’17 NBA Finals Preview: Warriors vs. Cavs Round III
For the third consecutive year, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will duel for the NBA title. Here's a preview of the 2017 NBA Finals:
How They Got Here:
Led by LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers (51–31) rolled to the Central Division title and finished the regular season as the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The team has gelled in the postseason, winning 12 of 13 games while sweeping Indiana (4–0) and Toronto (4–0), and thoroughly dominating top-seeded Boston (4–1) en route to a third consecutive Eastern Conference title.
While not quite as flashy as they were during last year’s record-setting 73-win season, the Golden State Warriors (67–15) were still the best team in the league this season. The Pacific Division champs found room for free agent Kevin Durant alongside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and it has made them a much deeper team. Golden State is undefeated this postseason, sweeping Portland, Utah and San Antonio on the way to a third consecutive Western Conference championship.
This is the first time in NBA history that two teams will face each other in the NBA Finals three straight years. The teams split the last two titles, with Golden State beating Cleveland in six games in 2015 and the Cavaliers shocking the Warriors in seven games in 2016.
Cleveland is making its fourth NBA Finals appearance. The Cavaliers also won the East in 2007, before losing to San Antonio in four games. Their historic win in 2016 came after trailing Golden State three games to one.
The Warriors will play in the franchise’s ninth NBA Finals, a total that includes the team’s years in Philadelphia (1946–1962). They are seeking their fifth championship; they have two each while in Philly and Oakland.
The teams split their two games this season, with Cleveland rallying past Golden State, 109–108, at home on Christmas Day and the Warriors dropping the Cavs, 126–91, in Oakland on January 16.
For Cleveland to Win the NBA Finals, It Must…
Make the Shooters Uncomfortable. In addition to LeBron James’ indomitable will, the biggest factor in last season’s comeback was Golden State’s cold shooting in Game 6 and 7, especially Steph Curry. The two-time MVP shot 22-of-60 combined in his team’s last three losses in 2016. Curry, Durant, Thompson and Draymond Green can all hit from the three-point line, and each will need to be accounted for by the Cavs’ defense.
Give LeBron Some Love. Forget the various debates: Making his seventh consecutive NBA Finals appearance, LeBron James is still the best basketball player in the world right now -- maybe ever -- but even he can’t win this series alone. He can count on help from Irving, who has netted 24.5 points per game in the postseason, though that won't be enough. Cleveland forward Kevin Love, who has averaged 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in the playoffs, must draw defenders and make the Warriors pay if they don’t double him.
Maintain the Paint. Unlike 2016, the Warriors have a substantial interior presence with JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West. Adding in stocky Green and the lanky Durant, Golden State will have significantly more frontcourt depth than the Cavs. After Love, Tristan Thompson and James, Cleveland’s rebounding dwindles dramatically. If the rebounding margins get into the double-digits, the Cavs will be in trouble.
For Golden State to Win the NBA Finals, It Must…
Feed Kevin Durant. Vilified for leaving Oklahoma City for Oakland last off-season, Warriors forward Kevin Durant is likely to feel the most pressure in this series. The 2014 NBA MVP has yet to add a championship to his resume. He’ll need to play at another level to make certain that all the touches he takes away from Curry and Thompson are justified. The hotter Durant is, the greater the chances are that Cavs coach Tyronn Lue will assign James to guard him. That could help Golden State’s defense, too.
Limit LeBron’s Looks. It may have once been conventional thinking to let LeBron James get his points and take your chances with the rest of the Cleveland scorers. Not anymore. A better supporting cast has helped, but James seems to have found another gear for big games. He had 41 points in both Game 5 and 6 last year, before netting 27 as part of a triple-double in Game 7. He can’t be stopped, but the Warriors must try.
Stay Focused. Golden State won 15 of 16 games to close the regular season, and they haven’t lost in the playoffs. That’s 27 of 28, if you’re counting. Number of victories aside, this year’s team is better than last year’s. They need to avoid distracting moments like Green’s groin-kick on James in Game 4 that got him suspended, and responding to trash-talking from Cavs’ irritants like J.R. Smith and Deron Williams. Any loss of focus could swing momentum and lead them to another disappointing result.
2017 NBA Finals Schedule (Best-of-Seven Series)
Game 1 at Golden State: Thursday, June 1 at 9 p.m. (ET) on ABC
Game 2 at Golden State: Sunday, June 4 at 8 p.m. (ET) on ABC
Game 3 at Cleveland: Wednesday, June 7 at 9 p.m. (ET) on ABC
Game 4 at Cleveland: Friday, June 9 at 9 p.m. (ET) on ABC
*Game 5 at Golden State: Monday, June 12 at 9 p.m. (ET) on ABC
*Game 6 at Cleveland: Thursday, June 15 at 9 p.m. (ET) on ABC
*Game 7 at Golden State: Sunday, June 18 at 8 p.m. (ET) on ABC
* — if necessary