OAKLAND – With the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors set to tip off from Oracle Arena tonight, NBA fans will finally get their first taste of basketball in over a week as four-time NBA MVP LeBron James will face off against newly-crowned NBA MVP, Steph Curry.
Both teams come into the Finals with a combined record of 24-5, with the Cavs sweeping the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the East, while the Golden State Warriors outlasted a stubborn Houston Rockets team in five games.
In a series that has multiple storylines ranging from Riley Curry, to Klay Thompson’s concussion and Kyrie Irving’s knee, will LBJ deliver Cleveland’s it’s first sports championship in 50-plus years, or will Chef Curry serve up a Bay Area treat in helping the Warriors claim their fourth?
INSCMagazine columnist Daniel Wolfe and site founder and publisher, Robert D. Cobb make cases for their respective teams and why they will win.
INSC: What are the biggest reasons for the Warriors (and Cavs) success.
DW: “Cleveland’s success is more than just LeBron James, albeit he is a major reason, but the Cavs bench has flourished this season and have given James some room to do what he does. The success for the Cavs has not gone unnoticed and Kyrie Irvin has become one of the best point guards in the game.
For the Warriors the success is simple. The team is just too deep on the bench with players like Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa contributing big minutes for the Warriors during the course of the entire season. Another simple reason for the team’s success has been the health of the entire roster through the season. Andrew Bogut has been healthy all season and he has been a dominate force on the glass. Bogut has revived his career in the 2014-2015 season.
With both teams coming into the Finals with key players injured–or not fully healthy–who will need to step up? For the Cavs, by the raw numbers, this is a very underrated supporting cast based on the team’s star players. Tristan Thompson will need to step up and have a huge series in order for the Cavs to bring home a championship. Irving’s health will play a major factor in the series as the Warriors will put more emphasis on James.
For the Warriors, Curry and Thompson have benefited from a week of as they nursed injuries sustained in the Western Conference Finals. If either struggle look for Iguodala to step up in his first finals. He can play a major role on defense, behind the arch, and on the glass if needed. Draymond Green will have plenty of reasons to step up in the finals. A big contract will hang in the balance as he is in the final year of his contract. The runner up for defensive player of the year has come as a major bargain for the Warriors but has also been the heart and soul of the defense and can defend one through five on the floor.”
RC: “In my opinion, the biggest reason for the Cavs title run has—ironically—been the season-ending shoulder injury to Kevin Love in the first round vs. Boston. While Love helped us space the floor better for LBJ and Irving, losing him forced the Cavs to become a more defensive-minded team, as they didn’t have him (Love) to spread things out. It also enabled the rise of Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert into the current lockdown defensive aces that they are.
For the Warriors, I have to say that as a Ohio State family alumnus, I’m quite familiar with Draymond Green from his time at Michigan State, and knew that whichever team landed him would be getting a great player. I admire his toughness and tenacity, and while LBJ dropped 42 points on him in a win over Dubs here in Cleveland, this is the Finals, so I expect a battle down low between those two.”
INSC: If there is an area of concern that you fear will be exploited, what is it?
DW: “With a majority of both teams playing in the Finals for the first time, the lack of experience under bright lights could play a major role on how this series goes.
For the Cavs it’s simple: LeBron can’t do it all. If the Cavs struggle, the Warriors can put more of an emphasis on James.
The Warriors need to control possession if they want to win this series. Ball control has been exploited by every team in the league this season. Keeping turnovers down is going to be the biggest factor in the series for the Warriors. The team has show, if they don’t turn the ball over, they can be the most unstoppable team in basketball in big games. Besides LeBron James, Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving and Steph Curry, who is the most important player in this series that could make an impact?
Draymond Green simply for the fact he has been the heart and soul of the Warriors defense. He will be the primary defender to LeBron James. If he doesn’t get into foul trouble like the Houston series, he will make the biggest impact in the series.”
RC: “ For the Cavs, our pick-and-roll defense is still highly suspect, despite becoming more of a gritty, defensive-minded team. Also, Cleveland has shown a tendency to struggle against fours(such as Pau Gasol) who can shoot from the outside, which worries me as Green will likely pull Thompson out of the paint, enabling easy drives to the rim.
I am also concerned about the Cavs letting LBJ do everything and not moving off the ball and getting open on the win for open shots. LBJ will get his, and besides Irving—and possibly Smith—the rest of the team will need to step it up.”
INSC: Who is the X-factor in this series and why?
DW: “Klay Thompson. If he’s on his game, and has found his shot, he will put a lot of pressure from Stephen Curry on both ends of the floor. Thompson has been cleared to play in Game One.”
RC: “Matthew Dellevedova. While I was tempted to say J.R. Smith, I feel that defense wins titles, and Delly’s defense on Curry will either make or break this Finals for Cleveland. Thanks to Irving being less than 100 percent, I feel that Delly will emerge as the primary Curry stopper to harass, slow down and provide timely lock-down defense on him. Curry will get his, but Delly will make sure to make him work for it”
INSC: Who wins this series and why?
DW: “The Warriors defense was number one in the league for a reason in 2014-2015. The defense needs to show up from the opening tip. I believe they can, and I believe they will. It won’t come easy for either team. It will be a very hard-fought series. Warriors in six.”
RC: “While I greatly respect the many regular-season accomplishments by the Warriors, I’m not sold on them, as they are—like the Hawks—a team that lives and dies by the jump shot. While I will concede that the Warriors did lead the NBA in defensive efficiency, I feel that that analytic is a misnomer as Dubs jumped out to large leads on teams, forcing them to play from behind and at their pace, and proverbially, right into their hands.
“”I look at this Finals, as the top offense (Warriors) vs. top post-season defense (Cavs) and across sports history—let alone recently–teams with the top offense have always lost in the title game. The adage in baseball is that good pitching beats good hitting, as an Indians fan, I know this better than anyone as we lost to the Braves’’ in ‘95, the top-ranked Broncos were demolished by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, and even more recently Ohio State upset top-ranked Oregon in the national title game.
I see the Cavs the same way as the Seahawks, Buckeyes and Braves in being able to slow down and get physical with Curry and Thompson on the perimeter. In watching some GSW games, I’ve noticed that physical teams with the ability to play perimeter defense gave Golden State problems such as Memphis—who lost Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
It’s also really hard to bet against a two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP such as James, who is fueled by the prospect of bring Cleveland home it’s first title and being an underdog, that the Cavs current lockdown play on defense and James, that the Cavs will win in six.”