Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Finals Preview: Warriors claw back for rematch with Cavs

Charles, Kenny and Shaq preview the Warriors-Cavaliers Finals rematch.
The Finals rematch so many wanted to see is finally here, but only after the champion Golden State Warriors scratched and clawed their way out of a 3-1 hole against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals.
The Cleveland Cavaliers needed only 14 games to punch their ticket back to The Finals, sweeping their first two series in the Eastern Conference playoffs and then finishing off an overmatched Toronto Raptors team in six games in the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James, playing in his his sixth straight Finals, will do so with a fully heathy crew this time around, as both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love come in healthy and in a groove this time around.
Game Time: Cavaliers Return to Finals
Vince, Rick and Brent look ahead to the LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers' return to the NBA Finals.
The mighty Warriors, the record 73-9 regular season shadowing their every move, battled injuries to two-time KIA MVP Stephen Curry early on in the postseason. He missed 15 days as Klay Thompson and Draymond Green had to step up in his absence to make sure the Warriors continued their historic run. And even when it looked to be in doubt against the Thunder, the Warriors' confidence didn't waver.
They became just the 10th team in NBA history to recover from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, once again silencing the critics who called their championship run a year ago "lucky." And they did it with The Splash Brothers coming alive when needed, securing that rematch everyone started dreaming about as the confetti flowed at the end of Game 6 of the 2015 Finals.

The Warriors will win if ...

At their very best, the Warriors are the best team in basketball when they are moving the ball religiously and knocking down shots from beyond the 3-point line like no one else can. It's a simple formula that Warriors coach Steve Kerr refuses to deviate from, which is exactly how they recovered from the injury adversity to Steph Curry and battled their way through the conference finals against a game Thunder team.
If the Cavaliers are crazy enough to engage the Warriors in a 3-point shooting contest in this series, the Warriors' supreme confidence in what they do and their discipline -- the ability to stick with it even when it seems it's not working -- will rule the day. Curry and Klay Thompson comprise the best shooting backcourt in league history, and inviting them to a duel is a foolish proposition. The Warriors made a NBA record (for 7 games) 90 shots from beyond the arc in the conference finals. Don't test them.
Any concerns about fatigue from the magical ride the Warriors have been on since last season should be calmed by the fact that Kerr will go as deep into his roster as needed to preserve his stars. The bench crew has played a huge role in this postseason run for the Warriors, and that depth could prove to be the difference in this series.

The Cavaliers will win if ...

This is not the same Cleveland team that showed up to The Finals last year with a green Kyrie Irving, who was lost after Game 1 to a knee injury, and without Kevin Love, whose shoulder injury in the first round cost him the remainder of the postseason. This is a much better team, one that didn't need LeBron James to drag them to The Finals with all everything he could muster. With Tyronn Lue browbeating this crew to get in better shape, run more, trust each other implicitly and trust the system, these Cavaliers have a clear understanding of who and what they are.
They are versatile enough to beat you from deep, as they did in their first two playoff series this time around against Detroit and Atlanta. If they need to use their size and length, as they did against Toronto, they can go there, too.
Barry on LeBron's Consecutive Finals Appearances
Two-time champion Brent Barry waxes on how difficult it is to achieve what LeBron has done.
The key, of course, is LeBron and his ability to dissect the defense and keep everyone else involved in the action while also exploiting whatever mismatch he'll enjoy on the offensive end. And make no mistake, whoever matches up with him is on the wrong side of that mismatch. He's playing in his sixth straight Finals. No one has a better understanding of what's needed in this series than he does.

Five quick questions and answers

1. Anyone else want to challenge Steph Curry's right to the MVP throne?
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had plenty to say about Curry throughout the course of the conference finals and ultimately were burned by Curry and his Splash Brothers partner Klay Thompson. They're not just great shooters. They are great players and impact games on both ends and in so many different ways. Steph's earned everything he's gotten, so some appropriate fear might be in order when dealing the with unanimous MVP.
2. Did the Cavaliers face enough adversity on their way to The Finals to prepare them properly for what they'll face now?
They went through a similar gauntlet last season in the Eastern Conference and it didn't seem to slow them down in the early going of The Finals, remember they took a 2-1 lead on the Warriors before falling in six games. The level of competition in the run up to The Finals is of little consequence past the opening tip of Game 1 of The Finals. The Cavs are ready.
3. Is Andre Iguodala up to the challenge of dealing with LeBron James, again?
Based on the way he finished against Kevin Durant in the conference finals, the 2015 Finals MVP is fully prepared for the overtime work it will take to deal with LeBron. You don't stop LeBron, you simply make an effort to agitate him long enough to keep the Cavaliers from finding an offensive groove. And non one does that better than Iguodala.
4. Kevin Love's never been this deep into the postseason. Is his play the key for the Cavaliers?
Absolutely. Love, along with Kyrie Irving, was the missing piece for the Cavaliers in The Finals last year. Without a floor-spacing big man to stretch the defense, LeBron was was forced to attack the basket without his most reliable safety valve. Love's ability to drain 3-pointers on a consistent basis opens things up in a dramatically different way. His contributions, scoring and rebounding, are crucial to the cause.
5. What happens if Draymond Green struggles to keep his emotions in check the way he did in the conference finals?
Potentially disaster for the Warriors. Green is the true X-factor for the Warriors. His versatility on defense and ability to serve as the primary facilitator for the Warriors when needed is something that cannot be replaced if he picks up another flagrant foul and has to miss a game during The Finals. Green's ability to control his emotions and channel his energy into the right places is often what takes the Warriors to that next level they've been on for so much of this season.

Making the pick

LeBron pushed the Warriors to six games last time around without the assistance of Kyrie and Love, something that's been on his mind since last June. So he knows this team, at full strength, is certainly capable of winning it all. Revenge is as strong a motive as any to fuel a championship run. But the Warriors enter this series with their own motivation. They are trying to complete a dream season and have critics they still need to silence. They won the title last year but barely got to enjoy it with all of the trash talked about them being so lucky. No luck needed this time around. Warriors in 7.