With the Cleveland Cavaliers set to rematch the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, we turned to Bram Kincheloe, an editor at SB Nation's Golden State Of Mind, to answer a few questions about the team he covers. Check out his answers below.
Fear the Sword: The Warriors obviously just did something few teams have done in coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series. Did you think they were going to pull that off?
Bram Kincheloe (@BramKincheloe): Honestly, I did have some modicum of faith. You don't watch a team win 73 games, covering them night in and night out, without developing a deep respect for their ability to adapt and to overcome adversity. Although, that being said, it was tough. Right after Game 4, I wrote a whole piece about how we should collectively "just think happy thought," as in, how Peter Pan learns to fly. But at the end of the piece, Pan remembers that Game 6 is in OKC, has a flashback to their insane crowd, and then falls splat to the ground. I'll say this: I think the Warriors' 3-1 comeback showed a lot of heart and grit. I think they grew a LOT in that series. The Thunder completely took them out of their normal game. Stephen Curry looked off. After kicking Steven Adams in the man parts, Draymond Green played the worst basketball of his life. Things were not clicking. And yet, they found a way through the trees. They remembered their identity, and were able to remain focused and committed while the Thunder fell apart at the ends of both Games 6 and 7.
FtS: How, if at all, is this Warriors team different than the one from last year?
BK: They are much more battle-tested. After they won the title last year, they had to endure an entire offseason's worth of questioning. You know the story. They didn't have to face the Clippers or the Spurs. The Cavaliers were missing two of their top three players. Obviously, those things are true, but you can only play the team in front of you. When they came back, at the beginning of this season, and reeled off the 24 win streak, I think the league took a deep breath, got together, and said, "Okay, how do we beat these guys?" The championship coupled with the win streak really served to place a serious bulls-eye on the team. So, night in and night out, they got every opponent's hardest shot. Simultaneously, they turned into a must-see, traveling circus. Curry became the Golden Boy of the NBA. Thousands gathered to watch him warm up hours before each game. You didn't see anything like this last year (in Oakland). If anything, I think they've faced quite a bit more adversity this year than last. They've definitely had to deal with a higher level of scrutiny. And, as you guys know so well with LeBron, with success comes haters. Who hated the Warriors last year, pre-championship? No one. But now, people are just waiting for that first serious misstep.
FtS: Is there anything from the Finals last year that the Cavs can take and apply to this series?
BK: It's hard to compare the two series, because they will play out so differently from one another. I, for one, am absolutely ecstatic that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are both a.) healthy and b.) playing at such a high level. Purely as a basketball fan, you always want to see two teams face off in the Finals at full strength. I think Curry is finally getting his mojo back as well after rehabbing his injured knee. His Game 7 performance was the first time we've really seen that extra spring and bounce in his step since before the injury. But, all that being said, I think Tristan Thompson was the X Factor in last year's series. He dominated Draymond and David Lee with his hustle and his gritty, do-anything style. If the Warriors come out of the gate and win both Games 1 and 2 at home, will we see the Cavs go back to a grit and grind thing? Or are we destined to have the highest scoring Finals in NBA history? Second thought: LeBron played out of his frickin mind last year. He had to, no one else was going to score. With a much, much deeper team around him, how will he impose his will on the games? I'm very interested to see how the series develops.
FtS: Do you think Andre Iguodala will stay in the starting lineup?
BK: Short answer: I hope so. He gives the Warriors such deeper options at that small forward spot. He can handle the ball (something that Barnes still cannot do), he can guard LeBron (as we've seen from last year's Finals), and his court vision is much better than Harrison's. When Barnes is in the starting lineup, he mostly serves as a safety outlet, posting in the corner, waiting for someone to throw him the ball. With Andre in as a secondary ball handler, Steph can play more off ball and punish Kyrie around a series of screens. I think they start him.
FtS: If they have one, what's an advantage the Cavs have over the Warriors?
BK: Rest. The Warriors just played a brutal, exhausting series against a physically dominant opponent. They will be beat up headed into Game 1.
FtS: How should the Cavs counter the ‘Death Lineup'?
BK: The Thunder crushed that lineup in Games 3 and 4. I don't think the Cavaliers have the athleticism or length to pull off the same feat, but the "Death Lineup" is not as invincible as they once seemed. That being said, if the Cavs want to run with the Warriors, they have the ultimate "point center" in LeBron. I could see him nominally playing the five (covering Draymond), while spreading the floor with high level shooters. Although, I think ultimately it is a bad idea for the Cavs to try and run with the Warriors. Also, Tristan at the five proved very dangerous last year as well. Tristan and LeBron as the two bigs, with Kyrie off ball would potentially give the Death Lineup some problems.
FtS: Make your pick: who wins this series and in how many games? Who is the Finals MVP and why?
BK: Man, this is tough. I picked the Warriors in seven for the Thunder series and was ultimately proven correct. I think the Thunder played as hard as they could, and still could not put the Warriors away, even after being up 3-1. The Cavaliers don't have that same length, and they don't have that same level of defensive intensity. If the Warriors can rest up and approach Games 1 and 2 with a high level of physicality, I think this series could potentially be over in five. But, I'm going Warriors in six. Curry will win the MVP this year. I don't think LeBron's usage will be nearly as high as he tries to involve Kyrie and Love. I would be very, very surprised if Iguodala won it again. I think that was a once-in-a-generation confluence of events, with LeBron dominating so deeply but the league being unwilling to award the MVP to a player on the losing team. Anyways, tl;dr: Warriors in six, Curry MVP.