Will the rest of the playoffs be worth the wait?
By Zach Miller
Spurs-Clippers was a godsend. Unquestionably the best first round series in years has propped up the rest of these playoffs, which have essentially become more and more boring with each passing round. The only question is, will the NBA Finals be worth all of the boredom?
In the first round, the aforementioned Spurs-Clips series was the only contest in which a serious title contender even threatened to lose. In the quarter finals, the Cavs and Warriors bounced back from minor threats to dispatch the Bulls and the Grizzlies in six games apiece. The Hawks-Wizards series was bizarre but boring, and Clippers-Rockets was only watchable if you hate yourself and enjoy 4 billion foul shots per game.
The Finals will see the high octane Warriors take on the LeBrons (AKA the Cavs). All due respect to LeBron and glorified CYO coach David Blatt, but on the court, that series just does not sound very interesting.
Aside from the numerous eye catching storylines– LeBron back again for his fifth straight trip to The Finals; the meteoric rise of Steph Curry; the fact that NOBODY playing for the Warriors has ever been to the Finals; etc. – the on-court product seems like it will inevitably bore once again. Unless LeBron reaches a level previously unknown to him in this year’s playoffs, or Kyrie Irving makes a semi-leap to superstardom, the Warriors are just better than the Cavs.
The Warriors can score on anyone, and the Cavs’ defense can often be scored on by most anyone. While Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert are plus defenders, LeBron is an alien, and Tristan Thompson is a fine shot-blocker, the Cavaliers are simply not equipped to handle the firepower the Warriors possess. Both Thompson and yes, LeBron go through attention lapses on defense, while Kyrie, James Jones and J.R. Smith range from ‘eh’ to unwatchable on defense. Matthew Dellavedova has become a rotation player, scrapping and playing defense, but tasking his with guarding either of the Splash Brothers simply will not work when playing for a championship.
Meanwhile, the Warriors go nine-deep, have arguably the most creative and beautiful offense in the league, and employ one Wardell Stephen Curry II, who is single-handedly changing the face of professional basketball. He is an offense all by himself. Curry is the best shooter ever, a wizard with the ball in his hands, and one of a handful of the best playmakers in the league. The Cavs will likely defend Curry with some combination of Shumpert and Dellavedova, which just won’t get it done when talking about the single most exciting offensive player in the league.
Oh, and did you think that the Warriors stop there? Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Andrew Bogut are the other ⅘ of the starting lineup of the best team in the NBA, and because Curry gets so much attention, they often fall by the wayside. On the wing, Thompson is a lights-out shooter who can get to the rim, and Barnes is an above average shooter who will almost certainly posterize James Jones into oblivion within the next few weeks. The frontcourt of Green and Bogut is possibly the best-passing pair of bigs in the league, and both can hold their own scoring in the paint. Additionally, Green’s shooting and slashing game have made him one of the best playmaking power forwards in the NBA.
In case Cavs fans weren’t all the way into their panic rooms, the Warriors also boast the best bench in the league. Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli and David Lee play varying amounts of minutes, but put any of them on the Cavs and they immediately become a key player in the series.
On the other end of the court, the Cavaliers have two savants, a good amount of shooting, and the newly dubbed Bash Brothers. Kyrie, assuming he is healthy, is probably second to Curry in terms of shooting/ball handling/finishing skills at the guard position, while LeBron, despite a poor shooting performance in these playoffs, is a mutant and the exception to every single rule ever created. Dellavedova, in addition to guaranteeing retaliatory flagrant fouls from the opposition, can hit threes. Shumpert and James Jones are capable shooters as well, while J.R. Smith could very well get hot from downtown and win a game by himself. Down low, Thompson and Mozgov are not skilled scorers, but neither is a liability and their combined offensive rebounding prowess has propped up the Cavs for long stretches during the playoffs.
The Warriors, though, have the best defense in the league, led by Green, Bogut, and their legion of 6-6” octopi. Curry and Barbosa are the only regulars that are less than well above average on defense, while Green and Bogut are two of the best defenders at any position by almost any calculation. Iguodala, Thompson, Livingston, and Barnes range between 6-5” and 6-8” and are all extremely long and mobile, allowing the Warriors to switch on essentially any defensive play. They switch everything, with every rotation player, leaving Bogut at the rim to deter any players that get there. Their reputation as a jump-shooting team belies their fearsome defensive unit.
Honestly, how will the Cavs score? Their offense features mostly simple isos or pick-and-rolls for LeBron and Kyrie, which just aren’t creative enough against these Warriors. LeBron may be the best player alive, but he is not the scorer he was even last year, and he cannot win alone. Draymond Green will most likely get the call to guard LeBron, but don’t be surprised to see Barnes or Iguodala on him as well. Green is a fantastic foil for LeBron, with his strength, quickness, and fantastic trash talk, and Barnes and Iguodala can at least slow The King down. Kyrie will have an easier matchup, as he’s just too good for Curry and too quick for Thompson, but he won’t get anything easy against Steve Kerr’s defense, and he’s playing hurt. Hopefully he heals up quick, because without his offense at 100%, this series looks like a cakewalk for the Warriors. The only problem they might have is with the insane rebounding of Thompson and Mozgov, but they have size on their bench and can push the pace on offense when the Cavs go big.
In short, while LeBron and co might be able to pull off a win or two, this series looks at first glance like as much of a letdown as the rest of the playoffs, and we didn’t even mention the huge coaching and home court advantages the Warriors have. The games may be good, and hopefully they are, but barring any significant injuries, the 2015 NBA champions will be the Golden State Warriors.
Peter Santo also contributed to this report.