It would be easy to dub this LeBron vs. Everybody (shout out to Tommey Walker and the Detroit vs. Everybody Brand) positional breakdown, but when you begin to dig deeper into the frontcourt options on both the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, you realize that the Warriors will not be a push over and the Cavaliers have a couple of other pieces to help King James.
Where Golden State Stands:
The one knock on former head coach Mark Jackson was that he refuse to utilize his young forwards, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green more. Under rookie head coach Steve Kerr Barnes is finally starting to realize the potential that many saw when he was a high school all-american coming out of Ames, IA. Starting in all 82 games this season, fans got to see an improved Barnes across the board — his total shooting percentage, rebounding and assist numbers all increased but it will be what he does on the defensive side of the ball that will determine if he becomes a star in the Finals. It would be unfair to expect him to stop LeBron James on his own but if he, along with help from his Warrior teammates, can force Lebron to rely more on his ineffective jump shot this playoffs — he is shooting 17% from the three-point line and 42% overall, the Warriors could gain an even bigger advantage in the series.
Speaking of Green, the do-it-all forward, will be called to carry out double duty this series — help defensively on James and keep Cavalier forward Tristan Thompson off the offensive boards. For a guy that is generously listed at 6’7, that may seem like a tall task but we have seen throughout this playoff the gritty forward exceed expectations in match-ups many thought he would be overwhelmed. Anthony Davis, Zach Randolph and Josh Smith were all bigger and more skilled than Green but he continued to found a way to average 14ppg offensively and contain the opposing star.
Where Cleveland Stands:
While this isn’t the ragtag bunch that James carried to the NBA Finals in 2007, many still will attach that “he doesn’t have any help” tagline to this finals and that is grossly untrue. Sure losing Kevin Love in the opening round of the playoffs put a severe void in the rotation but it also gave the opportunity for others to step up — specifically Thompson. As a former top 5 draft selection there were great expectations for the former Texas Longhorn forward but until this seasons playoffs he had been nothing more than a disappointment. But with Love leaving the line-up due to the injury, Thompson saw the move into the starting line-up as an opportunity to show the Cavs that he is worthy of a long term contract at the end of the season. Each round his numbers have steadily increased and against the tough Atlanta Hawks frontcourt Thompson averaged 11.8ppg and 11rpg. With the Warriors focusing their energy on keeping LeBron out of the paint, this could be another series in which Thompson exploits an opponent on the offensive glass and makes his presence known offensively with key put backs and easy layups because of the help defense on either James or Kyrie Irving.
To call Timofey Mozgov the “x-factor” in the Cavs late season surge could be a bit hyperbolic, but to deny his impact on the team after being acquired from Denver in January would be unfair as well; After the acquisition of the 7’1 center Cleveland went on to win 34 of its final 46 games. With Mozgov in the line up the Cavaliers now have an interior scoring option that is a nightmare for most teams who cannot match his size. Interestingly enough the Warriors have two players in Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili that can do that so it will be important for Mozgov to stay out of foul trouble to combat Golden State size.
Is there strength in numbers or does the supreme talent win out… that is the question that will ultimately decide this pivotal head-to-head in this finals. Despite the Warriors having multiple options up front — including David Lee and the return of Maurice Speights, its hard to go against Lebron James and his band of merry men. The biggest question is which LeBron is going to show up? The LeBron that recognizes that his team will need a herculean effort offensively and he averages close to 30 points a night and does it in dominating fashion reminiscent of the 2007 Eastern Conference Championship Game 5 against my Detroit Pistons, or will he be the James that stands at the three point line with the ball in his hand and lets the Cavs offense become stagnant which results in forced jumpers like he and the Miami Heat did against the San Antonio Spurs in last seasons finals. It will be the former which is why the Cavs have the slight advantage at the forward/center position.
Tomorrow prior to tip-off we will be discussing how important it will be for the rookie coaches in this series not to lose the game and what other key factors could help determine the winner.