it’s time to make a prediction on who wins between two of the best teams in the league. Truth be told, I’ve been holding off on making a pick since last week because I have no idea which team to choose between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. But with Game 1 of the Finals scheduled for Friday morning (Manila time), the time for slacking off is over.
The choices have been easy up until this point—who didn’t have the Cavs and Warriors to meet in the Finals at this point? But now that both teams are here, choosing between the two has been an exercise in mental torment. Or has it?
On the one hand, it’s easy to go with the Golden State Warriors and call it a day. The team did come close to repeating last year had they caught a few breaks in Game 7. They also had a 3-1 lead so it’s not like they got waxed by the Cavs. And, they basically swapped Harrison Barnes for Kevin Durant. That’s the equivalent of swapping a pair of Chuck Taylors for a pair of Yeezys. Draymond Green has been on his best behavior, so Cavs fans shouldn’t expect him to get suspended this time around. On top of all that, they boast the playoff’s best offense and best defense, a byproduct of all the spankings they’ve on the Blazers, Jazz, and Spurs on their way to a sparkling 12-0 record in the post season.
Pick the Warriors to avenge last year’s Finals collapse with Kevin Durant in tow and I may be able to make it home without any eggs getting thrown in my direction.
But—here I go again—dismissing the Cleveland Cavaliers is foolish in it of itself. For one, they’re the defending champs who have been cast as the underdogs. The Warriors may be dripping with motivation from last year’s Finals catastrophe, but don’t sleep on Cleveland getting itself lathered the same way with so many people gushing over the super power in the Bay Area. Second, they have LeBron James, who—whether you worship his altar or spit on the ground he walks on—is the greatest player of his generation. And let’s not forget about Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, both of whom have been playing at peak All-Star levels themselves, and a Cavs bench unit that has more depth than the Warriors’ second team.
See, it’s not as easy as it looks, although I do have a pretty straight-forward prediction that I’ll get out of the way now. Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry will play to a draw. That’s it.
One thing the Warriors have going for them is that they can force James out of the center position. That tweak that Cleveland made last year served as one of the catalysts that spurred the Cavs’ comeback last season. LeBron could afford to do that last year because Harrison Barnes was taking up heavy minutes at the three and didn’t do much with them. This year, it’s Kevin Durant. The Cavs may have little choice but to put James on Durant for extended minutes or risk the bloodshed of seeing Durant destroy every other Cavs player that’s assigned to him. Run through Cleveland’s roster and find someone who can check Durant in the Finals. Find anyone? No? Really, it’s LeBron or bust against the Kevin Durant. The other option is putting a guy like Richard Jefferson on KD and pray that RJ can at least make him work for the inevitable 25 a game he’ll average.
For the Cavs to have a shot at winning this series, it needs to impose its will on the glass even if that area of the game isn’t really a weakness of the Warriors. I know. Stupid, right? But that’s going to be a key for the Cavs because they need to get physical and dominate the boards. Doing so accomplishes a few things, including limiting the Warriors’ devastating transition game and disrupting the overall flow of their offense, generating more offensive possessions for the Cavs. As invincible as they have looked, the Warriors can be beaten if you keep them from running you off the court, disrupting the disproportion amount of easy baskets they make off of cuts and screens, and beating them up in the glass.
Then there’s the LeBron factor. He may not be the easiest player to root for, but the man is on another level in this playoffs and that’s saying something, considering the standards he’s already set for himself. He’s still in a Cavs uniform and he’s still the ace of diamonds in a series full of other aces.
Ultimately, we know that the stars of both teams will leave their imprint on these games. Curry, Green, Irving, Love, and Klay Thompson will all have signature moments. Whichever team imposes its pace and tempo on the other will also play a huge role.
But like most complicated problems, sometimes the solution is sitting there right under our noses.
There will be game plans. There will be adjustments. There will be coaching battles. Through all of those things, Cavs-Warriors III breaks down to one choice: Kevin Durant vs LeBron James.
Barring injuries and/or suspensions, it’s going to be about Durant and James and who can leave a bigger imprint on the series. And as much as I’m in awe of KD as one of the most efficient scorers in the history of the NBA, facts and history will tell everyone that LeBron James is his boogeyman.
So for the second year in a row, I’m picking the Cleveland Cavaliers to beat the Golden State Warriors in seven games.
Start throwing those eggs now.