History will be made this Thursday as the Cleveland Cavaliers will take the court against the Golden State Warriors for the third consecutive year in the NBA Finals. This is arguably the most anticipated championship series that the league has ever witnessed. It features the reigning world champions, led by the best player of this generation (and perhaps of all-time) in LeBron James. Golden State on the other hand has four All-Stars (including two-time MVP, Stephen Curry), the best regular season record (which was accomplished last season), the greatest 3-point arsenal ever, and the addition of another former MVP, Kevin Durant. The Warriors are the heavy favorites heading into Game 1.
Amid all the criticism of LeBron James throughout his career (not loyal, complains too much to officials, lack of production in clutch moments, etc.), he has proven to be a consistent threat to the legacy of Michael Jordan. This will be his 7th straight NBA Finals appearance, and he looks to add a fourth ring to his collection. After his decision to return home to Northeast Ohio, James promised to take the city of Cleveland back to the promise land. After losing to the Warriors in the Finals in 2015, Lebron came through and delivered the Cavaliers their first title, defeating the Warriors last year in 7 games. LeBron put on a dazzling show in the Finals last year averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor, 37.1 percent from 3-point range, and 72.1 percent from the free throw line. He has the ability to completely take over games on both ends of the floor and overfill every stat column possible. As long as LeBron is on the floor, it is hard to imagine anyone else being considered a favorite.
Despite LeBron James’s sheer greatness, he needs some help, right? Thankfully for him, Kyrie Irving is still right by his side along with Kevin Love, who happens to be having the best year of his career. Kyrie has shown time and time again that he is the best ball handler that this league may have ever seen. He can get to the rim at will due to his sublime quickness while also shooting .401 from 3-point range. He is a handful to say the least. Love will be asked to be a physical presence along with bringing his valuable floor-spreading ability. Complementary players such as J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, and Channing Frye will be depended on to stroke the 3, and veterans Deron Williams and Richard Jefferson also bring experience off the bench. Lastly, Tristan Thompson is the classic glue guy on this roster. He brings tenacious rebounding and defensive versatility to a frontcourt that is in dire need of both those skills. Iman Shumpert will be asked to contribute defensively.
The Warriors carry a potent attack on both ends of the floor. Many overlook Golden State on defense, but that is in fact where they do the most damage. They finished second overall on defense this season and were first last year. They have the personnel to match up with literally anybody…on any team…on any court…under any conditions. The defense is anchored by Draymond Green. Standing only 6’7″ tall, Green has the toughness and grit to bang with NBA bigs. He can shoot the ball, put it on the ground and attack the rim, and pass. He is virtually another guard out on the floor for Golden State that allows them to employ virtually any lineup they feel gives them the greatest edge. Klay Thompson is a fellow All-Star that is an assassin from behind the arc. He is another player in this series that is capable of catching fire and can flip the game in his team’s direction. Being the high volume shooter that he is, he still is a terrific defender who also stands at 6’7″ and causes matchup problems for his opposition.
The NBA is a league of stars. If a team lacks star power, chances are, they probably won’t get to far, especially when it comes to the playoffs. The Warriors won’t have to worry about that anytime soon as they show up to each game knowing they have two MVPs at their disposal. Stephen Curry was the league’s first unanimous MVP last season. He is one of the most deadly shooters that has ever played in the league. He brings swagger, confidence, and lots of points to every contest. His partner in crime is Kevin Durant. Durant left Oklahoma City surrounded by many questions and criticisms, but he has nonetheless made a new home in the bay area. He unquestionably fits with what the Warriors want to do and that is score…a lot. Andre Iguodala comes off the bench as a great role player, and although he may have lost a step and is often injured, he is still an elite perimeter defender. The Warriors are incredibly deep as Zaza Pachulia, Javale McGee, David West, and James Michael McAdoo all can rotate in on the block. Additionally, Shaun Livingston brings extreme height and experience to the point guard position countered by Ian Clark’s 3-point shooting. Lastly, Matt Barnes brings plenty of playoff experience along with great perimeter defense and versatility to the small forward position.
Look for this year’s NBA Finals to be crazy and more unique then in the past. Not only have both teams had their eyes on each other from the word go, but there is some bad blood and unfinished business to be dealt with more than ever before this season as these teams face each other for the third straight season to determine the champion.