The Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight at 9ET in the two teams’ record-setting third straight NBA Finals matchup. After an epic 2016 series that saw Golden State unravel while holding a 3-1 lead, there is somehow even more hype heading into this meeting. Can LeBron James capture his fourth ring in pursuit of Michael Jordan? Will Kevin Durant win the title he so desperately wants? Does Golden State become the first team to complete the postseason undefeated? All these juicy story-lines will unfold right before our eyes in what promises to be one of the greatest Finals series of all-time.
Why the Warriors will win:
Overall talent. Winning an NBA title this season may end any debate that this is the best starting five ever assembled. This team won an NBA record 73 games last season without former league MVP Kevin Durant in the mix. The Warriors remain undefeated in the postseason after putting together mind-boggling offensive numbers. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green have operated like a machine inside the zone. It’s true they haven’t faced the greatest competition in the first 12 games, including a Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard. But, the same goes for the Cavs, who faced the Raptors and Celtics minus Kyle Lowry and Isaiah Thomas. Golden State has been able to go on their famous scoring sprees during every game these playoffs. If they can keep up that pace, will the Cavs have a prayer at matching them or slowing them down?
They’ll wear down LeBron James and force other Cavs players to step up. Last series, James was lucky enough to guard Harrison Barnes, who struggled mightily at times. This time, Barnes is swapped out for one of the league’s all-time greatest scorers in Durant. Can KD frustrate James on defense, an area he dominated during the last Finals? Even though James was well rested during the regular season, he can become fatigued if his team needs him to play more than 40 minutes per game. Kyrie Irving has played some of his best basketball as of late, but can he stay consistent if this series goes deep? Will Kevin Love become a defensive liability and can J.R. Smith recapture his scoring touch from last postseason? Point being, there are many more questions surrounding the Cavs than the Warriors. All Golden State must do is play like themselves. If Cleveland can’t knock them out of rhythm, this series could wrap up quickly.
Regular Season Record: 67-15 Playoff Record: 12-0 Steph Curry: 28.6 PPG Kevin Durant: 25.2 PPG
Why the Cavaliers will win:
LeBron James. Duh. It’s nearly impossible to imagine any scenario where the Cavs win a title and LeBron isn’t the MVP. He is still the best player on earth and has waltzed through the postseason averaging 32.5 PPG (only his second highest playoff average by the way). James is hungrier than ever as he faces his biggest test in the star-studded Warriors, but can he keep up his historic scoring pace for one more series? He had one off-game (ironically, the only game the Cavs lost this postseason) when he scored a measly 11 points against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. The same thing happened to James last year when he put up 19 points against the Warriors in game two. The biggest question for the Cavs is can LeBron afford to have even one off-night in this series?
They get in Golden State’s head. Even though the all-around talent is close on both sides, the Warriors clearly have the edge there. Last year’s Finals comeback though, proved the Cavs have the edge mentally. So far this postseason, Golden State has yet to face a real challenge. How will they respond when they are forced to rely on grit rather than talent? The willingness to get dirty and stay mentally tough made the difference for Cleveland in last year’s series. When adversity struck the Warriors, they ran for cover. Has this team mentally prepared for the task of facing peak LeBron James or will Green and Curry come undone once again when the going gets tough?
Regular Season Record: 51-31 Playoff Record: 12-1 LeBron James: 32.5 PPG Kyrie Irving: 24.5 PPG
Warriors win in 7 games.