What happens when two unstoppable forces collide? You get the 2017 NBA Finals. The season felt like a placeholder for the rubber match most NBA fans wanted but who'll come out on top? Cleveland Cavaliers or the Golden State Warriors.
No excuses on either side
In the 2015 Finals when the Cavs faced the Warriors they did so without the services of big man Kevin Love and point guard Kyrie Irving due to injuries. In last year's Finals the Cavaliers stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to capture the crown on the Warriors' home court. Many fans are still debating if the suspension of the Warriors all-purpose stud Draymond Green for game five was warranted.
The absence of Green proved seemingly pivotal in dramatically changing the momentum of the series - he leads GSW for Rebounds and Assists this season. And now we have the cleanest and clearest NBA version of Clash of the Titans, as fortunately both teams are healthy, dialled in and have cruised their way to the Finals with bare resistance.
Regular Season Form
The Cavaliers and Warriors faced each other twice during the regular season. The first meeting was in Cleveland. The Warriors had the lead the majority of the game but could not withstand a furious and somewhat lucky comeback by the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving made a fadeaway shot with a few seconds remaining reminiscent of his clutch shot in game seven of last year’s Finals.
The meeting in Golden State had a decidedly different flavor. Coming in the Warriors had now lost their last four games in a row to the Cavaliers and were anxious to leave that streak in the dust. The Warriors led the game from start to finish and won by a massive 35 points. Considering the big lead they had for much of the game in Cleveland, and the way they crushed the game in Golden State, the feeling left from this two-game combo was that the Warriors were clearly the better team and both Pinnacle's Series odds and line for Game 1 reflect this.
Let’s take a brief look at each team now as they get set to square off.
Considering the big lead they had for much of the game in Cleveland, and the way they crushed the game in Golden State, the feeling left from this two-game combo was that the Warriors were clearly the better team
The most significant change for this years Finals is the arrival of dominant scorer Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma Thunder. There have been small stretches of the season where KD has had to work his way into the chemistry of the team but that adjustment period is over now.
Steph Curry was not fully healthy while dealing with some foot issues during last year`s playoffs but he is in top form now. It`s still not clear if Coach Kerr will be able to come back from his recurring back concerns to lead his team during the Finals. Assistant Coach Brown is doing a Luke Walton with a 10-0 record during this year’s playoff run but its felt his communication and motivational skills don’t math those of Steve Kerr.
Defending James is clearly one of the keys if the Warriors hope to win. Green, Iguadola, Durant, and even Thompson will be rotated and combined to control James to some extent.
Golden State`s 16.3 average margin of victory in this years Playoffs is the highest ever. They are also the first team to ever reach the Finals on a 12-0 run, eclipsing the 1987 and 2001 Lakers each of which went 11-0 when the opening round featured fewer games.
Case for the Cavaliers
Cleveland, on the other hand tied the NBA record for the smallest margin of victory (16 points) in a series sweep - against the Indiana Pacers in the first round. LeBron has looked unstoppable during this year’s Playoffs, perhaps looking as good as he did in the 2012 playoffs. Keep in mind however that this will be his 7th consecutive NBA finals totaling a whopping 634 regular and playoff games so far.
Fatigue right now may not, however, prove to be a serious factor since there is a long layoff before the Finals and a record number of days off for these teams between Finals games.
Kyrie Irving remains a dangerous scorer who can suddenly take over the game as well as rising to the occasion during major moments. Kevin Love`s playoff form may be peaking at the right time and if this continues his high level of 3-skill offensive array should be a big factor against the Warriors.
So will the Warriors get revenge for 2016 and give Durant his first title? Or will LeBron James lead the Cavaliers to back-to-back titles, collect his 4th championship trophy and put a little more doubt into those that believe that Michael Jordan is the Greatest of All Time? Pinnacle's odds suggest GSW will be smiling come the end of the Series but that was the case last year when anyone swimming against the tide would have collected handsomely.