OAKLAND -- The series for which we have yearned has arrived, and about as quickly as possible. The speed with which the Warriors and Cavaliers spent the playoffs racing toward each other speaks to the inevitability of their collision.
Now that it’s here, the sheer volume of storylines and backstories and fabricated stories will threaten to overrun us all, from LeBron vs. KD to Steph vs. Kyrie to The Land vs. The Town to the full-circle trek of Mike Brown.
And, of course, there is the historical significance of this being the very first time the NBA Finals featured an uninterrupted trilogy.
This time, however, there are no excuses coming in. Both teams are hot, the Warriors 12-0 this postseason, the Cavs 12-1. All significant hands are healthy, unlike the past two Finals. So Warriors-Cavs Part III is the series that may -- or may not -- determine, once or for all, which team is better.
Here is our preview of the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
POINT GUARD: Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving. This is the tastiest duel in the series, two players with the best combination of shooting, ball-handling and general offensive ingenuity in the NBA. That the teams have split the last two Finals is largely due to the efforts of Curry and Irving. Both are on a roll. Neither can guard the other, and neither will spend much time trying. The man who has the best series almost certainly will get the ring. EDGE: Curry, by a razor-thin margin, for his superior ability to increase the value of this teammates.
SHOOTING GUARD: Klay Thompson vs. JR Smith. These two have plenty of similarities, mostly because each is capable of getting hot enough to single-handedly carry a team to victory. Though neither has been a consistent offensive force in these playoffs, Thompson’s defense has been crucial to the success of the Warriors thus far. There is your difference. Well, that and the absolute lock that Thompson at some point will punish the Cavs with his shot. EDGE: Thompson.
SMALL FORWARD: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James. They have dramatically different physiques and styles but are widely considered, with justification, the two best players in the game. Insofar as Durant’s teams are 5-18 when they face James’ gangs, this battle will be the most watched and debated and analyzed of the series. Both have been terrific during the postseason, though LeBron’s production has proven more essential to the cause of his team. As the teams split two games in the regular season, Durant put up better numbers. EDGE: James by the slightest margin, for his preternatural aptitude to find a way in big games and the monumental achievement of entering seven consecutive finals.
POWER FORWARD: Draymond Green vs. Kevin Love. Both are All-Stars but there is stark contrast in their games, with Green being multidimensional at both ends and Love almost totally reliant two skills: rebounding and 3-pointers. Green was a pivotal player in the 2016 series; his absence due to suspension in Game 5 helped swing the series toward the Cavs. Love is playing great ball, the best since he arrived in Cleveland. EDGE: Green, for being able to impact the game in more ways than perhaps any player in the NBA.
CENTER: Zaza Pachulia vs. Tristan Thompson. The Warriors realize Thompson is such a high-octane offensive rebounder he demands a specific game plan. Pachulia will be the first to try to ensure Thompson isn’t giving his team second- and third-chance shots that can demoralize a defense. Pachulia will have a lot of help from his partners in the center rotation. He’s going to need it. EDGE: Thompson.
SIXTH MAN: Andre Iguodala vs. Kyle Korver: Iguodala is a true utility man, a Swiss Army Knife of a veteran. He’s a playmaker on offense that was voted 2015 Finals MVP largely for the impact he made on defense against James. Iguodala is a player that finds a way. Korver is one of those players who can shoot it with the best to ever play. He is, however, utterly one-dimensional. If his shot isn’t falling, he isn’t helping. EDGE: Iguodala.
BENCHES: The Warriors have a mix of young and old, from Pat McCaw and Ian Clark to JaVale McGee and David West and Shaun Livingston. They also can go deeper, sending out their 12th and 13th men (Matt Barnes and James Michael McAdoo). Cleveland’s reserves are veterans all the way, from Deron Williams and Iman Shumpert to Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson. The best that can be said of the Cavs is they have shooters. The worst is that they are short on defense. EDGE: Warriors.
COACHES: The Warriors essentially have co-coaches at the top of the chart, with head coach Steve Kerr heavily involved while acting head coach Mike Brown tries to implement plans chiefly determined by Kerr. The Cavs also have co-coaches, with head coach Tyronn Lue sharing duties with player-coach James. EDGE: Warriors.
HOME COURTS: Oracle Arena in Oakland and Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland are two of the loudest joints in the NBA, though some of the noise at the Q is generated by sheer PA volume. There is no denying, though, that each team loves its house. The Warriors have the best homecourt advantage in the NBA, 114-9 over the past three seasons, including a league-best 36-5 in the playoffs. The Cavs are 95-28 over that same span. EDGE: Warriors.
PREDICTION: Warriors in five.