With the NBA Finals about to begin, some of the Fear the Sword staff answered questions about the series. Below, check out their thoughts on Kevin Love's role, Kyrie Irving's importance and more.
1. What kind of impact will Kevin Love have on this series?
Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): A small one. When he's on the floor, Golden State is going to hunt him down in the pick and roll, especially when he's on the floor with Kyrie Irving. That might be enough to really limit his minutes and make the Cavs play small more. For Love to stay on the floor and make an impact, he's going to need to hit a lot of his open shots, rebound well and constantly work on defense to the point where he's not a total liability. I'm not sure all of that happens game in and game out.
Alex Ralston (@aralsto): A pivotal one. Love's play will be one of the key areas that will indicate which team empresses their will on the other in this series. If Love is able to be the offensive threat we know he can be the Warriors will be forced to take note and react. If Love is struggling offensively he may be unplayable as the Warriors will be able to take advantage against him defensively and force Ty Lue to react.
Aaron Perine (@SumitLakeHornet): A big one. Love will have to be the player we saw in the last two games of the Toronto series for the Cavs to keep up the insane firepower that they have displayed in the playoffs so far. The team that can force the others' hand and make the opposition adjust will have an immediate advantage in this series. The Cavs might be asking a lot from Love, but I think he can deliver.
Mike Mayer (@MikeMayer1964): I tend to think he will need to play a fairly large role, because this year's Finals are likely going to be higher scoring than last year's. The Cavs need to put up points, and Love is pivotal to the offense. Defensively, he's going to struggle, but I think they need to live with that if he's hitting shots on the other end (and if the Cavs are going to win the series, he needs to hit shots).
Brett Zelman (@blouiszelman): I'm with Mike; if Love is playing well offensively, you can put up with his defensive struggles, and hopefully that means he ends up playing a large role because that will mean his offensive game is going well. While Love may struggle defensively against the Warriors "death" lineup, he can punish them on the other end in the post and this could help slow the game down for the Cavaliers.
Alex Raulli: He will have a big impact, one way or the other. His rebounding and shooting can cause problems for Golden State, but his pick and roll defense presents them with opportunities. If the Cavs can cover over his weakness he could be a key to their success. If they can't his minutes could be limited. I'd bet on the former, but the latter is certainly possible.
Daniel Rowell (@Danieljrowell): I'll split the difference and say medium impact. Love needs to be the third option as a shooter on offense, a defensive rebounder that can beat out Bogut and Green, and an outlet passer for fast break points. I agree what everyone says about Love's defensive inabilities, but I think there are adjustments and switches that the Cavs can make to limit the number of times he has to cover Green on a pick and roll. Although switching him onto a player like Barnes or Iguodala and daring either to shoot could have it's own problems.
Carter Rodriguez (@Carter_Shade): I, like everyone else in the entirety of America, wonder if Love can stay on the floor in this series. I think the amount of minutes he gets is directly proportional to his shotmaking. The Cavaliers can't really absorb one of those "4-11 from the field" Kevin Love games in this series with how the Warriors will attack him.
Justin Rowan (@Cavsanada): He will have a significant impact on this series. Whether he finds a way to be productive enough to stay on the floor for the kind of minutes he is accustomed to, or if he must sacrifice and adjust in order to provide a productive 20-25 minutes a night. The difference he is capable of making when on the court is significant, assuming he is engaged. His ability to space the floor, attack the boards and initiate offense helps make the Cavs versatile and more difficult to defend. This might not be his series, but he needs to find a way to make his presence felt when he is on.
2. Is there anything from last year's Finals that the Cavs can use and apply to this series?
CM: The Cavs maybe can try to play slow again and see where that takes them. But so much of what happened last year - particularly LeBron taking on an insane load - really feels transferable. Unless your thing is benching Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
AR: I believe that last years Finals showed that the current bench and LeBron unit that Lue has been relying on so much can flourish against the Warriors. While it's true that Jefferson and Frye weren't not a part of that series the Shumpert/Dellavedova backcourt has a good track record against the Warriors.
