By Rahul Lal
It's hard to create successful trilogies. Back to the Future tried it, Star Wars did it and Toy Story actually found a way to not lose anything along the way. The NBA is about to do their version, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors dueling it out for a third straight year. They split the first two, and it wouldn't surprise anyone to see either team take home the Larry O'Brien trophy this year. Both teams have been virtually unbeatable in the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
The Warriors seem to be everyone's favorites to win this series and will open with fairly slim betting odds as well. They've been a perfect 12-0 on their way to the Finals and haven't even been challenged by any of their Western Conference opponents. The Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and a depleted San Antonio Spurs had no answers. The biggest knock on these Warriors is that they haven't been tested. It's tough to hold that against them, because these Warriors could probably make any team look terrible -- except for one, that is.
The Cavaliers took down the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics. While the Warriors coasted through virtually unscathed, the Cavs had some close calls against the Pacers and dropped a game to the Boston Celtics. Because both teams have been so dominant, we tend to over-analyze those games in which Cleveland could've lost or actually did. Against Indiana, they were a shot or two away near the buzzer from having a legitimate series on their hands. The dropped game against Boston looked like a new game plan from the Celtics and a failure to adjust -- nothing more, nothing less.
We can analyze style of play, rotations and statistics as much as we want, but the first thing to look at in this Finals matchup is the players involved. Draymond Green and Kevin Love should present a fun defense-offense matchup while Klay Thompson will look to take on each one of Cleveland's perimeter defenders. Steph Curry is the best point guard in this matchup, but it's impossible to think Kyrie believes that. He's on a mission to give Steph all that he can handle with those Uncle Drew buckets.
And then there's LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant, a matchup of the two best players in the NBA. The two have met five times in the playoffs, with LeBron taking four of those games. Obviously, Kevin Durant didn't have the team he does now, but the numbers are definitely still intriguing. LeBron averaged nearly a triple-double while limiting Durant to only two assists per game. Durant was spectacular in other ways, but the win-loss ratio should concern the Warriors.
The Warriors will push out their extraordinary offense, which is averaging over 115 points per 100 possessions per game this postseason. Those numbers are absolutely staggering. The Cavaliers, however, are putting up over 120 points per 100 possessions per game, which is even better. The key to the Cavs' efficiency is the three-ball. Between LeBron, Love, Irving, Kyle Korver, JR Smith and Channing Frye, the team is operating at a ridiculous clip from range.
While all of these are incredible strengths for the Cavaliers, the Warriors will still be able to stop them. Ultimately, the Cavs have been able to play through all of their rotations without any serious pressure. Shortening up the rotations, given Golden State's star power, can present plenty of problems for the Cavs. It will undoubtedly create a situation similar to the Finals two years ago, when LeBron was worthy of the Finals MVP, even with a loss.
This series could very easily go to seven games, though the Warriors will look to take advantage of the home-court advantage when they have it. Later in the series, they will be freshers and better able to play their juggernaut style of basketball, still messing with Cleveland's rotations and fatiguing their players who aren't named LeBron.
Prediction: Warriors in 7.
Rahul Lal is an LA native stuck in a lifelong, love-hate relationship with the Lakers, Dodgers and Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter here.
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