We’re finally here, and it feels so familiar: The NBA Finals, game 1, with the Cleveland Cavaliers visiting the Golden State Warriors.
Dejavu? It’s simply a Finals rematch from 12 months ago when the Warriors beat the Cavaliers 4-2 in the NBA finals. The Cavs were playing without Kevin Love in that series, out of the playoffs since the first round. Kyrie Irving went down with a knee injury during overtime of game 1 and didn’t return. LeBron James and the group around him stunned the Warriors with two wins to take the lead, but the Warriors won games 4-5-6 to claim the franchise’s first title since 1975.
A year has passed. What has changed? Stephen Curry has won another regular season MVP, and the Warriors might be better. The number suggest that their regular season was the best in history. They were dragged to seven games in their conference finals against the Thunder, but Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson re-found their shooting, Andre Iguodala played some fantastic defense, Draymond Green was protected from suspension and the Warriors came back from 1-3 down to win the series, and enter the finals feeling stronger than ever.
The Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Warriors since game 3 of last year’s finals series, losing both regular season games this season. One of those losses probably helped David Blatt lose his job despite a 30-11 record to start the season. The Cavaliers went 27-14 without him in the regular season, finishing on top of the Eastern conference, but their playoffs have been mostly smooth sailing so far, losing just twice in their three series, including two sweeps. The Warriors haven’t swept anyone.
LeBron James thinks the Cavs are different and better than they were last season. They do seem happier with Lue on the sidelines as the head coach. Some think it’s because he doesn’t give James any preferential treatment. But maybe the most interesting thing about the Cavs going into the series will be their three-point shooting. They too can fall into the “jump-shooting” team category. Will they try to duel it out from long range with the Warriors? Probably not, unless they really catch on fire.
Confident & healthy? Sure. But the Cavaliers are still huge underdogs. The Warriors keep finding solutions, even when their head coach makes mistakes. It comes down to their shot making ability, probably the best in NBA history, which is something that always prevails in the end. That, and the premise that their matchup with the Cavaliers is a lot better than the matchup they had with the Thunder, which especially showed on Green, who had a rather forgettable series in terms of his basketball, not his ability to deliver deliberate pain.
The Warriors changed their lineup in the end of their series against the Thunder, shoving Andre Iguodala in, which worked quite well. He, Green, Shaun Livingston and Harrison Barnes can’t completely stop James, but they can make things more difficult for them. What will determine if the Cavaliers are even close in this series will be Irving on offense, Love not ruining things on defense, and being able to keep the Warriors shooting in check.