2015 NBA Finals: Preview and Predictions



Not a surprise to anybody, the Warriors will be facing the Cleveland Cavaliers during this year’s NBA Finals.

As somebody who thought the Warriors wouldn’t live up to their own expectations, I can rightfully say they’re the best team in basketball. As somebody who thought the Houston Rockets would upset them because they were “deeper” and “created more mismatches”, I can regretfully say the Warriors are the best team in basketball. But why believe me this time? Why go against King James? It’s simple actually — I believe the Warriors are 2-3 years ahead of the rest of the league in regards to evolution. 

Golden State’s style of play last season didn’t result in a championship because the San Antonio Spurs executed almost the same strategy, but better. Well actually, the Spurs turned into one of the 5 greatest teams in the history of the league and threw up ungodly shooting numbers almost every night of their terrific postseason run. 

The run-and-chuck threes method looks very, very good when shots are going in. It’s incredible how simple the basis of it is too — penetrate the basket, kick out, swing for an open three, and splash! As a result, teams are starting to change their style of play to mirror this image of team basketball with efficient shooting — Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets, Portland Trailblazers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Griz…wait…just kidding. But the craziest part about the Warriors is that the shots the opposing team wants them to take is an open shot for them. 

The whole “a jump shooting team can’t win a championship” spiel used to be true. But today the difference is that there has never been a team that capable of shooting the three as well as the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs did, or the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors can. Sadly, the days of throwing the ball inside and relying on a low-post or midrange attack are over. However, this benefits both teams. 

Similar Makeup: Neither team has a dominant offensive big man* that they can toss the ball inside to (effectively) for a made basket on a move that isn’t a baby hook — especially when considering the rim protection talent on both teams. Don’t tell me that you see Bogut, Thompson, or Mozgov hanging on the rim whenever you’ve watched because almost 0% of those were created by legitimate post moves. The pick-and-roll can do amazing things for adequate offensive bigs, especially with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, or Stephen Curry handling the rock.

*If you’re considering LeBron as one of those big men, just ignore what I said and scroll. However, with Kyrie’s health, LeBron has been doing an ungodly amount of dribbling on the perimeter this postseason. Has really turned himself back into that small forward/point guard hybrid in the half-court.

The Warriors are known for their ability to shoot the ball, of course, but the Cavaliers play with a similar strategy. As of late, LeBron James has become Blatt’s exclusive ball handler while Kyrie Irving has battled injuries. Similar to Curry, his job is to get the rest of his teammates involved — almost only by isolation kick outs, and pick-and-roll pocket passes/skip passes. 

Prediction: Almost all NBA Finals three point records will be broke (individual players, teams, and combined statistics). 

 

Battle Tested: Cleveland fans should be worried. Why? The Warriors finished an all-time great regular season off with a grinding NBA Finals route that went through the heart of a historically brilliant Western Conference. Seriously, Russell Westbrook was at the NBA Lottery, that’s historical greatness. 

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers had an easy road to a #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. They struggled at first, but since “The Vacation”, they haven’t slowed down. 

Through the postseason thus far they’ve swept a YOUNG, well coached Boston team, were pushed for 4.5 games by a Chicago Bulls team (that recently fired their coach), and faced off against the 2013-14 Indiana Pacers who were reincarnated in the bodies of the Atlanta players.

Man, they’ve made it look easy too! However, King Leonidas and his army of 300 looked unbeatable until they had to face true Warriors (sorry for the AWFUL word choice). 

