For the fourth year in a row, the Golden State Warriors will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, beginning with Game 1 at the Oracle Arena on Thursday night.
Both teams are coming off tough seven-game series against the Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics, respectively, so the question is whether they will be ready, both mentally and physically, for the Finals.
The defending champions had to defy the odds and come back from a 3-2 deficit in the series to win in Game 7 and advance to the Finals for the fourth straight time (101-92).
Coach Steve Kerr and his players didn’t expect to come one step away from being eliminated, yet they stood tall and will now fight for their third championship in the last four years.
Kerr will rely on Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant to make the difference offensively, while it’s still uncertain whether Andre Iguodala will be available for Game 1.
The latter, who has missed four straight games with a lower left leg contusion, is the team’s best on-ball defender and the one that will try to stop LeBron James.
Given the squad’s bench has played mediocre in the postseason so far, Iguodala’s absence has exposed some holes in Golden State’s roster.
Golden State are unstoppable offensively, averaging 109.1 points per game and shooting at 47.2% in two-pointers and 35.2% in three-pointers.
At the same time, they have enhanced their defensive performance, conceding 99.7 points per 100 possessions and showing they can play very tough on both ends of the floor.
The Warriors have a great ball movement, with 25.6 assists per game, while Durant is the top scorer with 29 points per game and Green averages 11.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 8.1 assists.
For his part, Curry didn’t play well in the first two games against the Rockets, yet he was tremendous since then, with 28.2 points in the next five matches.
Golden State will have no problem to score 105+ points on the one end of the floor, however it’s their defence that will determine the winner.
With James being unstoppable in the playoffs and fighting tooth and nail for the title, the Warriors’ main target will be to prevent the “King” from scoring and dishing assists.
Despite being 33 years old and in his 15th season, he has produced his best performance ever, having appeared in all 100 Cleveland games so far.
Against the Celtics, James played 46 and 48 minutes in Games 6 and 7, respectively, while he is coming off two seven-game series and a sweep of Toronto.
James has 34 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists so far, but he will need help from the supporting cast, if he wants to go all the way.
The Cavs score 101.2 points per game and 107.1 per 100 possessions, in 46.1% shooting and 33.9% from the three-point range, while they allow their opponents to score 105.9 points per 100 possessions.
Against the Warriors, though, Cleveland have to play excellent defence, otherwise I can’t see how they will beat the defending champions four times to win the title.
The bench has to step up and help LeBron, especially if Kevin Love is unable to play, due to concussion-like symptoms.
James will be seeking from George Hill to get better as the series progress, Larry Nance Jr and Tristan Thompson to give the Warriors’ big men trouble and Kyle Korver and JR Smith to hit crucial three-pointers.
Moreover, they have to improve their ball movement, as they dish only 18.8 assists per game. If they create many open shots, they may have the opportunity to take the upper hand.
But, if they execute many isolation plays for LeBron, their effort will become much more difficult, as Golden State’s roster consists of players that can easily adapt to that playing style.
Overall, if LeBron James keeps being so dominant and the supporting cast offers him decent solutions on both ends of the floor, then Cleveland can stand a chance against Golden State.
Otherwise, it will be unlikely for the team to edge the defending champions and win the Championship for the second time in three years.