The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are meeting in the NBA Finals for an unprecedented fourth straight time.
The Warriors, the reigning NBA champs, have won two of the three Finals matchups between the teams. And the Dubs are prohibitive favorites in this upcoming series.
There is a good reason that the Warriors are prohibitive favorites. The Dubs are 324-83 over the last four years, including 59-20 in the postseason. This includes going 17-9 versus Cleveland during this period. Golden State won last season’s title in five games.
Plus, the Warriors have a lethal offense led by likely Hall of Famers Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Golden State led the league in scoring and shooting percentage across the board during the regular season. The Dubs also were first in defensive rating and blocked shots.
So, does the Cavaliers have any chance of winning the title this year?
Yes, but they have a very slim chance. In order for the Cavs to defeat the Warriors, they need another out of the world performance from Lebron James. The Cavs also will need to have Kevin Love play and produce a double-double in every game. They will need to play defense for a full 48 minutes, get contributions from their role players, as well as shoot the ball extremely well from beyond the arc.
Love and the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala are both dealing with injuries. Iguodala has been declared out for Game 1 of the series while Love’s status is still uncertain.
The rest of the article will look at the five most important players for each team during this series. This list does not the obvious players -- Durant, James, Curry, Thompson or Love -- do to their obvious importance to their teams.
Golden State Warriors
5. Nick Young
Young is a fierce competitor and is very capable of giving the Warriors an offensive spark off the bench. He is also a capable defender when he is engaged. Young’s biggest problem is he is often not engaged and takes a lot of bad shots.
Young is averaging 2.9 points a game in a little more than 10 minutes of action per game this postseason. Swaggy P also has a 99.4 defensive rating per NBA.com.
Young did do a good job during his time on the floor versus the Rockets. Young averaged 4.9 points on 42.9% shooting from the floor and 1.1 triples a game (40%) in 13.9 minutes a contest during the Western Conference finals. More importantly, he was a +24 when on the court.
Young’s best game against the Rockets came in the opening round of the series, where he tallied nine points as he knocked down three of his five shots, all from beyond the arc, in 15 minutes.
In 21 career regular season games versus Cleveland, Young is averaging 11.5 points while shooting 44.2% field goal percentage and 37.8% from long distance.
4. Kevon Looney
Looney is long and athletic and a versatile defender who can rebound the basketball. The 6-9 big man did a pretty decent job guarding James Harden during the Western Conference finals. Harden averaged 3.0 points on an average of 5.6 possessions per game while shooting 42.1% from the field and 18.2% from the field with Looney guarding him. He is a plus 3.8 in the plus/minus department during the playoffs, including +19 against the Rockets (+2.3 per game).
Looney could matchup against James a little bit during the series. He is a little slow afoot but will challenge shots and compete on the defensive end. His strength and length could be a benefit versus James. Looney has a 96.2 defensive rating during the postseason, which ranks third among players who have played at least 10 games. He is also fifth in contested shots and fourth in contested 3-point shots during the postseason.
While Looney has played better during the postseason than the regular season, he didn’t fare too well versus James during the regular season. In six possessions guarding James, The King had four points, on 2 of 3 shooting (66.7%), and one assist. Looney did cause James into one turnover.
Besides Looney will be counted on to rebound the ball, which Golden State had trouble with against Houston in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. Looney, who is an excellent finisher around the rim, is averaging 4.5 points along with 4.9 rebounds (2.2 offensive) in 20.5 minutes of action during the playoffs. He produced 3.7 points and 5.0 caroms in 19.4 minutes in the Western Conference Finals though he did shoot just 48.1% from the field.
Looney’s role against Cleveland will depend on Iguodala’s availability.
3. Shaun Livingston
Livingston is a valuable member off the bench for the Warriors. The 32-year-old veteran has continually showed his value during his tenure with the team. While not as athletic as he was in his younger years, he has a high basketball IQ and is a very cerebral player.
Livingston can do almost anything on both ends of the court. The 6-7 defensive minded point guard is at his best in the mid-range or attacking the basket. His only real weakness is shooting from beyond the arc.
Livingston is having a solid postseason, compiling 6.5 points along with 2.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists. He is shooting 48.4% from the field though that number would be higher if he didn’t shoot just 40.7% in the series against New Orleans. He has scored in double figures on three occasions this postseason, all coming in the first round against San Antonio.
While Livingston has been average defender this season, he does do an excellent job harassing perimeter shooters. His opponents are shooting only 32.4% from the perimeter (greater than 15 feet) and 31.0% from beyond the arc.
In 19 career regular season games, Livingston is averaging 6.1 points along with 2.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists in around 20 minutes of action. He has made 53.7% of his shots against the Cavs during the regular season, which is his sixth highest percentage of his career.
2. Draymond Green
Green is an all-star player who is the team’s emotional leader. He can do everything on the court and is one of the best defensive players in the league. The problem is that Green has a tendency to lose focus and when that occurs, he gets sloppy with the ball. Green, who handles the ball frequently for the Dubs, is basically the orchestrator of the offense when Iggy or Curry is not in the game.
Green is struggling shooting and handling the ball this postseason. However, he has been excellent on the defensive end and on the boards. He has also has done a nice job sharing the basketball. If Green is able to stay fully engaged for the 35-plus minutes he is on the floor and become a more confident shooter. Then the Warriors will sweep the Cavs.
Green has 10 double-doubles and one triple-double this postseason.
