So less than a month after their Christmas day meeting, the defending NBA champions with the reigning MVP come to meet the team they beat in the Finals last year, as the Golden State Warriors with Stephen Curry arrive to play on the road against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Curry, as you might expect, is scorching right now. He’s averaging 34.2 points in the last five games, hitting 6.4 three pointers a game (47.1%) and overall shooting just under 50%. You can’t say the same for the Warriors, coming off two losses in three games: One to the Denver Nuggets and another to the Detroit Pistons. The defense isn’t as good as before, and the ball movement either. But when you try to find a player “responsible” for it all, Draymond Green struggling is the answer. He didn’t play in the loss to the Nuggets, scored just 7 points in the win over the Los Angeles Lakers and finished with 5 points while shooting just 1-of-7 from the field in the loss against the Pistons.
And Green was probably the most important player for the Warriors this season. His inability to get going offensively is forcing Curry to do his thing, and while it’s nice to see him putting up numbers, it’s not what makes the Warriors special. It’s the ability to score with five different guys who can all pass, defend and do the right thing at the right time. Take away their most important player on both ends of the floor, and suddenly everything is a lot more difficult.
In the six points win against the Cavs on December 25 Green finished with 22 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 blocks. He was everywhere, including minutes of guarding LeBron James (always a two or three man job over the course of a game) and torched Kevin Love whenever he had the opportunity. Green turning things around in the NBA finals in his matchup with Tristan Thompson was one of the reasons the Warriors won three in a row to close out the series. The Warriors need him for this one like before his rest.
The Cavaliers arrive well rested to this game, something of a revenge opportunity for them. But maybe more than that, a test to see if they can beat the Warriors, which is more important after losing a similar game to the San Antonio Spurs. The Cavaliers can drag the Warriors to a slower pace and a game that might benefit their own players more, but winning one, just for the confidence builder, would be nice, although once again, this is just the regular season.
As we wrote about it a couple of times over the last two weeks, it’s more important Kyrie Irving gets going early than James. Irving shooting well and scoring early opens up so much more for the Cavaliers, including James. It enables him to lay off the scoring and simply act as a facilitator. When he’s more as a point forward while the team defending the Cavs have to worry about other players as well, it’s when James is at his best, and when the Cavaliers are at their best.
Predictions: The Cavaliers need to make sure Kevin Love doesn’t harm them defensively once again, which means either devise a new plan or play without him during crunch time. Curry scoring isn’t the problem, although Matthew Dellavedova is going to be on him when he has the opportunity. The matchup, sort of, to look for, is who gets to be more influential down the stretch: Irving or Green. The one who wins that battle wins the game.