I held out hope that it wouldn’t come to this, but the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors have made their way to the NBA Finals for the 2016-2017 season. This year’s Finals marks LeBron James’ seventh straight Finals appearance after passing Michael Jordan for all-time leading scorer in the playoffs during Thursday’s win over the Boston Celtics. Only 19 players in NBA history have ever played in 7 NBA Finals, and only five NBA franchises have ever seen as many Finals appearances as James has played in. The moral of the story here is that we are watching history in the making.
The Warriors enter this year’s Finals with a perfect playoff record. They’ve won 12 consecutive games at an average of 118.3 points per game while performing slightly better on the road than at home. As a team, they recorded an average of 50% from the field and 39% from distance in the first three series of the post-season.
The Cavaliers have also fared very well in this year’s playoffs with only one loss heading into The Finals. The Boston Celtics were able to get one dagger into LeBron’s gang on what was a rare off-night for the King. Overall, Cleveland has averaged around 117 points per game while also playing better on the road than at home. They also shot 50% from the field, but one noticeable difference was their three-point percentage. The Cavs recorded 45% from the three-point line in their last 12 games which is staggering, and concerning if you’re the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors’ game is largely based on their ability to score from distance, and they’ll open The Finals with a total of 9 days’ rest having played their last game on May 22. The data shows that with 6 or more days of rest the Warriors don’t fare nearly as well bringing in an average of only 106 points per game at a meager 24% from three. The Cavaliers will have a total of six days of rest before the Finals begin next week, and the stats show that while the Cavs numbers suffer somewhat after long periods of time off they’re still able to bring in an average of 38% from the three-point line while bringing in 116 points per game.
Those are just the numbers. In competition at this level, it’s also important to understand the mentality of the teams entering the contest. Obviously, I don’t know the inner thoughts and attitudes of each player and coach, but there is a marked feeling of intensity coming from the Cavaliers’ camp, and an assassin’s mentality emanating from James like no one has seen before.
After a loss to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, Coach Brad Stevens of the Celtics spoke about James stating, “”It’s hard to believe, but he’s better than when I got into the league…A lot better. Just as you get older, you gain more experiences, you see more things. Yeah, I didn’t think he could get any better after that, but he is. He’s a good player. Great player.”
If the Cavaliers can slow the Warriors’ offense, and figure out a way to shut down Kevin Durant they should be able to win the series. The numbers make a compelling argument that the Cavs will take Game 1, but defense is going to be the wildcard here and in my opinion the Cavaliers are better at it. While the Warriors are armed with the passion and fire of Draymond Green, the Cavs play have turned up their team defense in the playoffs. The Kyrie Irving–Stephen Curry matchup will also prove key, and if Irving is able to get Curry off balance Curry will be virtually useless much like we saw last season.
One has to respect the dynasty LeBron James has built even the Eastern Conference narrative has been the same for seven straight seasons. I refuse to support the Warriors’ super team so I will be pulling for the Cavs to take the title again this year.