The NBA has never seen two teams battle for the Larry O’Brien trophy three consecutive seasons before. The NBA also has never featured seven All-Stars in an NBA Finals either. Tonight, that all changes as the Golden State Warriors seek revenge on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2017 NBA Finals.
The Golden State Warriors hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2015 but the Cleveland Cavaliers earned that right in 2016 after an unbelievable comeback from down 3-1. The Cavs were without All-Star forward Kevin Love for the finals in 2015 and also lost Kyrie Irving after Game 1 with an injury. However, in 2016, the Warriors lost Andrew Bogut late in the series and Draymond Green was suspended for a crucial Game 5.
Excuses were rampant for their respective fan-bases, rightfully so. Although, both teams enter the 2017 NBA Finals healthy and on an absolute roll. Golden State broke yet another record after sweeping their way through the Western Conference Finals while the Cavs went 12-1 in the Eastern conference, losing only one game to the Boston Celtics.
Both teams were clear favorites to win their respective conference and here we are. The trilogy that NBA fans across the world dreamed of is finally here. Of course, both rosters are a bit different, though.
The Cavaliers added veteran swingman Kyle Korver — one of the deadliest three-point shooters in league history. On the other hand, the Warriors added arguably the second-best basketball player in the world in Kevin Durant. Sure, one is without a doubt more impactful than the other, yet the teams split their regular season series 1-1 despite Golden State leading for over 90 percent of those two games.
The Warriors are heavy favorites in this NBA Finals as they’ve added Durant to a record-setting 73-9 team in 2016 that had three opportunities to win the championship in 2016. Yet, the Cleveland Cavaliers are confident in themselves and believe they should be the favorites as the defending NBA Champions. Many NBA analysts are choosing the Warriors to win in just four or five games, and this could prove to only motivate this Cleveland team more.
The 2017 NBA Finals is just hours away and will be filled with star power, drama and ultimately one team justifying their greatness.
Keys for the Golden State Warriors
- The Golden State Warriors have displayed some of the most beautiful basketball the NBA has ever seen. Their unselfishness, execution and talent have mixed together to make one fantastic recipe. They have three of the leagues best three-point shooters and although the rest of the NBA knows this, they are still able to find them wide open looks. Golden State’s passing is a thing of beauty and their coaching staff architects plays for their star players to get open, high-percentage shots. This needs to remain if the Warriors want to end this series early. Golden State needs to play their brand of basketball to win this series and they can’t let the Cavs get in their heads after overcoming a 3-1 series deficit in the 2016 NBA Finals.
- Making sure two-time MVP Steph Curry gets his looks early will need to happen. Curry, who has disappointed in his first two NBA Finals, looks to have his breakout series in 2017 as Kyrie Irving has shined brighter in the last two finals. Curry has been underrated on defense and is an excellent ball-screener for his position. Unlike many other point guards in the NBA, Curry sets many screens for his teammates and actually finds a fair amount of his open shots off of these picks. It is something Golden State has taken full advantage of thus far in the playoffs and they will need to get him those same looks early in this series as well. If Curry kicks off this finals on a hot streak than Cleveland better look out because this series could end rather quickly.
- Draymond Green has proven to be the most important player to the Golden State Warriors. His absence in Game 5 of 2016 proved to be lethal and losing his cool simply cannot happen this year. He is the voice, heart and soul of this team — especially on defense. His basketball intelligence is hard to find for a big man and he can control the way each game is played based on his presence. This week, he has been incredibly vocal in practice and is on a mission for redemption. Green is the key player for Golden State in this series and the Cavaliers will make an adamant effort to slow him down. Although Green hasn’t shot as well from the perimeter this season compared to previous ones, he can’t be forgotten about. Cleveland may let him get a few looks to open the series, testing his ability from deep but if he gets going from three-point land the Cavs are in trouble.
Keys for the Cleveland Cavaliers
- Shoot Shoot Shoot. The three ball has been going up and in for Cleveland this post-season and Kyle Korver currently has the seventh-best three-point percentage for the Cavs. Getting both Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith going early from deep is critical for Cleveland. In 2016, the Cavs went down 0-2 in the series while Smith had a total of 8 points in those games. That’s right, a TOTAL of 8 points in both games. This is unacceptable and they won’t win unless those two shoot well from the perimeter. Expect the Cavs to go small every now and then, with LeBron running the point, hitting the hole, drawing a double team and kicking it out to the open shooter.
- Kevin Love has played tremendously so far this playoff run and he has arguably been the most consistent Cavalier too. Green has proved to be a matchup nightmare for other power forwards and Love couldn’t find his rhythm in last years finals. Similarly, LaMarcus Aldridge struggled immensely against Green in the Western Conference Finals and Green is proving why he is the leagues best interior defender. However, the way Love has been playing as of late, that matchup is going to be incredible to watch. Love has made his bread in the post since he entered the league, however he has shot lights out from deep as well. His shot needs to fall and he most pound the glass for this Cavaliers team, something they’ve relied all-to-much on Tristan Thompson to do himself. If the Cavaliers can crash the boards and prevent offensive rebounds, they will find themselves in a good position to steal a road game and get a series lead early on.
- LeBron James and Kyrie Irving need to play like the superstars they are. Sure, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are superstars in their own right, yet James and Irving rose to an entire different level in last years NBA Finals. Irving has a rivalry with Curry for the leagues premier point guard and has also rivaled Curry in clutch, three-point shooting. Irving needs to score at ease like he typically makes it seem like but more importantly he has to defend Curry well. The winner of that individual matchup will give their team a crucial advantage in this series. And, of course, LeBron James. Oh, LeBron James. At the beginning of the season, many NBA experts stated that he would eclipse Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time. Now that it is perhaps developing into reality, many rescind their statements on that, but boy does that hold some truth. Jordan never faced a team like the Warriors — let alone a record-breaking team with Kevin Durant sprinkled in as an added bonus. James’ reputation would shift dramatically with yet another NBA Championship, which would also put him a .500 overall going 4-4 in his career. There isn’t much to say about LeBron except he needs to play like the LeBron James the world has grown to love and adore.
This series is without a doubt one of the most, if not the most, anticipated NBA Finals in basketball history. A true winner-takes-all matchup between two powerhouses. Kevin Durant seeks his first NBA title and, once again, goes up against LeBron James for it. Sure, Steph Curry is a legitimate star, but Durant is the second-best player in the world and Curry doesn’t rival that. The Durant-James matchup will be just as great as it was years ago. However, let’s not bask in the individual matchups as we, NBA fans, are about to witness the two best teams of this decade battle for their third straight NBA Finals. History will be made and both teams have legitimate hate for one another but even more respect.
2017 NBA Finals Prediction:
As a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, it’s always tough to gamble against King James and the Cavs. However, taking the best team of all-time and adding Kevin Durant will be tough to overcome. I believe that a simplified version of predicting this finals comes down to whether or not one buys into Kevin Durant. And I do. Both defenses have turned it up in the playoffs and and offensive onslaught should ensue. Cleveland absolutely must win Game 1 at Golden State to win this series, but even if they do “Defending The Land” will be tough. The Warriors have too much starpower and scoring ability to be stopped, though. I predict the Golden State Warriors win the 2017 NBA Championship over the Cleveland Cavaliers in dramatic fashion. It will be close for most of the series with one blowout, but the Warriors defeat the Cavaliers in seven games.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Matt Stevenson