Let’s admit it, we knew this was going to happen. Even before the first game of the regular season started, there was a distinct possibility that we would see the Golden State Warriors face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals for the third year running. The Warriors had added Kevin “last MVP not named Curry” Durant during the offseason. And the Cavaliers well, had LeBron James, the man who has not missed a single NBA Finals this decade.
If we consider the two teams, both have four positions locked in but the fifth position is played by a hybrid Frankenstein. Let’s take a look at the predominant line-ups used by them this season:
|Position||Golden State Warriors||Cleveland Cavaliers|
|PG||Stephen Curry||Kyrie Irving|
|SG||Klay Thompson||JR Smith/Kyle Korver/Iman Shumpert|
|SF||Kevin Durant||LeBron James|
|PF||Draymond Green||Kevin Love|
|C||Zaza Pachulia/JaVale McGee/David West||Tristan Thompson|
That the teams are well matched is no secret. The evidence of that was seen in the 2016 Finals, which was a seven-game bloodbath. This year though, it would seem that the addition of Durant tips the scales in the favour of the Warriors.
But the basketball world has not remained stationary. The other players on the roster have evolved and understandings have developed. It would then be useful to break down the competition position by position.
Curry vs Irving
Kyrie Irving is a four time all-star, was the first pick in the 2011 draft, probably has the best handles in the game and is one of the best clutch shooters in the NBA.
You know who he isn’t?
Two time MVP and the best three point shooter in NBA history Stephen Curry.
It’s not fair to any current player (except James) to be compared to Curry. Curry is simply one of the best players to have ever played the game. Irving is not quite in that bracket yet.
If you look at the numbers, Curry is a better shooter (his effective goal percentage of 57.5% is greater than Irving’s at 51.2%) and a better playmaker (Curry assists 6.8 buckets a game compared to Irving’s 5.5).
Sorry Uncle Drew, there is no competing with the master Chef Curry.
Durant vs James
This matchup is similar to what we saw in the point guard battle, except in favour of the Cavaliers. Durant is an astonishing scorer and one of the very best players in the league. But he’s not LeBron. His effective goal percentage of 53.5% is a hair’s breadth away James’ at 53.6%. Their rebounds are separated by a single decimal point (Durant’s 7.2 to James’ 7.3) but there is a key difference to their games where James excels.
James is playmaker of the highest order in addition to being a great scorer. His seven assists a game are almost double that of Durant’s (3.8) and that is where is this competition ends.
Green vs Love
Now this is an interesting one. Draymond Green has been runner-up in the Defensive Player of the Year rankings the last two years and is a favourite to win it this year. He is widely considered the best all-round defender in the league. The thing is though, Green is almost the master of everything but not quite. He is a decent scorer, very good playmaker, has great defence around the perimeter and can guard the rim too. But is he the best at any of those? No.
On the other hand, Kevin Love is a decent defender and a much better scorer. He picks up 11.5 rebounds a game compared to Green’s 6.8. He scores more than double the points (18.4 to 9) that Green does. So which one do you pick?
The answer is Green. The defensive organisation that he brings to the table is unparalled. His 1.4 steals and one block a game are double those of Love’s (0.7 and 0.5 respectively). His playmaking ability is ridiculous (4.1 assists to Love’s 2.4). And honestly when you have Curry, Thompson and Durant on your team, you don’t really need to score.
Pachulia/McGee/West vs Tristan
Ah, the battle of the centres. The most undervalued players on each team, these players do the dirty work behind the superstars. And when I say dirty work, I really mean it.
The Warriors deploy a three-headed monster in Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee and David West. Pachulia is the starter and a generally well rounded defender. He lumbers around, contesting shots and setting screens. Until things start going awry, he is a perfectly good player to have on the court.
When the going gets tough though, the Warriors look to McGee, the shot-blocking, slam-dunking Duracell bunny. He doesn’t play a lot of minutes but each of those is high impact.
West rounds it off with solid defence and intelligent passing (especially to Ian Clark) as he runs with the second unit.
On the other side, Tristan Thompson has been the iron man for the Cavaliers for a while now. He plays a lot of minutes and is a defensive force. He is also one of the best rebounders on either roster and has a good understanding with James. This one is a tough one to call as the Warriors’ monster is every bit as good as Tristan.
Klay vs Smith/Korver/Shumpert
The shooting guard is where the battle will be lost or won. This is the position that the Cavaliers haven’t quite locked down. It’s mostly JR Smith holding the fort but Kyle Korver and Iman Shumpert play important minutes for them. Smith has a respectable effective shooting percentage of 51.1% and plays well with Irving and James. He’s also a weirdly good defender.
Shumpert’s game has picked up this season. He was generally a low thirties three point shooter but has shot 47.1% in these playoffs. Korver of course is a three point god who’s ahead of Curry on the all-time three pointer list. But his playing since 2004 is a factor in that.
The thing is, none of them can score as relentlessly as Klay.
Standard Klay, who shoots 41.9% from the three point line and was good for 22.3 points a game this year while playing the most minutes for the team, would be a shoo-in to win this match-up.
Except Klay has gone cold these playoffs. For a team which won all of its matches, this was the sore sticking point. Klay shot 36.4% from the three point line these playoffs. That’s compared to the 42.4% he shot last year in the playoffs. He also missed a lot of open look threes. You know the ones in which his teammates start celebrating even before he shoots.
His plus-minus is still decent because he’s a good defender but unless his shooting picks up, James will carry the Cavaliers through. However, Klay can get ridiculously hot as the Indiana Pacers found out. If he starts firing, Curry-Thompson-Durant will surely be too much for the Cavaliers to handle.
Winner: Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors
Updated Date: Jun 01, 2017 14:19:57 IST