9:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Warriors -7, Over/Under: 226
Finally, it’s all come to this. For the first time in NBA History, the same two teams will compete in the NBA Finals three consecutive years in a row, as the Cleveland Cavaliers travel to ORACLE Arena to defend their Championship against the Golden State Warriors. After falling in six games to the Dubs in the 2015 Finals, the Cavaliers (51-31, 2nd in Eastern Conference) shocked the world last Summer, rallying back from a 3-1 deficit to earn their first Larry O’Brien Trophy in seven games. Fast forward twelve months to the present, and Tyronn Lue’s charges are set to lock horns with their celebrated nemesis once again, in arguably the most anticipated Finals of this millennium. Any worries about Cleveland after a completely uneven final third of the Regular Season was put to rest in the Playoffs, as they steamrolled through their opponents will relative ease, sweeping both the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors before dispatching the top-seed Boston Celtics in what can only be described as 5-game Gentleman’s Sweep. Say what you want about the Eastern Conference, but by and large, the Cavs ran through their competition as if it were wet tissue paper. Offensively, these guys have been on fire, averaging 116.8 points on a blistering 50.7% shooting from the field, including 43.5% from beyond the arc, with both percentages ranking tops among Playoff Teams. Furthermore, their lack of defensive effort that spurred so many naysayers late in the campaign appears to be a thing of the past, as Cleveland has yielded 103.2 points on 45.0% shooting, including 35.3% from downtown. Just look what they did to the Celtics; in five games, they outscored Boston by a ridiculous 100 points, with fifty-seven of that total coming in the first two contests from TD Garden, and that was before Isaiah Thomas was knocked out of the Series with a hip injury. Tot he surprise of absolutely nobody, four-time MVP LeBron James (26.4 PTS, 54.8% FG, 36.3% 3FG, 8.6 REB, 8.7 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.6 BLK) has been at the forefront of this run, averaging 32.5 points on 56.6% shooting from the field, including 42.1% from three (both of which are career-highs), along with 8.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.4 blocks. However, more so than at any other period of time in either of his stays in Northern Ohio, he’s had the benefit of plenty of help. Kyrie Irving (25.2 PTS, 47.3% FG, 40.1% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 5.8 AST, 1.2 STL) has emerged as the perfect compliment to James’ excellence, averaging 24.5 points on 46.6% shooting, including 35.6% from distance, while picking his spots judiciously, evidenced by his forty-two points in Game Four against of the Conference Finals, where he exploded for twenty-one points in the Third Quarter alone. And then there’s Kevin Love (19.0 PTS, 42.7% FG, 37.3% 3FG, 11.1 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.9 STL), who now more than ever, looks comfortable fitting in with his two All-Star teammates. In his third Postseason Run with the Cavaliers, the four-time All-Star has averaged 17.2 points on 45.7% shooting from the field, including a sniper-like 47.5% from downtown, along with 10.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.8 blocks. These three players must come together if this team is going to manage yet another upset of Golden State, whom despite splitting their two Regular Season meetings, owned a significant advantage across the board. LeBron and Co. struggled mightily get much of anything offensively against them this season, shooting a dismal 37.2% from the field, including 30.4% from three, all the while averaging just 15.5 assists, their third-fewest against any opponent. With that said, one area in which the Cavaliers can really level the playing field is the Charity Stripe, where they have been downright prolific; they’ve attempted 26.9 free-throws per game in the Playoffs, netting 20.8 of them, third-most of Playoff Teams. James and Irving in particular have uncanny of drawing contact and getting to the Line, which would go a long way towards their side establishing some semblance of control over the tempo, which appears to always be in the Warriors’ favor.
Meanwhile, the road to a third consecutive NBA Finals for the Warriors (67-15, 1st in Western Conference) has been all about retribution. Wiping away the foul taste of blowing a 3-1 lead despite hosting a Game Seven on their home floor, this team has rampaged through the Regular Season, and more emphatically the Playoffs, with an utter single-minded determination to write the wrong that occurred a year ago. Remember, that Golden State set an NBA Record for most wins in a single season, amassing a ridiculous seventy-three victories, but will unfortunately forever be associated with having an asterisk for not finishing the deal by winning an NBA Championship. And it’s with that said, that despite winning six less games over the course of the campaign, and marching through the Postseason largely without their beloved Head Coach Steve Kerr barking orders from the sideline, that this team is better positioned to do what they could not in 2016, and when it all comes down to it, the reasoning can be attributed to the presence of one man. Kevin Durant. The four-time League Scoring Champion and former MVP made waves last summer after making the move to the Bay Area in Free Agency, joining forces with reigning two-time MVP Steph Curry (25.3 PTS, 46.8% FG, 41.1% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 6.6 AST, 1.8 STL) and sharpshooting sidekick Klay Thompson (22.3 PTS, 46.8% FG, 41.4% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.8 STL), creating a virtual Super Team that would go on to strike fear in their hearts of teams around the league. It’s been a seamless fit for Durant (25.1 PTS, 53.7% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 8.3 REB, 4.8 AST, 1.1 STL, 1.6 BLK), who after missing a number of games due to a hyperextended knee, has been a bonafide Man on a Mission in the Playoffs, much in the same vein as his counterpart James, did so many years ago in Miami. During the Dubs’ record-setting perfect start to the Postseason, Durant has averaged 25.2 points on a blistering 55.6% shooting, including a career-high 41.7% from beyond the arc, along with 7.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.7 steals, and 1.2 blocks as his team has sprinted out to a dominant 12-0 record. Leaving the team in the capable hands of Assistant Coach Mike Brown has done nothing to slow down this juggernaut, who swept through the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, and the (shorthanded) San Antonio Spurs with merciless ease. Golden State has hammered the opposition by a staggering 16.3 points per game, while shooting 50.2% from the field, including 38.9% from downtown, all the while dishing out an insane 27.3 assists. However, the biggest difference between this run and their past two has been their play on the defensive end of the court; Kerr’s charges have permitted just 102.0 points on 41.6% shooting from the floor, the lowest such figure by any team in these Playoffs, including 46.0% shooting from inside the three-point arc, which is also the top water-mark for the Postseason. As we mentioned earlier, their work on this end of the floor will be tested unlike any of their previous three opponents, but in their two meetings with Cleveland this season, they’ve managed to stymie LeBron and Co. consistently.
Predicted Outcome: Warriors 117, Cavaliers 109