The 6-7 forward has loved playing against the Cavaliers. In 12 regular season games, Green has produced 12.0 points along with 9.5 boards and 5.8 rebounds.
1. Andre Iguodala
While Green is undeniably the team’s emotional leader, Iggy is the Dubs’ glue guy. The Warriors sorely missed Iguodala’s leadership versus Houston in Game 4-7. In the game’s Iggy was not in the lineup (compared to when he was available), the Warriors scored 16 less points per game, shot worse from the field (50.2%-to-45.4%), committed more than four more turnovers and caused more than two fewer turnovers. They also committed more fouls while drawing less fouls from Houston.
So as you can see, Iguodala is extremely important to the Warriors. Particularly on the defensive end. Iggy will likely be matched up against James some of the time. James fared pretty well against Iguodala during the regular season tallying 4.5 points, on 8.5 possessions per game while shooting 60% from the floor. The Cavs scored 12.0 points per game while 6-6 wing manned The King.
The 2015 NBA Finals MVP has played well this postseason. He is averaging 7.9 points along with 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 dimes while shooting 47.9% from the field and 35.5% from beyond the arc in 13 games. He also has registered his second highest postseason plus-minus at +6.5.
Honorable Mention: Jordan Bell
Bell is a flame of energy who will provide the Warriors with rebounding, rim protection and another guy to throw at James. His exact role will be determined by Iguodala's availability and how the team uses Looney.
5. JR Smith
Smith can get hot at any time from beyond the arc, and the Cavs will need players like him to step up if they are going to have any semblance of a chance in this series.
Smith is mainly a spot up shooter nowadays and while he is not really shooting the ball well overall during the postseason. He is still knocking down 3-pointers at a good pace. The problem is, if he isn’t knocking down triples, he doesn’t have much value though his defense has been pretty good throughout the playoffs.
The 32-year-old guard is averaging 8.5 points a game in the playoff as he is shooting 35.6% from the field. He is making 1.9 treys per game, shooting at a 36.8% clip. Smith, who has scored in double figures seven times this postseason, has 11 games with two or more makes beyond the 3-point arc. However, with the exception of the Toronto series, he has struggled shooting the ball.
4. Jeff Green
Green is a long and athletic wing who likes to slash to the basket. While not a prolific 3-point shooter, he is not hesitant to fire up a shot from beyond the arc. The 6-9 forward is an average defender, who is capable of blocking some shots due to his length.
Green’s biggest issue is consistency. His best two games of the playoffs came in Game 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, where he totaled 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. The 33-year-old scored 14 and 19 points in those games, respectively, giving him six double-figure scoring games this postseason.
Green is currently averaging 8.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 43.9% from the floor and 32.1% from beyond the arc. He has had good success against the Warriors over his career.
In 28 career regular season contests versus the Warriors, Green is producing 14.1 points along with 5.6 rebounds and is shooting 47.0% from the floor.
3. George Hill
Hill could give the Warriors trouble, like the Rockets’ Eric Gordon did in the Western Conference finals. Hill is very good at getting to the basket off the dribble and is a dangerous 3-point shooter.
Gordon carved the Warriors defense up to the tune of 19.0 points and three triples a game at a 35.0% clip. He topped the 20-point plateau three times against the Dubs, including twice since Game 5.
Hill has shot the ball well overall this postseason, making 49.0% of his field goal attempts though he is only shooting 25.7% from beyond the arc. He is a good free throw shooter, which could be a benefit especially with the Warriors propensity to commit dumb fouls lately.
This postseason, Hill is averaging 9.7 points a game. He has scored in double-figures on eight occasions, which includes a 20-point effort versus Boston in Game 6 when he knocked down 7 of 12 shots.
Hill is not strong defensively, which could limit his time on the court in the series.
In 22 regular season games against Golden State, Hill is averaging 11.1 points a contest while shooting 44.9% from the field and a personal-best 51.5% from long distance.
2. Kyle Korver
Korver is the Cavaliers most dangerous shooter. And he is currently stroking the ball as well as he ever has in the postseason. Korver has made a personal playoff high 44 3-pointers, which is currently the fourth most this postseason, at a 44.9% clip. The 37-year-old sharpshooter has made a trifecta in 15 straight games and has 12 games of multiple 3-pointers. 75% of Korver’s points is coming from beyond the 3-point arc.
Korver is a hard-nosed player who is underrated defensively. While he won’t keep be able to keep Curry or Quinn Cook in front of him, he does a good job of making it difficult for jump shooters.
1. Tristan Thompson
Thompson is No. 1 on the list because he is long and athletic as well as being a great offensive rebounder. Houston’s Clint Capela dominated the paint in Game 7 and did a great job on the boards all series. He also did a great job in the pick-n-roll in Game 7, totaling 20 points with the majority of the points coming from dunks.
Capela averaged 10.3 points and 10.7 caroms in the seven-game Western Conference series. He grabbed double-figure rebounds in four games with the Rockets posting a 3-1 record in those games.
Thompson is capable of doing the same things as Capella did. The 27-year-old big man is currently producing 6.1 points and 6.1 rebounds (2.4 offensive boards) this postseason despite playing less than 22 minutes a contest. He is shooting a playoff-high 62.1% from the field.
Thompson has posted two double-doubles and four games of double-figure scoring games.
Thompson’s ability to help the Cavs control the boards will go along way in prolonging the series.