The Rubber Match: Cavaliers – Warriors Finals Preview

Third verse same as the first (two). The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are going to meet in the NBA Finals. That’s right, for the third straight year The Bay and The Land will meet with a Larry O’Brien Trophy on the line. Despite some familiar faces, there are plenty of new layers to this tale. Before tip off on Thursday night, let’s look into the matchup.

The 2015-16 Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA regular season unlike any other team in pro basketball history. The Dubs won 73 games, one better than the 1996 Chicago Bulls, and point guard Steph Curry won the Association’s first unanimous MVP award. Then, they got better. Last July free agent Kevin Durant decided if you can’t beat ‘em, you may as well get crazy paid to join ‘em. KD signed up with Golden State to give the club another seemingly unstoppable weapon in the lineup. The Warriors won 67 games during the regular season and another Pacific Division title. They have not lost yet this postseason. Golden State swept 8th-seeded Portland. They then swept 5th-seeded Utah. Most recently the 2nd-seeded San Antonio Spurs offered no resistance against yet another Dubs sweep. Golden State’s 12-0 start is the best in NBA playoff history. The team is not just winning, they are crushing souls under their high tops. Their average margin of victory per round is 18, 15, and 16.

These two clubs have met before at the summit with each team grabbing a title.

2015 NBA Finals – Golden State def. Cleveland 4-2

LeBron James, it turns out, cannot do it by himself. Injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving marred the Cavs’ playoff run and ultimately contributed to their demise in 2015. The Wine and Gold dropped the opener, but stole Game 2 in Oracle Arena. The Cavs even managed to claim a 2-1 series lead with a Game 3 win, but that contest would prove to be the final highlight of the season. Golden State stormed back to take Games 4-6, the last of which took place in Cleveland. Once again The Forest City was forced to watch a visiting team celebrate on her soil.

2016 NBA Finals – Cleveland def. Golden State 4-3

Arguably the greatest playoff series in the city’s history, the Cavs appeared dead to rights after slipping behind three games to one. LeBron and Kyrie each poured in 41 in a Game 5 win. The Cavs fired on all cylinders to level the series in Game 6. Game 7 provided memories for generations of Cavs fans. The Block. The Shot. The Stop. A 52-year title drought evaporated and a city rejoiced.

Overall tied 1-1

Cleveland and Golden State met twice during the regular season. In the showcase Christmas Day game the Cavs engineered a remarkable comeback at home to win 109-108. They could not continue that run on the West coast in the second game; the Warriors crushed their guests by 35 points though the Cavs were missing JR Smith.

Despite a regular season of frustration and underachievement the Cavaliers finally appear ready for the Warriors. Cleveland swept Indiana and Toronto in the first two rounds before suffering a brief hiccup against Boston. The Cavs in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals appeared to be playing at full capacity. The team still suffers the occasional defensive collapses, but when the offense is working it is nearly unstoppable.

The Cavs newest player may be their biggest X-Factor. Kyle Korver offers another shooter who can help keep the Cavs in games when the Warriors get into an offensive groove. Korver is averaging 17.7 minutes off the bench this postseason. Cleveland’s front office brought him in for one reason: make three pointers. Korver is doing his part; he is hitting 41.5% from deep. Korver did not particularly shine against Boston, but his services were not needed as heavily with the Cavs’ blowouts. If Korver and JR can both find themselves in the zone at the same time then the offense may elevate to a higher plane of existence.

There is no denying the fact that the Cavaliers will only go as far as LeBron James will take them. Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and the rest of the team has significantly stepped up their game throughout the playoffs, but James impacts a game in all facets and his performance will make or break Cleveland’s chances. James is averaging 40.9 minutes per game in the playoffs. He is hitting 56.6% from the field including a solid 42.1% from three-point range. LBJ averages 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 7.0 assists along with 2.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per contest. He’s talking shoe-based smack. He’s pretending to drink beers on the court. He is locked in, and ready to make believers out of the world.

The Cavaliers will enter the series as underdogs for the third straight season. The club is used to it by now, and has long since stopped listening to the pundits and talking heads. The good news for them is that they do not seem intimidated by the Warriors. Last season everyone knew a 73 win team could not blow a 3-1 lead, especially not if they employ the league’s unanimous MVP. We all know how that worked out. Predictions remain silly, but I will make one nonetheless. Get ready for some late nights. Cavs in 7.