NBA finals preview: bad Kevin Love v good Kevin Love may decide series
If you had told me back in October that the NBA finals would once again feature the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, I would have … probably told you that you were absolutely correct. This match-up seemed fated from the moment the Dubs got their hands on the Larry O’Brien trophy. Save for in which I stopped believing in God, Steph Curry, and the laws of physics, there was never much doubt in my mind that we’d all be schlepping to Oakland for Game 1.
Now that this rematch is a reality, the question must be asked: who the hell is going to win this razor-tight contest? The two teams have had months to prepare for this series, match up well with each other, and both have historically great superstars with an axe to grind against the other. Perhaps LeBron really didn’t mean . Maybe we’re all blowing this out of proportion. Maybe global warming is a hoax perpetrated by aliens hoping to steal our oil reserves. Look, anything is possible and I don’t know who to believe anymore.
If the Warriors repeat, the win will cement them as a dynasty in the making and one of the greatest teams of all time (and probably cause LeBron to delete his Twitter and move to Norway). If the Cavaliers win, King James can add “winning one for the Land” to his list of accomplishments and hopefully quiet the skeptics who persist in maligning his ring count. Either way, the finals promise to an unforgettable affair. Here are just a few of the big issues heading into Thursday night’s game.
Iggy v Barnes
Steve Kerr started Andre Iguodala . Iggy didn’t light up the stat sheet (seven points, four rebounds, three assists), but he was able to work his magic against Kevin Durant, limiting the former MVP to an earthly 27 and 7 that contributed to the Thunder being held under 90 points. Conventional wisdom (and common sense) dictates that . This is the guy who won the 2015 finals MVP primarily for guarding LeBron James. Barnes starts for his offense and energy, but when he’s only averaging 8.9 points a game, I think it’s fair to slot him into the second unit.
Is Anderson Varejao a double agent secretly poisoning the Warriors’ food?
If so, LeBron James should have won NBA Executive of the Year. Keep an eye on Varejao’s body language on the bench. If you see him accidentally waving a towel after a LeBron dunk, you know something is amiss and the man is on the take .
Who will own the three-point line?
Cleveland and Golden State are both highly adept shooting teams that have obliterated records all year. The Warriors get most of the headlines, but the Cavs can now claim the , playoffs or regular season. Having Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving starting in lieu of Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov certainly spreads the floor far more in this series than in last year’s finals. That alone makes the Cavs scarier than the depleted roster that took Golden State to six games in 2015.
This postseason, the Warriors really are living and dying by the three. It cannot be overstated how crucial it is for them to be making shots from the perimeter, especially Curry. In the Games 3 and 4 blowout losses to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, Curry shot below 30% from the arc. In Game 7, he shot almost 60%. Klay Thompson shot 55% in Game 7 and 61% in his 41-point statement in Game 6.
Even then, Cleveland might have a secret weapon to even things out against the Warriors this year.
The 6ft 11in who joined the Cavaliers last February has been hot all playoffs. He’s only averaging between 15 and 20 minutes a game, but he’s been shooting above 50% from three since the Game 3 drubbing of Atlanta in the second round – a game where he went 7-9 from the arc. His length is also good for a few crucial rebounds in the second unit. The downside here is that if Frye is 33 years old and slower than AOL dial-up internet. If he gets caught out on a pick-and-roll switch, he’s a defensive liability. Then again, so is Love.
This isn’t all that different than the conundrum OKC had with their bigs. Even though playing Enes Kanter and Steven Adams together would have dwarfed the small-ball Warriors, Kanter was used up like an old dishrag on defense. Any time Kanter got stuck switching onto Curry on a pick-and-roll, I had to bury my head in my hands lest I melt like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Frye might only be useful in situations where the Warriors play Andrew Bogut or Festus Ezeli at center. Frye will be able to stay down in the box on defense and can drift outside on offense, drawing the big man from the paint and giving Kyrie or LeBron ample room to get to the cup. Still, Frye is a clear improvement over the traditional Mozgov.
Which point guard is a worse defender?
Speaking of bad defense, Curry has already been called out by Russell Westbrook over his ability to stop whomever he’s marking. Well, in this series, he’s likely going to be guarding Irving, another point guard who is not known for being a lockdown defender. ESPN’s Zach Lowe of Cleveland’s defense during the Eastern Conference finals. In particular, he pointed out the horrendous work Irving and Love did squashing pick-and-rolls, a crucial part of Golden State’s offense.
The Warriors don’t have a big that’s quite as inept on D as Love. At worst, you might be concerned about Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green racking up bad fouls early, but no one is going to get turned into as frequently as Love.
Simply put, the Warriors can hide Steph’s average defense much easier than Cleveland can obscure Irving’s, which leads me to my most important question:
Which Kevin Love will show up?
Save for a couple meltdowns in Games 3 and 4 of the Toronto series, Love has been Kevin Love on offense. But, this is his first finals. The sort of been-there-done-that mentality that many of his team-mates will carry into this series will be unavailable to him. The aforementioned defensive issues might cause him to lose confidence in transition. This is a player who has to this Cavs team. In his last game against the Warriors, . If he doesn’t pull his weight, Cleveland are sunk.
Finals prediction: 4-3 to the Warriors
This series has all the makings of an all-timer. Cleveland are playing their best basketball at the right time. The Warriors, are, well, the Warriors. If this doesn’t go seven games, I will be shocked. Ultimately, the Cavs’ abysmal defense will be their undoing and the Warriors will take the final game at Oracle. Joe Lacob will take credit for the victory and Harrison Barnes will get maxed out by the Lakers thanks to a monster performance off the bench in a crucial Game 5. This will all happen, unless it doesn’t, in which case I never said any of this and I will personally apologize to Love for ever doubting him. I’ll buy him something he’ll really appreciate, like a case of Muscle Milk or a Costco-sized bottle of hair conditioner.