After one of the most odd NBA seasons & playoffs of all time, the two teams that everyone thought would be in the NBA Finals from the beginning of the year – the Cleveland Cavs & the Golden State Warriors – will meet in a rematch for the NBA Championship starting Thursday at 9:00 ET on ABC. Why do we say the NBA season was odd? Simply because there wasn’t a ton of intrigue going on at really any major point.
Did anyone think the Warriors weren’t going to get to the NBA Finals? Not really, unless you live in San Antonio or Oklahoma City. Did we wonder if Cleveland wasn’t going to go right though the NBA Eastern Conference like hot butter? No, not really. If there wasn’t a threat of injury, the NBA script was going to play out exactly the way all of the expert & even novice fans saw it happening from the end of last year – Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavs.
This NBA Finals matchup will be much different than last year, in that both teams will be at full strength. The Cavs missed Kevin Love after he was injured in the first round of the playoffs against the Celtics when Kelly Olynyk took a nasty swipe to his arm, and Kyrie Irving was out during the early part of game 1 of the NBA Finals due to a severe knee injury that kept him out of action until December of this season. This is the true “Big 3” that LeBron James had envisioned he would play with when he decided to come back to Cleveland in that famous piece written by Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins two summers ago.
As for the Warriors, they are coming off of a grueling 7-game series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, meaning having to expend a ton of energy guarding Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant & Serge Ibaka. In case you have been living under a rock for the last 9 months, the Warriors broke the all-time regular season wins mark set by the 1996 Chicago Bulls by going 73-9.
They have a cheat code named Stephen Curry, who just repeated as the NBA MVP, Klay Thompson is one of the great sharpshooters in the NBA and an All-NBA selection, local Michigan State Spartans product Draymond Green, who is a bit of a swiss army knife in that he plays great defense, can shoot from outside & is a phenomenal passer & a host of great role players who have shown to be vital pieces of the puzzle enabling the Warriors to get to where we all thought they would be.
As for the series itself, this is shaping up to be one of the most entertaining series of all-time. Both teams play great offense, both teams can shoot, but they can both lock down a team big time through suffocating defense. A big factor in this series – both teams have some serious attitude that means they will not sit through any trash or hijinks on the court at all. There are superstars, great role players & enforcers on both sides. What’s not to like!
To get ready for this series, DraftKingsMaster will break down the different positions throughout the day & the matchups across the board & let you know who we think has the best chance of exploiting the other team.
Point Guard – Kyrie Irving vs. Stephen Curry
This is the one matchup where it is truly a pick’em. Stephen Curry is the best offensive player in the NBA right now. He can get shots up over anyone of any height, as he showed against Serge Ibaka & Steven Adams, two Oklahoma City Thunder big men who are known for shot blocking. Curry can get the ball to the basket against almost anyone in the league if they sleep for just a second. During games 5 through 7, Curry got used to not having to deal with Westbrook all the time & OKC went big on Curry. Didn’t work. Curry got his shot together, his confidence back & the team was much stronger once their shooting came back into focus.
Kyrie Irving had a much easier path to the NBA Finals, in comparison. He went against Reggie Jackson, Jeff Teague & an up-and-down Kyle Lowry – all great point guards, but none nearly to the level of excellence that Kyrie brings on a nightly basis. This NBA playoff run was about Kyrie making sure he was healthy & doing enough to make sure the Cavs had a smooth & rested run to the NBA Finals. Mission accomplished.
For the head-to-head matchup, we have to give the matchup a slight bit to Irving. Kyrie is a strong defender & will be the toughest matchup Curry will see in the playoffs. We don’t fully know how healthy Curry’s knee is right now, as there have been so many moments where Steph was out because of knee & ankle issues, and with the first-step quickness that Kyrie brings when he is on the court, those sudden movements are going to put a ton of pressure on the NBA MVP, possibly to the point where a Klay Thompson or Draymond Green may have to do some of the work on Kyrie. The most likely candidate would be Thompson because Green has to be able to watch LeBron as much as possible.
On the flip side, Irving has to understand that his energy is going to be drained a bit from trying to guard jump shots most of the night. The Cavs, like OKC, have some solid bigs that will look to hammer Curry when he tries to go to the basket often in Timofey Mozgov & Tristan Thompson, two solid players who can be used for fouls & to just make life difficult on Curry if the shot isn’t falling.
Irving has some of the best hands in the league, in that he can intercept passes as good as any point guard in history. Curry is a great ball-handler, but Kyrie is going to make the process difficult for Curry to have to look to Draymond, Klay or Iguodala.
Look for Kyrie Irving to make life difficult on the MVP & try to slow the pace down for Curry, making the head of the Warriors offense play more like an Eastern Conference team that plays more in the half-court, shot-clock optimization style as opposed to leading fast breaks & putting up quick shots that Cleveland will have to race to play against.