Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers is set to tip-off tomorrow night. There are a bevy of storylines that surround the rubber match between these two juggernauts. Never before in NBA history have the same two teams clashed in the Finals three years in a row. On the Warriors side, you have a franchise trying to avenge the 3-1 lead that they blew last year, Kevin Durant’s pursuit of his first title, and Steph Curry attempting to rid some critics of their beliefs that he has not played up to his standards in the Finals. On the Cavaliers side, all eyes are on LeBron James and whether he can lead his team to a victory over a perceived unbeatable Warriors team and capture his fourth title as he continues to cement his legacy and push Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player ever. Here are some things to watch for during the Finals:
For the most part, the core of the teams are intact. The Cavs maintain their big three of James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. The Warriors have the Splash Brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green the heart and soul of their team. However, both teams have made adjustments to their rosters since their last meeting in the Finals. The Warriors made the biggest move of the offseason, adding Kevin Durant to their already lethal offensive attack. Durant essentially replaces Harrison Barnes in their lineup and his presence will no doubt change the way Cleveland defends the Warriors. While the Warriors gave up some of their bench to acquire Durant, they have found a diamond in the rough in the form of JaVale McGee, who has been a sparkplug coming off the bench. The Cavs did not make as big a move, but they have tinkered with their roster over the course of the year, adding proven veterans like Deron Williams and Kyle Korver. Their veteran savvy and big shot-making should come in handy off the bench for a Cleveland team that heavily relied on James and Irving in last year’s finals.
Does Steph Have Something to Prove?
In the 2015 NBA Finals, coming off his first MVP award, Curry averaged 26 points per game, shooting 44% from the field and 38.5% from the three-point line. The next year, fresh off being the first unanimous winner of the MVP award, Curry averaged 22.6 points, shooting 40% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc, albeit in a loss. So why is so much pressure on him? It’s possible that it’s stemming from the fact that in the Finals, he has not averaged the dominating numbers he has during the regular season. Or it could because he has not been the best player on the court in either Finals. Many are still citing his infamous behind-the-back pass that flew out of bounds late in Game 7 and played a role in the Cavaliers capturing their first championship in franchise history. However, Curry is still one of the best players in the league and has the ability to take over a game at any moment. It will be interesting to see how he approaches the initial part of the series.
Which Kevin Love Will Show Up?
Kevin Love was unable to participate in the 2015 NBA Finals due to a dislocated shoulder and he was virtually nonexistent in 2016, averaging a measly 8.5 points per game. It will be hard for the Cavaliers to repeat relying solely on James and Irving again as a result, need Love to contribute more. If the 2017 NBA Playoffs is any predictor of how Love will play in the Finals, the Cavaliers should expect a big series from him. Love has averaged 17.2 points per game in the playoffs, shooting 47.5% from the three-point line, as well as grabbing 10.4 rebounds per game. His shooting will arguably be the greatest asset he has to offer this series as the Cavs try to go blow-for-blow with the Warriors.
The Tristan Thompson Effect
Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson has the potential to be a surprise star in this series. The Cavs big man has made a name for himself in the league by being the hardest working player on the floor and being a menace grabbing rebounds. Through the 2017 playoffs, Thompson has averaged only 9.2 points per game but has been a terror on the boards, averaging 9.3 rebounds per game. 4.2 of those rebounds a game come on the offensive side of the ball. Thompson obtaining second-chance opportunities for his team will be a crucial part of the matchup. Thompson has a size advantage over Green and his activity will be a problem for Warriors centers Zaza Pachulia and McGee. His presence will most likely draw double teams from Golden State, as it usually does. Thompson has even improved the biggest weakness in his game during the playoffs, free-throw shooting, hitting 67% from the charity stripe, a massive increase from his regular season average of 50%. Look for Thompson to be a major X-factor.
King James’ Legacy
This postseason run for LeBron James has been his best, from a numbers perspective. He has averaged 32.5 points per game, 8.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists. The most impressive part of his game has been his three-point shooting, as he is shooting 42% percent from long-range. James has looked considerably more confident taking those types of shoots and his hot shooting streak could make the difference in this series. It seems like it would be difficult for James to duplicate his 2016 Finals MVP performance in which he averaged 29.7 points per game, along with 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists. However, James has looked virtually unstoppable during the playoffs and has eyes set on closing the game between him and Michael Jordan as the greatest player ever. Beating this Warriors team with four all-stars will certainly re-spark debates over who the best is. James also made other headlines, telling Ken Berger of The Athletic that he plans on owning a basketball team once his playing days are over. But for now, James’ focus is on capturing his fourth NBA championship and second straight.