AP: Well, I think Chris is right to think that they could muddy up the game. I think more tellingly, the Cavs need to capitalize on the ridiculous turnovers that we have seen GSW throw in this last series and will probably come again in some form as they play with that ball whizzing around the perimeter. But, honestly this is a different team and a different year.
MM: I think it is very unlikely that anything from last year is going to be replicable this year. I mean, Timofey Mozgov -- a key part of the Cavs' defensive effort -- averaged 28 minutes per game in those Finals. If he averages even close to half of that this year, it will be purely out of desperation.
BZ: I do think the pace the Cavs wanted to play at last year in the Finals (SLOW) could have some carry over to this year. The Cavs will look for transition opportunities but if those aren't available, I could see them really slowing it down when they get into halfcourt sets as long as they can keep up their level of ball movement.
ARaulli: LeBron is awesome. He can impact every facet of the game. While Kyrie and Kevin have been featured a lot this postseason, I think the Cavaliers success in this series will depend largely on putting LeBron in a position to attack Golden State relentlessly.
DR: Shumpert played great defense last year on Klay Thompson, but burned the Cavs in the late games on some poor shooting. If Cavaliers can find ways to increase Shumpert's minutes to help contain the mobile Warriors perimeter, chasing and bumping through all their screens, that would go a long way.
CR: Pace, pace, pace. The Cavaliers are as good as any team in the league at murdering the tempo in a game, and keeping the Warriors in the halfcourt, where they're merely "incredible" as opposed to transition where they're "face-meltingly awesome," will be paramount. This doesn't mean the Cavaliers can't pick their spots, but on balance, the gap between these teams is less pronounced in a primarily halfcourt game.
JR: Nothing. That was a very different Warriors team and this is a very different Cavs team. Steph Curry and Draymond Green are significantly better players than last season and Klay Thompson doesn't have a concussion. The Cavs aren't playing with six and a half players, LeBron is healthy this time around and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are in the lineup. The Warriors no longer struggle against slow teams to the same extent as last season. If you look at the Western Conference Finals the average pace of a Thunder win was 103.6 while the pace of Warriors wins was 94.6. The Cavs need to toe the line of pushing the pace and getting into a trackmeet with one of the best offenses ever.
3. How should the Cavs counter the ‘Death Lineup'?
CM: It goes against what I said in my first answer, but the Cavs have to try and rebound well enough there to take hurt the small ball lineups. It worked for the Thunder - although they are a better rebounding team than the Cavs - and it's really been the only thing to work against the death lineup this season. By the way, the Cavs' best rebounding duo is Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. Something is going to have to give here.
AR: Shooting as many good look threes as they can get. The Warriors death lineup is good, better than any lineup the Cavaliers have. But by shooting a high volume of threes the outcomes against the death lineup become more random and that favors the Cavs I think. Chaos is a positive Cleveland since conventional wisdom seems to indicate that the Warriors are a superior team.
AP: The Cavs have to flex their muscle on the glass. TT will have to be good to excellent. Kevin will have to battle. It paid dividends against this team before. Also, get Iggy or Thompson in foul trouble to open up passing lanes to hit the increased open looks. I'm also a fan of human error and randomness so I think no less than two of these will be decided by some Internet-Melting Scenario. That favors the Cavs.
MM: There's probably no great answer here, but, as others have noted, rebounding will be key, so I think Tristan has to be in there. And he has to be a monster. The alternative, of course, is to play LeBron with four shooters, and try to beat the Warriors at their own game. But I'm not sure the Cavs have the firepower to successfully do that for extended minutes over the course of seven games.
BZ: Tristan Thompson on the offensive glass will be key. Tristan has the most offensive rebounds of anyone in the NBA in the Playoffs and will need to keep that up. The three bigs the Cavs play, TT along with Frye and Love can all play significant roles vs. the "death" lineup. Frye and Love may struggle defensively but Love can make up for defensive struggles with feeding him in the post and Frye's ability to knock down 3s could be a nice antidote as well. The Warriors can switch everything with the death lineup but Frye is seven-feet tall and having someone 6'9" or shorter close out on him at the 3-point arc may not bother him.
