It took seven games, but the Golden State Warriors survived the Houston Rockets to represent the Western Conference in the Finals. For the fourth consecutive season, the Warriors will match up against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Like Golden State, the Cavs needed seven games to best the Boston Celtics and make the Finals. James continues to defy father time, posting huge numbers throughout the playoffs to lead the Cavs.
Cleveland has made extensive changes to their roster after falling in five games to the Warriors in the Finals last season. They’ve added plenty of new faces, but did they do enough to compete with a Golden State squad searching for their third title in four years?
PG: George Hill
SG: J.R. Smith
SF: Jeff Green
PF: LeBron James
C: Tristan Thompson
James is the catalyst for the Cavs, posting an incredible 34 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists in 41.3 minutes per game in the postseason.
Smith has been hit and miss throughout the playoffs. When he’s on, he can help spread the floor for James. The Cavs need him to focus his attention on slowing Klay Thompson, which should be an interesting challenge.
Hill and Green are new additions that present interesting matchup issues, although neither has put up consistent numbers since moving to Cleveland. Hill is usually a reliable scorer and playmaker, but he’s struggled all season long, be it in a Cavs or Kings uniform.
Green is a versatile forward that gives Cleveland a different look. He started Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals for the Cavs and came up with a big 19-point, 8-rebound performance.
Thompson has regained his spot in the rotation after seeing limited action early in the playoffs. His numbers don’t jump off the page, but he can impact a game with his work around the rim.
Kevin Love is the Cavs second leading scorer and will join this starting group if he can clear concussion protocol.
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Rodney Hood
SF: Kyle Korver
PF: Larry Nance Jr.
Tyronn Lue relied heavily on his starting group in the Eastern Conference Finals. He’ll likely do the same against Golden State. Clarkson, Korver and Nance played a combined 35 minutes off the bench in Game 7, but Lue will likely need to dig deeper to unseat the champs.
This is an interesting collection of talent, but no one has stepped forward to lead the group as of yet. Clarkson is a creative scorer, but he’s not a natural playmaker.
Korver can light it up from the perimeter, but he’s limited on the defensive end. If his his shot isn’t on, it will be tough for Lue to keep him on the floor.
Hood has struggled to find his place with the Cavs after coming over at the trade deadline. He’s shooting just 15.8 percent from long range in the playoffs, well off his career average of 36.9 percent.
Nance is a hustle big that plays well above the rim and loves to get out and run. Golden State will counter with Jordan Bell, which should be a lot of fun to watch.
Hand the ball to LeBron James and get out of the way. James is a legend and he’s posting one of his best seasons despite entering the tail end of his prime. But against the Warriors, he’s going to need more help, especially on the offensive end.
During the regular season, the Cavs ranked fifth in the league in scoring at 110.9 points per game. That number has dipped substantially in the playoffs, where the Cavs are posting just 101.2 points per game. Cleveland can crank up the scoring output when necessary, and they’ll need to if they hope to keep up with the Warriors.
Cleveland shot 37.2 percent from behind the 3-point line during the regular season, but that number is down to 33.9 percent in the playoffs. Hill, Clarkson and Hood have struggled to find their range and are all shooting well below their regular season numbers.
The Cavs assist numbers are down considerably in the playoffs. After averaging 23.3 diems per game in the regular season, Cleveland is posting just 18.8 assists per game in the playoffs. They’ve relied heavily in isolation basketball, running most possessions through James.
Assist numbers are down, but so are the Cavs’ turnover totals. After averaging 13.7 turnovers per game during the regular season, they’ve handed the ball over just 12.8 times a contest in the playoffs. They don’t make a lot mistakes, which is one way that the Warriors typically take advantage of teams.
Cleveland was not great defensively during the regular season, allowing 109.9 points per game. Their defensive rating of 109.5 ranked 29th in the league, but they’ve improved that number in the playoffs to 105.9.
After averaging 42.1 rebounds per game in the regular season (23rd in the league), the Cavs have seen that number drop to 40.2 in the playoffs. The Warriors were a solid rebounding team during the regular season, but during the playoffs, they’ve hit the glass hard, averaging 46.2 boards per game. Through 17 postseason games, Golden State is grabbing 9.7 offensive rebounds per game in the playoffs, which presents a huge problem for the Cavs.
The Cavs finished the season near the bottom of the league in both steals and blocks. They’ve improved their block numbers during the playoffs, but their steal numbers are down.
Cleveland is physical and James is still an elite defender when he’s locked in, but the Warriors are a different beast. They have three elite scorers in the starting five and they can get additional scoring from multiple positions.
Any team with LeBron James, has a chance. This is his eighth straight Finals appearance and he’s playing at an incredible level. He has the ability to take over a game on both ends of the floor, but he can’t guard everyone.
James is going to need help. He has a group of players around him playing well below their career standards. If Cleveland has a shot of dethroning the Warriors, he needs his team to shoulder a much larger share of the load.
Cleveland didn’t get to the Finals by accident. They are a gritty, physical group led by an all-time great. After plenty of roster changes at the trade deadline, they have pieces that cause problems for the Warriors, they just need to find a way to put them all together in one cohesive unit.