Death, Taxes, and a Lebron James NBA Finals appearance are the only three things you can’t avoid in this world.
Lebron James is one of the top 3 players ever, a certified GOAT contender, and when he’s unstoppable it’s magnificent. This is not one of those times. The 2017 GSW are the best team in the NBA. Lebron James is the best player in the NBA. One of these bests must give coming next week, and it’s going to be Lebron James.
Let’s look back to last year’s finals and that now infamous blown 3-1 lead against the King, specifically games 5 and 6 the most pivotal. Game 5 saw Draymond Green excuse himself from playing in the finals and Bogut go down. In game 6 we see Iggy get debilitated for the rest of the finals. Lebron started smelling blood, and just like one of the GOATs he is, he took advantage of it and made history for his city and team. However, that’s not happening this year and for a few good reasons. The main of which is an import from a small town in Oklahoma.
This isn’t 2016 Golden State. The Warriors have four defensive answers to Lebron James. Not to say Lebron will be stopped, he’s the King for a reason, but this series will be difficult for him like no other this postseason. After having a run embarrassing big men in the East, Lebron is going to have to go against a team built defensively around great rim protection. Kevin Durant has been swatting shots this season like he doesn’t pull up from 30 feet on the other end of the court. Javale McGee has turned into the new Marcus Camby from the bench, and his protection of the bench is going to be vital. James isn’t going to have the free reign of the paint that he had against Boston. The length, athleticism, and team defense of GS aren’t going to allow it. Golden State is going into this series with the best defense in these playoffs with opponents averaging 99.1 pts per 100 possessions. With it being lower at 94.1 with Draymond on the field, Golden State has to be feeling good with their defense heading into the finals.
Who’s guarding Kevin Durant on the perimeter? Kevin Love? Not really. Lebron is most likely to be tasked with guarding KD and this is going to weigh heavily on the series. I think KD is mentally prepared for the finals this time, unlike in 2012 (being on arguably the best team ever eases a lot of qualms). With Golden State abusing screens, Cleveland is going to need to be sharp on all their rotations. Tristan Thomspon is going to be key in this aspect. Thompson has been able to hold GS to .86 points per screen when he picks up the defender afterward. If Thompson is kept out of foul trouble, a vital role this series for him, he’ll probably be tasked with hedging defenders the whole series. Iman Shumpert is also going to be needed in this series to try to keep Klay’s quiet playoffs in check.
Something that people overlook is Cleveland’s three-point shooting ability. Last year Lebron was able to collapse the defense around him so well that Love, Frye, and Smith were able to keep burying their opponents on the perimeter. That’s not likely to happen this year. Cleveland is somewhat normal behind the line these playoffs. Love is going to need to help force that issue in the finals. With Golden State being so good defensively, Love is going to have to spread the floor more reliably. Love is going to have to be more aggressive in general in the finals. Kyrie just had his best game of the playoffs being aggressive and just like last year, it’s going to take him being able to take over for Lebron if they want to repeat as champions. Because on the other end of the floor if KD is slipping, which for him would probably be two missed shots in a row, who’s next in line to pick up from there? Just Steph Curry.
2016 saw a stacked 73-9 Golden State team collapse to Lebron James who was on a mission. This year’s Warriors team is even better than that team. Lebron is going to have to play at a level that we’ve all seen, but this time he’s going to need to never drop from that grace. There’s just too much on Golden State this time. Last year was one of the most magical, storybook NBA finals the league has ever seen. We saw a King put on the ropes and then conquer the champions. This isn’t last year.
Prediction: Golden State in 4.
Baseline Times NBA Contributor