The time is nearing for all the predictions to stop, the speculating to turn to analysis and for the grind that is the NBA Finals to begin. There will be punches, counter-punches, moments of euphoria and of despair. Basketball is a game of runs and with the added pressure of the stage these games will be played is enough to drive the blood pressure of fans through the roof. That being said, the Cavs have a legitimate shot at delivering the city of Cleveland a championship, even though they are a fairly heavy underdog heading into this series. It's a position familiar to the fans and to LeBron James who has always reveled in situations like this. It all starts with game one.
When? 9 pm ET
Where? Oracle Arena, Oakland California
Where on my eyeballs? ABC
Enemy blog: Golden State Of Mind
I went in depth about what the Cavaliers need to do to win this series already, so I will try my best not to repeat myself here. But whether or not the Cavs win game one, I think it's important that they establish how they plan on playing in this series. Even if the Warriors were to blow the doors off early, which they certainly are capable of doing in any game, I think it's important that the Cavs find something that works that they can carry forward for the remaining six games.
Winning the rebounding and possession battle will be key. This year's Warriors team are a different animal than last years. They no longer have the same struggles against slow teams and in order to have success against this team they will need to toe the line between playing into the Warriors hands with a run and gun style, and pushing the pace just enough to prevent their half court defense to be set. Both teams can be devastating in transition, so keeping an eye on who wins that battle will likely heavily influence the outcome of this series.
What to watch for in game one:
- It's time to stop guessing and wondering about the effectiveness of Kevin Love and how he will be used. The gameplan of Tyronn Lue and how he intends on using Love will likely be obvious early on. It's worth noting that in the Christmas game lineups with Love at center played the Warriors even, despite his poor shooting and a minute restricted Kyrie Irving in his first week back in action. While the Warriors didn't have Harrison Barnes at that time and Love could be hid on Livingston, he did spend some time against Andre Igoudala as well as Draymond Green. While I would encourage keeping him away from Green at all costs, if Love can find a way to be a plus vs small ball it would completely change the complexion of this series.
- It'll be interesting to see if Steve Kerr goes with Igoudala or Barnes at the starting small forward position. Igoudala did a great job on LeBron in primarily single coverage in last years Finals. How frequently he covers James and what James does in those minutes will be a crucial thing to keep an eye on in this series. Having other players to initiate the offense, spread the floor, allow him to play off ball at times and being completely healthy are all changes that significantly help LeBron in this matchup. I think James is poised to have a big Finals in a far more efficient manner than last year's, but if Igoudala manages to hold his field goal percentage down again with all the extra help present, he will probably earn his second Finals MVP in a row.
- Kyrie Irving vs. Steph Curry. This one is pretty straight forward. Two dynamic offensive players that typically require an entire team effort to try and slow them down. Can Kyrie come close to matching the production of Steph? If he can, the Cavs may be able to overpower the rest of the Warriors offense.
- Tristan Thompson vs. Draymond Green. Green is the straw that stirs the drink for the Warriors. He was frustrated by Thompson at times in the 2015 Finals, if Thompson can find ways to throw him off the game it may slow down the engine of the Warriors.
- The final thing to watch is what J.R. Smith shows up. When he's firing on all cylinders he can make people wonder if he's the best player on the team, but he also have warts that make people question whether he can be a part of a winning team. He has as much to prove as anyone in this series. His growth and maturity has been an underrated story-line this season, and if he can cap it off with a great Finals, it could help change how he is perceived around the league.