ARaulli: Kyrie - Dellavedova - J.R. - LeBron - Frye would be my lineup of choice. Four deadly shooters paired with the best rim attacker in the game today. And I think they could do a reasonable job defensively.
DR: This is where is gets tricky. You would want to have LeBron and Tristan Thompson on the boards like the Thunder did with Ibaka and Durant, but I think Thompson is too much of a liability offensively, so I'd try (and I know this is a bit crazy): LeBron James, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, and Kyrie Irving. It's my Remember-the-Titans lineup, blitz all night and make sure they remember the night Channing Frye shot seven threes.
CR: I think that if the Cavaliers can find a way to hide Love on somebody like Barnes, that'd go a long way. You'd worry about the Cavaliers shifting down and trying to beat the Warriors at their own game, so if the team can keep their bigs out there for offensive rebounding, it'd go a long way. I'm not sure that works, though, and wouldn't be surprised if they default to a Kyre-JR-Shump-LeBron-Thompson unit. It's going to be tough regardless, but if they can find a unit that mitigates the effectiveness of the Death Lineup® by even 10 percent, it'll be a win for the Cavaliers.
JR: I think Tristan Thompson is pivitol in containing the death lineup. He has the length and mobility to disrupt Draymond Green while still giving the Cavs the size to contend with the lineup. I think punishing the death lineup when you're on offense is the best way to get them off of the court, because shutting them down is a really tall task. The Cavs may also want to experiment with lineups featuring LeBron at the five with some combination of wings like Irving, Dellavedova, Smith and Shumpert if Thompson isn't working.
4. Name an advantage that the Cavs have over the Warriors, if there is one.
AR: If Frye and Love are shooting well I can't see a lineup where Golden State should feel good defensively against that front court. It may turn out that defensively that front court is a sieve and would give up too many easy baskets at the rim but as the Warriors just showed us against OKC three points is always preferable to two.
AP: LeBron James. Isn't he always the big advantage? Lol. But, hey he's allegedly the freshest he's been since his first title. I think that matters here. The Warriors caught a version of James with a crazy, video game-like usage rate last year. I don't see that happening this time. The help he has this year is going to be a huge plus too.
MM: I actually think their roster is more versatile, and they can play a number of different ways. The trick is for Tyronn Lue to play the right cards at the right times.
BZ: Health. Most players aren't close to 100% by the time June comes around. While the Warriors aren't dealing with anything as drastic as the Cavs were last postseason with Kyrie's knee, Love's shoulder or maybe even Shumpert's shoulder, they do have more marks on the injury report as Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut and Steph Curry are all dealing with some ailments. I'm sure the Cavs are as well, but the only one we really know of is a minor ankle injury that Matthew Dellavedova suffered in Game 2 vs. Toronto. Not only do the Cavs seem like the healthier team but they're also better rested as they have had five full days off going into the Finals to the Warriors two and have played three less games than the Warriors this post-season.
ARaulli: The Cavs should consistently win the possession battle. Cleveland turns the ball over much less frequently than Golden State, and the Cavs have clear advantage on the boards. This will lead to fewer wasted possessions and more second chances, which is important because they are better shooters so they'll need the extra shot attempts.
DR: *A small mouse crawls up to podium and taps mic* Um, the Cavaliers want it more. *A string quartet assembles and begins to play* See, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, they watched the NBA Finals from hospital beds and sidelines last year and they remember that feeling, watching LeBron James take his team to 2-1 and fall short. And James, he wants it more than any player out there. He's wanted this title for 13 years. The Warriors have so much confidence it's almost a disadvantage. They've been here before. They keep trying to find ways to stay motivated. But at the end of the day, I think it will be interesting to see if Irving, Love, and James come out and want it more, and start to take it. *Steps down from podium* That and length and physicality (but be nice, Cavs.)
