Jun 02 2016

2016 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Cavaliers (The 1SKILLZ Gameplan)

Here we go with the rematch. I had the Golden State Warriors here from the autumn. But I had the Atlanta Hawks meeting the Warriors from the East. They didn’t make it. Neither did the Oklahoma City Thunder, despite a 3-1 lead in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. And the best season in Toronto Raptors franchise history ended in the Eastern Conference Finals.

So we have a rematch: the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

(PC: Twitter/NBA)

(PC: Twitter/NBA)

The Warriors have won more postseason series under head coach Steve Kerr (7) than they did in the previous 38 years combined (6). Golden State defeated the Houston Rockets in 5 in Round 1, a rematch of the 2015 NBA Western Conference Finals. Golden State lost unanimous MVP PG Stephen Curry to a sprained MCL in Round 1, but he came back in the Semifinals to help put the Portland Trail Blazers away in 5. The Warriors became the first team to ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Western Conference Finals, eliminating the Thunder in 7. Once again, the Warriors didn’t have to face the San Antonio Spurs or the Los Angeles Clippers, the last two teams to knock them out of the playoffs, while the Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks went quietly in Round 1.

Warriors knock out the Thunder!

A video posted by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

While the Warriors won an NBA-record 73 games, the Cavaliers led the Eastern Conference with a mere 57 wins. But for the second straight postseason, the Cavaliers only lost two games en route to the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers swept the Detroit Pistons in Round 1, just like they did in Detroit’s last postseason appearance in 2009. In a rematch of the 2015 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, the result was the same between the Cavaliers and Hawks in the Semifinals: another sweep. And even though the Raptors were able to win Games 3 and 4 at home, the Cavaliers outscored Toronto by 93 points in the series, the most lopsided Conference Finals in NBA history. The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, and Indiana Pacers also failed to get out of Round 1, while the Miami Heat saw their Game 7 winning streak extend to four games in Round 1 before seeing it snapped in the Semifinals.

That’s incorrect, Raptors.

A video posted by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

For the Warriors, this NBA Finals is their opportunity to claim best team ever status, as well as the team of the 2010s, a title currently held by the Miami Heat. The best player of the Miami dynasty is now in Cleveland, and LeBron James now has another shot at the Warriors with PG Kyrie Irving and PF Kevin Love in the lineup. This will be the 14th NBA Finals rematch in NBA history.

Going back to last year’s Finals, the Warriors have defeated the Cavaliers in five straight games. This regular season saw the Warriors sweep the Cavaliers. The Warriors won at Golden State on Christmas 89-83, with C Andrew Bogut blocking four shots and the Cleveland Big 3 making only 19-of-57 field goals (33 percent). On MLK Day in Cleveland, the Warriors beat the Cavaliers 132-98, as Curry made more field goals by himself (35 points, 12-of-18 FGs) than the Cleveland Big 3 made combined (27 points, 11-of-32 FGs, 34 percent). Later that week in January, Cleveland fired overhyped head coach David Blatt, replacing him with assistant Tyronn Lue.

Before we get to the breakdown, I am pleased to announce here on TheNU that I’m on the new #MakeItTakeIt podcast with NFL Media podcast producer TD Daniel and ubiquitous pro broadcaster Kyle Montgomery. Subscribe to us on iTunes, we’re doing this for the people! Here’s the episode featuring a preview of the 2016 NBA Finals:


The 2015-2016 Cavaliers are one of three teams to attempt a three-pointer on more than 40 percent of their total field goal attempts in the playoffs. They’re the only one of the three to win a playoff series, let alone get to the NBA Finals. On the flipside, this Cavaliers team enters the NBA Finals with the lowest free throw rate of any Conference Champion. Cleveland SF LeBron James is the only Cavalier getting to the FT line with any kind of consistency, and even his 5.8 FT attempts per game is a career-low in the postseason. It’s a very disappointing development, one that puts extra importance on James’ teammates to hit threes against a Golden State defense that allowed opponents to make only 33.2 percent of threes this season (2nd best in the NBA). James is better rested going into this NBA Finals than last year, and even though backup Golden State SF Andre Iguodala won a Finals MVP for merely surviving James’ onslaught, that task will be made harder with Cleveland PG Kyrie Irving and PF Kevin Love present and making more than 44 percent of their three-point attempts in the playoffs. Cleveland SG J.R. Smith is the big X-Factor here. He’ll have to deal with the length of Golden State SG Klay Thompson, and Smith was a dreadful 15-of-51 (29.4 percent) shooting threes in last year’s Finals off the bench. This time around, Smith is starting, and he leads the Cavaliers this postseason with 49-of-106 made threes (46.2 percent).
Advantage: Draw/Cavaliers


