Who wins Round 3 of Golden State-Cleveland?
By: Kevin Cunningham, Feature Writer
What am I missing?
Everyone and their mother are picking Golden State to win this year’s NBA Finals. Las Vegas favors the Warriors. The media favors the Warriors. So, what am I missing?
I won’t reveal my pick right off the bat (of course you can just scroll down to see), but, maybe I’m not understanding something. The math equation involving Golden State and its roster isn’t a simple one.
The Warriors won 73 games a year ago and led the Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1 after four games. From that point on, we all know what happened. So, if those Warriors add Kevin Durant – a top-five player in the league – how can they lose?
I believe that is the simple math that people are using. For one, I get it. Superstars rule the NBA. One A+ level player is worth much more than five B+ level players – just ask the Boston Celtics.
But what people leave out of the Warriors’ math equation is the fact that their team got gutted. Durant wasn’t added for free. Yes, he serves as an upgrade to Harrison Barnes, no question about it.
But, what about Andrew Bogut? What about Festus Ezeli? What about Anderson Varejao? What about Leandro Barbosa? What about Marreese Speights?
You may laugh at some of those names, but four of the five of them played in Game 7 a year ago. The one that didn’t, Andrew Bogut, was the most valuable loss. That’s something people tend to forget about last year’s finals. Once Bogut went down, Golden State went down with him.
Want to beat the best player in the world? You need a rim protector. At least make it difficult for LeBron James to get into the paint and finish. Put a little bit of fear into him.
It doesn’t have to be a Kevin Garnett waiting for him just below the free throw line. It can be an Andrew Bogut. It can be a Roy Hibbert, even. Just put a little fear in him.
Back to the math equation
Golden State lost a lot of its key role players by adding Kevin Durant, but that’s not even the biggest issue. They lost big, tough guys like Bogut, Ezeli and Speights.
What does that mean? The Warriors, who are a finesse team to begin with, lost their ridiculous bench from a year ago, making them the most complete team in the league and helping guide them to 73 wins. But don’t forget – they have now lost their toughness inside.
You have to have a rim protector to at least deter LeBron from entering the lane at will. Whether he finishes successfully or kicks it out to an open 3-point shooter because the defense is forced to collapse on him, it’s nearly impossible to beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series without a rim protector.
Golden State doesn’t have that this year. They’re not a better team than they were a season ago. They have a more explosive offense in its starting five, but they’re not a more complete team.
They lost the best bench in the league and they lost legitimate, quality big men in Bogut, Ezeli and Speights while adding Durant. Durant’s great, don’t get me wrong. And, with adding the potential future all-time leader in scoring in NBA history, your offense gets better.
Golden State has enough firepower to blow through the daunted (sarcasm) Western Conference. I mean, we saw them do it. They went 12-0. A healthy Kawhi Leonard would have made the Spurs series more interesting, but, c’mon. Everyone favored the Warriors regardless.
My point is, Golden State has the best team by a mile. The exception is of course when you add the Cavaliers into the mix. You need a rim protector to beat LeBron in a seven-game series and the Warriors just don’t have one.
I’ll make this point quick: JaVale McGee could very well be the x-factor in this series. Why? He could – athletically anyway – put some fear into LeBron. He won’t completely stop the best player in the league for the last 10 years once he gets into the paint, but he could make things more difficult, which is all Golden State’s incredible offense could need.
I’ll move onto the Cavaliers now and I’ll keep it brief. LeBron is playing the best basketball we’ve ever seen him play. He is more comfortable now than he ever has been. Heck, he’s even shooting the three-ball at over 36 percent.
Quick MVP Rant
By the way, that 36 percent beats out James Harden’s 34 percent this season. The NBA MVP talks were hilarious. Harden’s better than LeBron? Funny. I loved watching Harden turn the ball over more than anybody ever has in a single season in NBA history.
Russell Westbrook? I loved watching his team manufacture him rebounds so he could average this imaginary triple double the media made up to make the case that a game was sensationally great. Westbrook turned the ball over this year the second-highest amount in NBA history, too. The efficiency comparison isn’t even close when comparing others to LeBron.
Finally, there’s Kawhi Leonard. Leonard’s fantastic on both the offensive and defensive end, no questions asked. He’s probably the second-best player in the league right now. But, why isn’t he better than LeBron?
I’ll keep it simple. LeBron averaged a career-high 8.7 assists per game this year. He makes other players better, which is never, ever talked about enough. Leonard? He averaged 3.5 assists per game.
Career-wise, he averages 2.3 assists per game. Leonard’s fantastic, but he doesn’t make others better and it’s not even close.
Back to the Cavs
Kyrie Irving said it best when he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), this is the best team I’ve played with and probably the best I’ll ever play with.
Let’s just take a look at how this Cavs roster is made up. They have the best player in the league, Irving and Kevin Love. Again, you can just ask the Celtics how Irving and Love are playing right now. They’re playing their best basketball of their respective careers.
So, we’ve got three A-level players in Cleveland with LeBron, Irving and Love. All of which by the way, can shoot the three-ball.
J.R. Smith? Can shoot the three. Kyle Korver? Can shoot the three. Richard Jefferson? Can shoot the three. Deron Williams? Can shoot the three. Iman Shumpert? Can shoot the three. Channing Frye? Can shoot the three. We can even throw in Derrick Williams and James Jones if you want to – they can shoot the three.
Notice a pattern here? If not, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Oh, and then there’s Tristan Thompson, who just completely owns the boards alongside Kevin Love.
We have LeBron playing his best basketball ever with two other A-level players right now and a plethora of 3-point shooters to kick the ball out to for open shots. This Cavaliers team is as good as it gets from top to bottom.
They’re better than Golden State in just about every aspect because of the amount of 3-point shooters they do possess. Remember, Golden State shot 38.3 percent from three this season. Cleveland shot 38.4 percent.
Again, Golden State got better offensively in its starting lineup with Durant. But, they lost out on what you need to beat LeBron and all of these shooters in a seven-game series.
The Warriors need McGee to step up. Seriously. Zaza Pachulia and David West at his ancient age aren’t going to deter LeBron from attacking the paint. An insanely athletic McGee can at least make things more difficult.
Final Hot Take
People love to assume Andre Iguodala keeps LeBron from going wild and can somewhat keep him in check. I mean, everybody knows one player can’t stop LeBron, but there are guys that make things more difficult. Iguodala just isn’t one of the incredibly select few.
Just look back to last year’s NBA Finals. Iguodala was healthy for each and every game at the age of 32. LeBron averaged 30 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists per game a season ago against him.
That’s not stopping LeBron and that doesn’t look like slowing him down to me. Iguodala is now 33-years-old. He’s not slowing him down this year, either.
Cavaliers in 6