2015 NBA Finals: Will Cleveland or Golden State Experience That Glorious Champagne Burn?


It will take a warrior effort to stop LeBron James.

The 2015 NBA Finals will create a legendary moment for a title starved city no matter who wins. Can Golden State win a title for first time in 40 years, secured by the regular season most valuable player, or will Akron’s favorite son do the same for Cleveland, Ohio? Cleveland has not won a title in any sport since Jim Brown led the Browns to the NFL Championship in 1964.

The NBA Finals are upon us. Storylines are plentiful. Much will be written and more will be whispered. When it’s all said and done, history will reflect on the performers and performances that made us marvel.

LeBron James and Steph Curry certainly command the biggest headlines. They are the MVP past and the MVP present. Tertiary stars like Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green for Golden State, and Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and JR Smith for Cleveland, will also aspire to crash the marquee. Two first year head coaches, one with a wealth of international experience, and another that has been through multiple NBA Finals as a player, will mark the first time rookie head coaches face off in the Finals since the league was formed in 1946. Pat Riley was the first to win as a rookie head coach when he did so in 1982.

The absence of Kevin Love will make for a smaller margin of error for Cleveland. Removing an All Pro from any team makes them a little less formidable. Playing without Love has made the emergence of Tristan Thompson even more incredible. He will be a handful for Golden State to handle because of the relentless nature of his play, and it will be interesting to see how Golden State attempts to neutralize his impact. Basketball fundamentals such as identifying and boxing out before pursuing rebounds on every play will be absolutely necessary against the rebounding triumvirate of Timofey Mozgov, Thompson and James.

Replacing David Lee and Andre Igoudala in the starting line up with Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green not only poised the Warriors for a dominant regular season (by making the starting 5 lethal and the bench very versatile), it also poses quite the conundrum for Cleveland. Green is very capable of scoring against smaller players inside — particularly if Cleveland chooses to switch pick and roll situations. I think that all the attention Curry and Thompson will draw as accurate jump shooters, coupled with the fact that they are both willing and adept passers makes the impact Green (and to a lesser extent Barnes) can have when smaller players guard them a serious factor that buoys the Warriors chances to win this series.

Steve Kerr gives his team an advantage because he knows these championship situations all too well. As a Bull, and a Spur, he was able to lock in a part of a defensive unit, and also make crucial shots in the most pressure packed spots while playing his role on offense. There is no substitute for experience, and Kerr has that in great amounts as a player, despite his playoff experience as a head coach. Kerr’s pretty much been masterful in his handling of rotations and managing to tinker with his group to constantly keep the offense precise and the defense stingy. David Blatt brings an international flair to the NBA that has at times been ingenious in utilizing James around a carousel of role players. Blatt’s offensive structure has not been simple even if the star that is LeBron James makes it seem so; other times his scheme has been maddening as evidenced by the timeout fiasco where he called a deciding play for anyone other than LeBron.

In the regular season games these two teams played, the presence of Kevin Love made the match ups much different than what we will see in these NBA Finals. The best player in the world will be featured in this series as well as the best shooter in the game of basketball.

Great shooting is an almighty equalizer. If Golden State is able to shoot consistently in this series they will make Cleveland’s margin for error incredibly small. Primary ball handlers Irving and James will have to make the right decision 8 times out of 10 and that is no easy task. I expect the Cavaliers to play exclusively out of pick and roll type situations which will create space for Irving and James to move to their strong hand with the ball going towards the cup. Golden State will then have to decide if it’s more prudent to switch and play the rotations or to stay attached to James and Irving coming off of ball screens. Giving up jump shots off the dribble to Cleveland may seem like a good idea. but if James, Irving and Smith get into a rhythm the prospect of giving up 35+ points to one player becomes a real possibility. I do not think Golden State can win that way.

Cleveland will have to dictate how the game is played by controlling pace and eliminating the Warriors chances at easy jump shots. Everything that Golden State wants to do offensively starts and ends with marksmanship. Driving lanes open, post up opportunities are readily available and cutters become easier to find when a defense is first and foremost concerned with staying attached to shooters. What I love about Golden State is their patience and determination to find and take a better shot. They consistently pass up a good look in order to find a better look. If they maintain that characteristic, they will have success in these Finals.

Aside of observations about both teams and giving some small insights as to how this series will break down, I will make a prediction.

Cavaliers in 7 — with LeBron James averaging 33/14/11 over the course of the series. Steph Curry will fight valiantly, but miss a game winner in the 7th contest over the outstretched arm of LeBron to end a classic, epic series.

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