Love missed the 2015 NBA Finals with a shoulder injury, and Cleveland started PF Tristan Thompson and C Timofey Mozgov in his place. This time around, Thompson is starting at C in place of a benched Mozgov, while Love is a healthy enigma. On one hand, he’s been mostly terrible inside the arc, making only 34 percent of his two-point field goal attempts while averaging only 4.1 free throws per game in the postseason. Love averaged 8.2 free throws per game in his final season in Minnesota. On the other hand, Love has been shooting lights out from three, and he still finds some time to get 1.9 offensive rebounds a game. Love had a very discouraging regular season against Golden State: 13 points on 6-of-21 shooting from the field (28.6 percent), including only 1-of-8 shooting on three-pointers. His cross-matchup will be All-Defensive First Team PF Draymond Green, one of only four players in the NBA this season to collect 100+ steals and 100+ blocks. It will be interesting to see what happens to Golden State C Andrew Bogut in this series. When Green was clowning Miami C Hassan Whiteside about the troubling decline in the value of NBA centers, he may as well have been talking about his own teammate. Bogut was phased out of the NBA Finals in the final three games, and even though he’s still a fantastic rim protector and interior presence, Bogut averages fewer than 20 minutes per game in the postseason. Tristan Thompson has had a terrible postseason as a scorer (4.9 points per game, 42.9 percent FGs) and will only be expected to grab an offensive rebound every quarter.
Advantage: Draw/Warriors


A big reason why Golden State dropped from the best defense in the NBA in 2014-2015 to T-4th in 2015-2016 is that they fell off in this department. Golden State went from being a top-ten team at forcing turnovers to a bottom-ten pressure team, despite Curry leading the league in steals. Golden State has turned the pressure up in the postseason, with Klay Thompson getting more active and Iguodala rounding back to form following a mid-season ankle sprain. Both James and Irving improved their assist-turnover ratios in the postseason, while James is the only Cavalier to average more than 2.5 turnovers a game. Cleveland cannot win if they have more turnovers than Golden State.
Advantage: Draw/Warriors


The Warriors had the league’s best offense this season despite averaging 15.2 turnovers per game, ranking 24th in the NBA in protecting the rock. Good thing they’re going up against a Cavaliers team that is amongst the poorest in the league at forcing turnovers. Cleveland only had one game this postseason where they had at least ten steals, while they finished 28th in steals during the regular season. Cleveland backup PG Matthew Dellavedova has only one steal in 195 minutes this postseason. Curry averages a turnover a quarter in the postseason, while Green’s assist rate has dropped in the postseason. James will look to be in the passing lanes, and Irving is averaging 1.5 steals per game in the postseason. Iguodala’s ball-handling takes a lot of pressure off leading playmakers Curry and Green, while Livingston gives the Warriors four players that are averaging at least 3.5 assists per game this postseason.
Advantage: Draw/Warriors


Cleveland benefitted from Detroit C Andre Drummond’s poor free throw shooting, Atlanta’s allergen to the paint, and an ankle injury to Toronto C Jonas Valanciunas. Bogut’s lack of usage in this postseason, combined with his Game 4 benching and Game 5 and 6 DNP-CDs in last year’s Finals, puts a lot on Green’s plate. The first-time All-Star should expect to be used in several pick-and-rolls involving Love, and maybe that gets Green going this postseason. Green has made only 41.3 percent of his shots from the field, and he’s the only non-Splash Brother who gets more than ten field goal attempts per game. Green made only 26.7 percent of his field goals in the first three games of the NBA Finals last year, but after Bogut was taken out of the lineup, Green improved to 48.5 percent from the field. The Cavaliers have been a strong defensive rebounding team with Tristan Thompson, Love, and James all capable of double-digit rebound outings. But no Cavalier blocked 60 shots this season, and 7’1″ Mozgov has only played 50 minutes this postseason.
Advantage: Warriors


The NBA isn’t necessarily shooting the three-pointer better. The league is simply shooting more of them. Unfortunately, this was the first NBA season that saw teams shoot more threes (a record 24.1 per game) than FTs (23.4 per game, fourth-lowest in NBA history). The average three-point percentage this season was 35.4 percent, the exact same percentage from the 2000-2001 season. Curry made an NBA record 402 three-pointers this season. He missed 484 – only ten other players in the entire league attempted at least 484 three-pointers this season. Curry had room for improvement even after his first MVP season, and besides launch unlimited ranges of threes, he made sure to get to the free throw line for a career-high 5.1 attempts per game. The Cavaliers may have missed Irving’s offense in the Finals last year, but they’ll need Irving to show up on defense. After all, he’s guarding the only player in league history to have a 30-point 50-40-90 season. And to make matters even more challenging, Cleveland isn’t starting Iman Shumpert this year against Klay Thompson. Smith will be tasked with keeping an eye on Klay Thompson, who has taken 172 threes (44.8 percent) this postseason and 171 two-pointers (45.0 percent). Smith has to find a way to save Cleveland a point and stay attached to Klay Thompson. Klay Thompson’s proficiency as a scorer, despite not getting to the line enough, is what makes Golden State’s offense so dangerous despite their leading scorer being a point guard. It remains to be seen whether or not Iguodala will start in the NBA Finals or if SF Harrison Barnes gets to start – or both. Either way, both players will be a key part in Golden State’s free-throw averse, three-point heavy attack. Cleveland was a top-ten team this past season in three-point attempts allowed.