CR: I think they can hammer them on the glass. They did it last year with Mozgov and Thompson, but I think the formula is still there. Kevin Love has gotten pretty adept at crashing the offensive glass from beyond the three point arc, and Tristan Thompson has, to this point, the 3rd-best offensive rebound rate in playoff history. They're going to need to get more possessions than the Dubs if they'd like to win, and that's a good way to do so.
JR: I think they have more players capable of generating their own offense. Klay Thompson and Steph Curry are incredible, but Draymond Green can struggle to finish over length if those two aren't spacing the floor with them and if Irving can keep up with Steph's production, it seems feasible that James, Love, Smith can outproduce the rest of the Warriors lineup.
5.How well does Kyrie Irving need to play on both ends for the Cavs to win?
CM: Kyrie is going to have to be great for the Cavs to win. On offense, he'll need to score a ton and be efficient in doing so. On defense, he has to play with effort and hope that's enough to make some kind of impact. Aside from LeBron, he's by far the most important Cav in this series.
AR: I'm of the opinion that Kyrie will have to be a Finals MVP candidate caliber player for the Cavaliers to win this series. He is certainly capable of that and I expect that he will play at a very high level against Steph and Klay.
AP: Irving has had a better postseason campaign than last year by a mile. I, much like the rest of you, remember that block on Steph in Game 1 to save the Cavs butts. He was awesome in that game. The team will need that kind of awesome effort from Kyrie throughout to beat this team. I think he's going to be ready for the stage.
MM: For the Cavs to win, I think Kyrie has to outplay Steph Curry.
BZ: Offensively, Kyrie just needs to maintain what he's been doing this postseason. As Justin Rowan pointed out here, Kyrie's numbers have been awfully close to Steph's this postseason. He's been fantastic minus one bad game. Defensively, he's been good at times, but he needs to be good the whole time for the Cavs to win.
ARaulli: Offensively, I think his passing will be important. In particular, I want to see a lot of the Kyrie / LeBron pick and roll, and for this to be most effective Kyrie's passing will be key. If executed properly I simply don't think the Warriors can defend this action. Defensively, he has to stay engaged. He's capable of making some outstanding plays, but too often he gives up easy points to simple actions.
DR: I think Irving has to be the best player on the court for the Cavaliers to win, or at least in key moments and in some games. James will have his playoff moments, but he lacked a second option down the stretch. The key here is the defensive end. Steph Curry is going to put in work on Irving, both driving, off screens, and off ball. Irving has to keep up for Cavs to keep up.
CR: I think he needs to shoot the hell out of the ball, and abuse the Warriors on switches. He's the player best suited to killing them in isolation, especially if they switch someone like Draymond Green onto him. On the defensive end, he has to compete and not get lost. We'll see if that's something he's capable of under this kind of duress.
JR: Incredibly well. He needs to make Curry work and play the best defensive series of his life in order to make this possible. Unless he makes a legitmate Finals MVP case for himself, the Cavs can't win.
6. Sum up the Cavs' title chances in GIF form.
7. Make your pick: who wins this series and in how many games? Who is the Finals MVP and why?
CM: Warriors in 6. Golden are just too good and can take advantage of even the smallest opening. Klay Thompson will win Finals MVP.
AR: Cavs in 6. Kyrie is the MVP. Believing is more fun than not, Cleveland has waited long enough.
AP: Cavs in 6. Isn't it time to believe? Gotta be optimistic. LeBron James paints his masterpiece and Kevin and Kyrie do enough to win one for The Land. I cry...a lot.
MM: I really do believe the Cavs can win. But my head says Warriors in seven.
BZ: Cavs in 5. LeBron wins MVP because he's still the best player in the world.
ARaulli: Champagne and/or chocolate milk at the Oracle after game five.
DR: Warriors in 6. Not quite the pick from my heart, but the Warriors are too good for the Cavaliers backcourt to keep up with. (Runs away and cries.)
CR: Warriors in 6. Golden State has a defense that should bother the Cavaliers just enough to make up for their own explosive offensive outputs.
JR: This feels like the year for the Cavs. The Warriors are a little banged up and Green is on the verge of suspension. Cavs in 6.