Check this out (keep in mind the drastic schedule differences): 

Golden State Warriors —

Offensive Rating: 107.3 (2)
Defensive Rating: 98.9 (4th)
Net Rating 8.4: (2)

Cleveland Cavaliers —

Offensive Rating: 108.6: (1)
Defensive Rating 98.5: (3)
Net Rating 10.1: (1)

  

Pace: The Cavaliers best chance to win is by slowing down the pace. If they don’t, this could be a bloodbath Finals. If LeBron thought last year’s beating was bad, he better prepare himself for this ultra deep roster that plays sophisticated basketball — Steve Kerr’s coaching style is heavily influenced by Gregg Popovich’s wisdom. 
Similar to the Grizzlies, the Cavaliers love to slow the game down. And why wouldn’t you with LeBron James on your team? He’s one of the most efficient players in the league, makes excellent decisions, and at the end of the day is probably the best player on the planet. Anytime spent with the ball in his hands is bad for the Warriors. Unless it’s LBJ acting like a fool because somebody is guarding him 35 feet from the basketball and he feels his presence is too great to be defended. Normally what happens is he has to slow the game down and laugh at his defender until he notices there are only three seconds on the shot clock. 

Worst case scenario for Golden State is if LeBron decides play every game the way he did in Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Can’t stop it. Impossible. However, he doesn’t play with that fire every game, but when he does it’s always special. I’m not sure why he doesn’t, but I don’t want to see the image he needs to get to that place. It’s probably very personal, or maybe even it’s because somebody is holding his family hostage.

Anytime the Cavaliers are slowing down the game they’re at an advantage. All the Warriors want to do is cause turnovers, run, throw the ball all over the place, chuck up threes, and overwhelm you by going up 12 points in only 4 possessions. 

Prediction: Cavaliers will have some succes by slowing the pace down, but ultimately will have matchup problems throughout the series. 

  

Matchup Problems: The Cavaliers are an excellent defensive team, especially in transition. With players such as LeBron and Thompson, they’ll have no problem matching up with their frontcourt — including the Dub’s itsy-bitsy lineups. 

However, it’s the backcourt that will cause the mismatch problems for the Cavs. 

You simply can’t hide Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, or Mattthew Dellavedova on defense against the Warriors. Iman Shumpert will do fine on defense, he’s a great defender, but you can’t rely on the other three. It’s too taxing for Kyrie or Smith to chase Steph Curry/Klay Thompson all over the court (not to mention Ky banging into screens all series). And you simply can’t rely on JR Smith to be in the game on defense, mentally. And Delly has played better than expected, but these are ELITE offensive players and he shouldn’t even be a thought if you’re competing for a championship. 

If Cleveland can stop Golden State in transition (has yet to be done this year) and/or slow down the speed of the game this series becomes interesting, but they don’t have the depth/backcourt talent to do it all game, all series. The Warriors will eventually pull away.

I mean, you’re talking about stopping the MVP. An offense within it’s own offense. A basketball mind that we’ve never seen before, good luck!

Prediction: Curry continues this incredible season he has had by going over 35 points 3 times, with 8+ assists in all 3 games. He’s a nightmare for every team, but especially the Cavaliers. 

  

X-Factor: If he hasn’t already, Draymond Green will prove to you that he is a max contract player.

He is the heart and soul of this championship level team. Green is the most versatile player in the league and will show it by either defending LeBron James, or Tristan Thompson, or even Kyrie Irving (when switched) without a problem. He will bang down low like a big man, catch and shoot threes, screen-and-roll, screen-and-fade, knock down elbow jumpers, eat up the glass, and pick player’s pockets because he’s a bad mother… Shut your mouth!!

Draymond Green doesn’t have a specific skill set (outside of his defense) that teams can game plan for. He’s a gamer. He’s a dog. Whatever he needs to do, he does it. Wherever your weakness is, he’ll find it. Many times this series you will see Green box LeBron out for a rebound, put the ball on the deck, or throw it ahead to Curry who will send Oracle Arena into a frenzy. Meanwhile, Green is either hanging on the rim from running the floor, or looking at LeBron like, “you ain’t nothing”.

Green is the ultimate defender, and the Warriors are the ultimate team. I don’t see this series being anymore entertaining than the last time LeBron was on this stage. 

The Warriors will rise like a true army and show the league that they are going to stay at the top for a long, long time. 

Prediction: Warriors in 5
Finals MVP: Stephen Curry 



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