With their All-Star power forward Kevin Love sidelined due a surgically repaired shoulder and point guard Kyrie Irving battling a knee injury throughout most of the postseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers have defied the odds to reach the second NBA Finals in the club's history.
That’s largely because of the incredible play of four-time MVP LeBron James, who is nearly averaging a triple-double with 27.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game over 14 games.
While James has reached another level of play, the Cavs are underdogs to the Golden State Warriors before Game 1 of the Finals begins Thursday night at Oracle Arena. The Warriors enter the matchup as a heavy favorite given their loaded roster and incredible run this season.
Led by this year’s MVP and game-changing point guard Stephen Curry, the Warriors have chased opponents out of the gym with 104.3 points per game and a 38 percent success rate from three-point range in 14 postseason games. Golden State also owns home court advantage throughout the series, and built on their intimidating 39-2 record at Oracle with a 7-1 mark during these playoffs.
Most indicators make the Warriors a reasonable pick to win this seven-game series, but there are three glaring reasons why the Cavs should prevail.
Equalizing From Deep
With Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson both connecting on better than 42 percent of their threes, the Warriors are averaging 30.3 attempts from deep in the playoffs, resulting in 104.3 points a game. The team with the second most threes? The Cavs.
Four Cavs are launching more than four threes a game, with Irving connecting at 48.1 percent and J.R. Smith not too far behind at 39.6 percent off his 7.6 attempts a game. All told, the Cavs are putting up 29.1 threes per game and hitting 35.9 percent of them.
The three-point shot and its monumental effect on the game is running theme throughout these playoffs, with the four teams to make the conference finals all in the top five in threes made during the regular season.
But the Cavs can match the Warriors attempts and nearly their accuracy. Cleveland’s also the most successful team in terms of guarding against the three. Opponents are averaging a shade over 28 percent from three against Cleveland, which could translate into a difficult series for Golden State.
Hitting The Glass
After Love went down in the first round, James picked up the rebounding slack but he’s received a huge boost from big men Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson, with Smith and guard Iman Shumpert also helping out on the glass.
The Cavs have the slight edge in rebounding at 46.9 a game compared to 46.2 for Golden State, but in terms of bodies and size Cleveland has the overall advantage. Mozgov matches up very well with Warriors center Andrew Bogut, and his 1.9 blocks during the postseason means he can also alter Curry and Thompson’s drives. Same goes for Thompson, who could give Green fits on both ends.
Hold The Damn Ball
It’s a well-known secret that the Warriors have struggled with turnovers all season. They were 21st in the league with 14.1 per game in the regular season, and that number’s grown to 15.3 in the playoffs. The only team worse than Golden State was the Houston Rockets with 15.5 a game.
In the second round, Golden State found it especially difficult to maintain possession with a string of 15, 20, 17, 21, and 16 turnovers against top defensive club Memphis. The Warriors top three of Curry (3.6), Green (3.0), and Thompson (2.4) have been the main culprits, but they typically make up for those miscues with at least a steal per game.
But the Cavs have the perimeter defenders in James, Shumpert, and pesky Matthew Dellavedova to create havoc against Golden State, and together Cleveland’s coughing up only 12.3 a game.
Conclusion: The Cavs are banged up but James is at the peak of his powers, and he has the right mix of shooters and perimeter defenders to help him take down Curry and the Warriors. Cavs in 7 games.