The NBA Finals matchup many of us were expecting has come to fruition. For a second straight season, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will fight for the NBA Championship.
The Warriors won last year’s series 4-2 but many people feel this Cavaliers team will do a better job of challenging them. For starters, the Cavs were without two of their Big Three throughout most of the 2015 NBA Finals. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving both missed most of the series. Love dislocated his shoulder in the opening round versus the Boston Celtics while Kyrie Irving fractured his left kneecap in Game 1 of the Finals. That made the job much easier for the Warriors. Now that the Cavs have two of their three stars back, maybe that will be enough for them to win the series.
The issue for Cleveland is that Golden State also looks like an improved team. Last year, they were impressive in the regular season and kind of grew into the role of a champion. This season, they set an NBA record by winning 73 games and have looked strong in the playoffs. They’ve played tougher competition too. Although they had to dig out of a 3-1 hole in the Western Conference Finals to the Oklahoma City Thunder, that team is viewed as a significantly stronger opponent than what the Cavaliers have had to face. Yes, the Cavs beat a tough Toronto Raptors team but that squad would likely be the fifth or sixth best team in the Western Conference.
For Cleveland to win, the key to their success could be Love. They’ve only lost two times this postseason and it’s no coincidence that he had awful performances in those two contests. He had just three points in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final and then just 10 (on 4-of-14 shooting) in Game 4. Love totaled just 13 points in two meetings with the Warriors this season and the Cavs lost both games. It’s fairly clear that they’ll need him to deliver.
Speaking of those two losses, it’s worth noting that those shortcomings came with David Blatt as the Cavaliers head coach. Remember that they fired him shortly after the second loss to Golden State, which was a humiliating 132-98 loss on January 18th.
The Warriors opened the series as a -220 favorite and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they have home-court advantage. In a series that could go seven games, that could ultimately be the difference. Golden State was 39-2 at home this season and have won nine of 10 home games in the postseason. Cleveland was 33-8 at home this season but just 24-17 on the road. They’re a perfect 7-0 at home in the playoffs but both of their losses have come on the road (5-2).
Game 1 of the NBA Finals tips off on Thursday at Golden State where the Warriors are a 5.5-point favorite. The total for Game 1 is sitting at 210.5.