By: Staff Writer Amrith Krishnan
Tonight, Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be held at Oracle Arena in Oakland between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. These Finals will make history regardless of the winner, marking the first time in NBA history that two first-year coaches will meet in the championship series. In the past three decades, only eight teams out of the NBA’s 30 franchises have won the Finals. Those eight teams will become nine this week as the Cavaliers, a team with no titles to its name, and the Warriors, who have not won since 1975, fight to etch themselves into NBA legend.
One thing is for sure; the road to the title will not be easy for either team. The Cavaliers are crippled with injuries going into the series. Power forward Kevin Love is out with a shoulder injury, while point guard Kyrie Irving has sat out for the past two games with knee and foot injuries. Yet, the Cavaliers went on to sweep the first-seeded Atlanta Hawks despite the odds. Small forward LeBron James, averaging an astounding 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists per playoff game, may once again prove that he is the true King of the NBA in his fifth consecutive championship series.
The Warriors too have trouble with injuries going into this series. While shooting guard Klay Thompson has been quiet this past season, he heated up in Game 5 against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals, scoring 20 points before falling to a knee in the head and a subsequent concussion. The Splash Brothers need to be healthy to hold off James and potentially Irving as well. Point guard Stephen Curry, the reigning league MVP, is certainly ready for the challenge. Averaging 29.2 points per game with 44% accuracy on threes, Curry’s shooting is sure to pose a problem for the Cavaliers. The battle between the unguardable Curry and the unstoppable James will characterize this year’s Finals, and it will be up to their supporting cast to determine who comes out on top.
The matchup between Warriors center Andrew Bogut and Cavaliers center Timofey Mozgov is sure to be an interesting one. Both excellent defenders and rebounders, these centers will provide equal support to their teams but will not decide the course of the series.
Meanwhile, Thompson, if recovered from his concussion, will use his powerful defense and shooting to outplay Iman Shumpert, but Thompson’s inconsistent performance this postseason leave the winner of the shooting guard matchup questionable.
Small forward Draymond Green, selected on the NBA All-Defensive First-Team this past year, will be a huge asset to the Warriors in defending James. However, his skills will also be needed to control center Tristan Thompson, who has served as a very competent replacement as a forward. With Green on Thompson, small forward Harrison Barnes will be left to guard James, giving the Cavaliers an edge in the forward matchup. All in all, James’s dominance of the game will still prove to be the biggest challenge for the Warriors.
Perhaps the most exciting matchup of the Finals will be Curry versus Irving. The MVP’s near-perfect shooting and Irving’s athleticism and ability to both facilitate and score will be put to the test. Both teams, however, have reserves of defensive specialists who can slow down either player.
On the Warriors’ bench, players like center Festus Ezeli, point guard Shaun Livingston, and shooting guard Leandro Barbosa show consistency in their support for the starters. Shooting guard Andre Iguodala’s defense will also be valuable in stopping James. On the Cavaliers’ bench, shooting guard J.R. Smith, who has had moments of fantastic shooting this postseason, small forward James Jones, and shooting guard Matthew Dellavedova are solid fallback options. However, the depth of the Warriors’ bench will make them more useful to their team than the Cavaliers’ bench.
Steve Kerr and David Blatt are first-year coaches for their respective teams, but their knowledge of the game and control of their team will be equally important in winning the series as the skill of the players. This NBA Finals are essentially a contest between the drive of James and the collective force of the Warriors with a leader in Curry. The recent performance of these teams foreshadows that each will win all games at home, but lose the away games, putting them at a 3-3 series with a final game 7 at Oracle Arena. However, the Eastern Conference Champions will finally prove unable to push off the Western Conference Champions, and the NBA Finals will go to the Golden State Warriors.