And then there were two… the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers face off to determine who is the best team in the NBA. After finishing the regular season as the two hottest teams in the NBA did you really expect anyone else to be playing for the championship? Well actually I picked Chicago vs. San Antonio, but don’t kill me over that prediction.
The Warriors and Cavaliers continue to prove to its doubters that despite the questions coming into the playoffs — would G.S. continue to shoot the ball well in the slower pace of the playoffs and would the two other stars for the Cavs, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, be ready for the big lights of the playoffs — they were more than prepared to not only make it to the NBA Finals but do it in a relatively easy fashion as they combined to only lose five of the 29 post season games played.
Over the next few days leading up to Game 1 on Thursday we will be breaking down the teams based on backcourt, front court and intangibles to find out who really has the best chance to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy and be crowned the 2014-15 NBA Champs.
Up first the guards…
Where Golden Stand stands:
The strength of the Golden State team lies in the backcourt and thats not just because the 2014-15 NBA regular season MVP, Stephen Curry, runs the offense. The warriors not only have talent in Curry and Klay Thompson, but the team also has depth as four guards — five if you include Andre Iguodala — have contributed major minutes and moments in this year’s playoffs.
Whether it was Shaun Livingston’s 14 point outburst in the first half of Game 1 against the Memphis Grizzlies, or the 12 points in 15 minute performance by Leandro Barbosa against the New Orleans Pelicans in Game 2 the guards off the bench have shown the ability to be more than just stand-ins while the stars get their rest.
But even with the help from the reserves, the championship hopes still rest on the proficiency of the all star duo of Curry and Thompson also known as the “Splash Brothers.”
While there was some debate on whether Curry deserved the MVP this season he has shown in the playoffs that he is one of the best players in the game today and arguably the best shooter NBA fans have seen. In the regular season the 5th year player from Davidson averaged 23.8ppg but under the bright lights of the playoffs, he has taken his game to another level and has averaged 29.2ppg over the first three rounds.
Whats impressive about Curry’s growth into superstardom is that he did not settle into the traditional role of being a set three point shooter that relies on another ball handler to get him the ball in his “sweet spot.” Curry is deadly as a spot up shooter, but he also has the ability to drive to the hole for a higher percentage shot or use his underrated dribbling skills to create space for for an open long-range shot.
Curry’s dribbling skills not only create opportunities for himself but other, including his backcourt mate Thompson.
This may be Curry’s team but the chances of winning the title hinges on the health of Thompson, who passed the leagues concussion protocol today and will be eligible to play on Thursday. And just as with Cleveland, the health of Kyrie Irving will put extra pressure on each teams go-to guy without a healthy running mate.
Where Cleveland stands:
The Cavaliers backcourt starts and ends with Kyrie Irving and despite dealing with multiple lower leg injuries, the third year point guard showed in the series ending victory over Atlanta last week that he is healthy enough to have an impact in the series. After missing the previous two games, Irving scored 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting in 22 minutes and even though he did not have a direct impact in the 118-88 series ending blowout, seeing him show flashes of his regular season output should allow Cleveland head coach David Blatt to sleep well over the next couple of days.
But what could interrupt that good sleep is the stress over finding someone on the Cavalier roster that will be a constant contributor at the other guard position and off of the bench to compliment Irving.
Despite winning the first three series with ease, the other options at the guard position for the Cavs: Iman Shumpert, JR Smith and Matthew Dellavedova had their share of ups and downs. Shumpert saw his minutes increase as the playoffs progressed but his numbers haven’t and the Atlanta series raised questions about which Iman will show up in the finals: the one who combined to score 31 points in Games 2 and 3 or the guy who shot a woeful 2-of-15 in Games 1 and 4.
Ironically it was his former New York Knicks teammate, JR Smith, that showed to be the more reliable option in key moments at shooting guard. On the year Smith averaged 12ppg but against the Atlanta Hawks he upped his average significantly to an impressive 18ppg. But as with Shumpert, questions still remain about whether Smith can he keep up the scoring consistency while being matched up with the Warrior guards who will be a greater challenge defensively than what the Atlanta Hawks guards presented.
Even with Irving returning to the line-up and playing well ,the Cavalier guards will have their hands full containing Curry and Co. and just short of Thompson having to miss time due to the concussion he suffered in the Western Conference Finals and Smith regaining his 6th Man of the Year form, the position edge has to go to Golden State.
Tomorrow we will look at how the front courts match up, and figure out if Golden State has anyone that can contain LeBron James.