Advantage: Warriors


I’ve been a leading proponent of “Basketball Special Teams“. Both teams have interesting bench lineups that are very different. When the Warriors want to pick up the pace and eliminate teams for a spurt, they turn to their “Death Lineup”: Curry-Thompson-Barnes-Green-Iguodala. Well, the Cavaliers have a lineup that’s been doing work this postseason, and it’s James and the bench of Dellavedova, Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, and Channing Frye. Frye joined the Cavaliers after the January meeting with the Warriors, and while all he does is shoot, he is shooting a ridiculous 57.8 percent from three this postseason. Jefferson is also shooting the three exceptionally well at 45.5 percent. Cleveland has arguably had the best bench in the postseason, while Golden State had one of the three best benches in the league during the regular season. The Warriors are one of the fastest paced teams in the league, while Cleveland is one of the slowest. A big concern for Cleveland in this series is the free throw shooting of LeBron James, which has dropped all the way down to 63.0 percent in the playoffs.
Advantage: Draw/Warriors


Lue was put into this tough spot, and he has to show some Pat Riley. In 1981, former NBA player and Lakers assistant Riley took over for Paul Westhead, who was fired as head coach despite leading the Lakers to the 1980 NBA Championship. Riley led a team with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an NBA Championship, leaving Westhead as a forgotten man. Riley is also the last head coach to win a championship as a midseason replacement, as he led the 2005-2006 Miami Heat to a title. Lue has his work cut out for him, as his counterpart is 2015-2016 NBA Coach of the Year Steve Kerr, a former Cavaliers player who has consistently pushed the right buttons on this team. Kerr’s Warriors only lost back-to-back games once all year (Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City), and in two seasons, he has only lost four out of any seven games as a head coach once: the period from Portland’s lone win in this year’s Semifinals to the end of Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals.
Advantage: Warriors


Cleveland has health. Last year, Love was hurt, Irving got hurt, and James Jones (joining James as the only players in 50 years to be on six straight NBA Finals teams) was the first big man off the bench for Cleveland. Mike Miller, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, Joe Harris, Kendrick Perkins, and an injured Anderson Varejao were on the roster for Cleveland last year. Now, Cleveland’s inactive list will include C Sasha Kaun and SG Jordan McRae, the bench will have SF Dahntay Jones and PG Mo Williams on it, while Jefferson (a former Warrior) and Frye figure to be fixtures in the rotation. On the flip side, Varejao joined the Warriors midseason, and he is one of only three Golden State players who weren’t with the team last year. PG Ian Clark and injured rookie PF Kevon Looney are also new Warriors, replacing David Lee, Justin Holiday, and Ognjen Kuzmic. The Warriors have homecourt advantage, and they have only lost three games there all year. A team hasn’t won a Game 7 on the road since the Washington in 1978 at Seattle – back when there were Bullet, SuperSonics, and no threes.The biggest upset in NBA Finals history, by regular season win differential, belongs to the 1975 Warriors, a 48-win team that swept the 60-win Washington Bullets. 41 years later, the 57-win Cavaliers will attempt to beat the 73-win Warriors. Maybe this will be the bonus scenes of Believeland. This would be, in many respects, the biggest upset in NBA history if Cleveland were to overcome their history here in the Finals.
Advantage: Draw/Warriors


I’ve said enough. Forget team of the decade – player of the decade could very well be on the line here. James has won back-to-back MVPs, but none of them were unanimous like Curry’s this year. There’s one thing missing on Curry’s résumé, and one thing missing for the 2015-2016 Warriors: a Finals MVP, and a sweep. Curry becomes the first PG to be the regular season and Finals MVP in the same season since Magic in 1987, and the Warriors become the first team to sweep the NBA Finals since James’ Cavaliers were swept in 2007.
Prediction: Warriors in 4.

Golden State C Anderson Varej?o began his career and this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, appearing in the 2007 NBA Finals. This NBA Finals will be his first games against the Cavaliers in his 12-year NBA career. (PC: John Kuntz/Plain Dealer)

Golden State C Anderson Varejao began his career and this season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, appearing in the 2007 NBA Finals and missing the 2015 NBA Finals due to a torn Achilles. The 2016 NBA Finals will be the first games against the Cavaliers in Varejao’s 12-year NBA career. (PC: John Kuntz/Plain Dealer)


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