On America’s 240th birthday, Kevin Durant seemingly crushed basketball in 29 other cities by choosing to join the Golden State Warriors. Coming just 15 days after the Warriors had officially become the hippest team in world by being the first to blow a 3-1 lead — see Indians, Cleveland and Clinton, Hillary –against the Cavaliers, they had seemingly recaptured the basketball world. From the fifth of July onwards, it was a foregone conclusion that the two giants would meet in their third consecutive NBA Finals in basketball’s best cross-country rivalry since the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics.
Well, I did.
Two nights ago, I saw a tweet comparing both teams’ starting lineups and someone (my co-writer Rajan Nanavati) said that Golden State’s starting five is far superior to Cleveland’s. So, to clarify this, I started ranking the starting lineups by player:
- LeBron James
- Kevin Durant
- Steph Curry
- Kyrie Irving
- Kevin Love
- Draymond Green
- Klay Thompson
- Tristan Thompson
- JR Smith
- Zaza Pachulia
Here is when I realized that Cleveland’s supporting cast of Irving, Love, Thompson, and Smith – on any given day – can be just as productive as Durant, Curry, Green, and Thompson. Is it likely that they match production? No, but it’s not as far-fetched as most people think. Love is playing the best basketball since he arrived in Cleveland, and we have seen time and again how Irving can take over a game single-handedly. Thompson (along with Love) is going to be a load for the Warriors down low, while Smith can catch fire at any time.
The x-factor in this series, as it has been in all of the NBA for the last decade, is LeBron James. I don’t think anyone believes James is going to have an off game like he had in Game 3 against the Celtics. He recognizes how big of a series this is, not only for the city and team, but for himself. A win against Golden State this year would be the crowning achievement for his entire career and would propel him into any discussion about the greatest of all time, even ones including Skip Bayless. If LeBron plays as well as he’s capable of playing – I don’t think we’ve seen that yet in this year’s playoffs – this series could tilt the other way and fast. This is also an extra-motivated LeBron after the racist spray-painting vandalism at his home.
The Warriors have not faced much adversity this year and have one of the largest margins of victory in NBA history. Steve Kerr isn’t coaching the team and while Mike Brown has enjoyed a 12-0 record in the playoffs, we all know he is not what Kerr is, from a tactician standpoint. Brown would have to devise a plan to stop his former player, and so far, no one has been able to do that.
The Cavaliers’ bench is also better than last year with the additions of Deron Williams, Derrick Williams, and Kyle Korver, along with old-heads Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye. Frye didn’t play much against Boston, but that was more of a matchup situation than anything else. While Golden State has chosen to develop players like Patrick McCaw and Ian Clark and kick the tires on JaVale McGee, David Griffin’s staff has given James proven playoff-tested veterans. James is big on trusting his teammates and with this team – the most talented team LeBron has played on – it would be damn near impossible for the Detroit “Bad Boy” Pistons to stop the best player in the world, let alone the Warriors.
So, I’m picking the Cavs, right? Nope.
The flipside of this entire equation is that Cleveland has been one of the worst defensive teams in the entire league. Head Coach Tyronn Lue commented that Boston’s offense, post-Isaiah Thomas, was the extremely challenging to guard, because in previous matchups, the Cavs had just doubled the best player on the opposition, and instead, they had no idea who to double and were scrambling to guard the Celtics. The reality is that his comments are true. Cleveland has found everyone extremely challenging to guard, for basically the entire year. This is a team that gave up 108.8 points per game to an Indiana Pacers team in the first round – nearly three points a game more than the Pacers were scoring all year. Even though the Eastern Conference Finals finished almost as lopsided as everyone expected it to, it had nearly nothing to do with Cleveland’s defense. Boston was getting great looks, and unlike their series against Washington, in the previous round when Avery Bradley turned into Rip Hamilton and Reggie Miller combined (i’m still salty), they just couldn’t make anything against Cleveland. The Cavs have a lot of veteran players on their bench, who despite their years of experience, are virtually unplayable defensively – Frye and Korver are the main culprits. The starting lineup isn’t great either and the Warriors essentially have Durant taking all of Harrison Barnes’ shots from last year, which has to keep Lue up at night.
Official Prediction(s)? Warriors in 6. Golden State will go up 3-1. Cleveland will win Game 5. Talk about another 3-1 comeback begins and all the memes will re-emerge. Durant scores 45 points in Game 6 to close out the series. Durant wins MVP. Steve Kerr resigns as head coach because his back problems are too much to handle. Mike Brown will ruin this team in the next year and a half. And the Washington Wizards win the 2018 NBA championship.