We are entering the third year in a row where the same teams have played each other in the finals. This is the first time this has happened in NBA history.
2016 was a historical year for the NBA. The Golden State Warriors broke the all-time record for wins in one season (73-9). However, the playoffs exploited the vulnerability of the Dubs.
In the Western Conference Finals, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had a 3-1 lead on the Warriors. With OKC’s raw athletic dominance combined with their rebound advantage, they pushed the Warriors to the limit. The Warriors did not let up, as Klay Thompson managed to guide Golden State to the finals, and Kevin Durant blew a 3-1 lead.
Fast forward to the 2016 finals and a similar scenario happened. The Warriors were up 3-1 on the Cavs, but LeBron played arguably the best basketball of his life, averaging 30 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Kyrie hit a crazy three and the Warriors historically dominant 2016 season will forever have an asterisk on it.
We are entering the third battle in three years between these two teams. A team that won 73 games acquired Kevin Durant, a guy who is better than everyone on the Warriors. How will this pan out?
Stephen Curry, the only unanimous MVP in the history of the NBA, had a mediocre 2016 Finals appearance. We can blame this on either his knee sprain, or that he ran out of gas chasing 73 wins, but regardless it wouldn’t have completely mattered. LeBron did a tremendous job at frustrating Curry with his defense.
LeBron is one of the greatest defenders the NBA has ever seen. Like a Free Safety in football, LeBron surveys the field and is able to guard multiple players at once.
With (35% FG in the finals) Harrison Barnes as LeBron’s main assignment, LeBron had the ability to play help on Curry, and still have the quickness and IQ to know where his man is to get back in defensive position on his man.
Harrison Barnes had a horrible performance in the Finals, but he was able to get some clean shots off. LeBron James will not let Kevin Durant get the same kind of looks, but that will be at the expense of allowing Curry, Thomson and Green taking full advantage of Kyrie, J.R. and Love’s horrible defense.
LeBron’s major defensive commitment on Durant will prove to be catastrophic for the Cavs defense as a whole, because LeBron can’t be the defensive safety blanket he is accustomed to be when Durant is on the floor.
2015 Finals: The Warriors beat the Cavs without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in 6 games.
2016 Finals: The (healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) Cavs beat the Warriors with an ailing Stephen Curry and a suspended nut punching Draymond Green in 7 games.
Before 2017 Finals: Warriors are 12-0 in the playoffs and the Cavs are 12-1.
Above, watch Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love defend a pick and roll. This is a common thing that the Spurs and Warriors like to attack,. Since LeBron had to worry about Kawhi Leonard (or Durant), he couldn’t intervene. Imagine Curry taking that shot instead of Tony Parker.
The main issue for Cleveland is the defensive liability that they have displayed all season, while the Warriors have multiple guys who can switch onto LeBron (besides Curry). Warriors have the best defensive efficiency rating in the league, while the Cavs are at an abysmal 21 out of 30 teams.
Warriors in 5.