The rubber match. The epic trilogy. The greatest team ever in the Golden State Warriors versus the greatest player on the planet in LeBron James. This year’s NBA finals will conclude a very dull playoffs. These finals will be a defining moment in LeBron James’s career. Everyone and their mother has been comparing LeBron to Michael Jordan. But these two players really can’t be compared. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. MJ is the best scorer the game has seen, a killer on the court. LeBron is different. He does everything at a high level. He can score, pass, dribble, defend, and he is an absolute physical specimen. LeBron will never be able to score like MJ, but he is also light-years more versatile than MJ was.
LeBron also makes an impact off the court that is unprecedented by any player, as his team’s ‘GM’. Most teams try to build through the draft and this is rarely successful. Even if it does work, it takes a long time to build good teams this way. Ask the 76ers, Timberwolves, or Lakers how their rebuilding are going. The Warriors were built this way too (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green were all draft picks), but even this process took a while. LeBron circumvented this entire process by acting as the GM and bringing in players he wanted in order to win now (joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, then Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Cleveland). Why wait 10 years building for what might become a good team, when you can bring in the pieces you want immediately? LeBron’s strategy worked: 7 straight finals with these teams.
There has never been a player as amazingly versatile as LeBron. He’s basically a better Draymond Green. We can spend our time trying to compare LeBron to MJ and criticize his Finals record, or we can just appreciate his unique greatness regardless of the outcome of this series.
Vegas gives the Warriors a 90% chance to win, while I think it’s a toss up. 50-50, the series could go either way and here’s why. I think the, “Warriors are just more stacked with more talent” argument is a load of crap. While this may be true, we have to look at how the teams match up. First of all, LeBron has been completely dominant this post-season (minus game 3 against Boston). Nobody on this Warriors team can guard him 1-on-1. Everyone is either too small or too slow. This creates problems for the Warriors when LeBron is surrounded with shooters, some of which he acquired mid-season with his GM skills (Kyle Korver and Deron Williams). The Warriors have to choose whether to trap LeBron or give up a three to a capable 3-point shooter (basically anyone except Iman Shumpert), which is a lose-lose. Irving and Love have been playing well this post-season. Irving went full Kobe mode in game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals after tweaking his ankle and carried the Cavs to victory. Love has been shooting the 3-ball at a very high level and has been continuing to rebound well consistently. If these two can continue to play like this, LeBron can rest more in what will likely be a long series, making him all the more lethal when he does play. The Cavs have a more experienced bench than the Warriors. Williams and Korver are two players that have played in numerous playoff series, while Ian Clark, Pat McCaw, and JaVale McGee have very limited experience in big games and are subject to melting under pressure.
The Cavs are much bigger and more physical than the finesse Warriors, which presents a myriad of problems for Golden State. For starters, Curry is too small to guard anyone on this Cavs team. Last year they hid him on Shumpert which was fine. But now JR Smith starts over him, and Shumpert sees a much more limited role this season. The Warrior’s great team defense doesn’t really matter when LeBron is just crushing whoever they throw at him 1-on-1. The Cavs will kill the Warriors on the boards. Tristan Thompson is one of the best rebounders in the game, and he will eat both McGee and Zaza Pachulia alive on the boards. The only player on the Warriors that can contend with him on the boards is Draymond, but he will likely be occupied defending Love when both Love and Thompson are in. If the Cavs start out shooting cold, this rebounding will give them more chances to catch fire, and takes away chances from the Warriors to find their rhythm. In crunch time, a brute-force approach is more reliable than relying on ball-movement to get a three. When the game was on the line in game 7 of last year’s finals, the Warriors ball movement went down the drain, and their offense was just Curry chucking up isolation 3’s that didn’t go in. LeBron backing down his defender is more reliable than a jumper by any Warriors player.
The Warriors are a team that can go on a 20-0 run in the blink of an eye, and it will be up to the Cavs to call smart time-outs to prevent such an avalanche. The Warriors will need all hands on deck to beat the Cavs; this means Klay Thompson, who has been quiet all post-season, needs to show up. The Cavs need to keep the tempo slow and methodical and grind out the Warriors because if they can’t, things will get ugly real fast for them. It really will be a toss up. If the Cavs can weather the Warrior’s runs and punish them with their physicality they will win: Cavs in 7.