This is it. The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the precipice of history as they head into Sunday's game against the Golden State Warriors. History has already been made as the Cavs became just the third team to force a game seven after being down 3-1 in the Finals. LeBron James has delivered back to back 41 point games and has two days of rest to prepare himself for a one game showdown with his third NBA Championship on the line.
Who? Cleveland Cavaliers (3-3) vs. Golden State Warriors (3-3)
When? 8 PM EST, Sunday night
Where? Oracle Arena, Oakland California
Where on my eyeballs? ABC
Enemy blog: Golden State Of Mind
The Cavs have the Warriors on their heels. It was evident throughout Thursday night's game as the Warriors failed to play with the poise they typically display. They looked tight throughout the night with countless mental lapses and indecision plaguing multiple possessions.
Sunday promises to be an incredible showdown. Regardless of the outcome, the Warriors were the better team this season. But that's not what the championship is about. It's about when all the chips are down who can overcome adversity, who can rise to the occasion and dominate in a seven game series. It's impossible to deny the fact that Steph Curry was the best player this season, but LeBron James has shown, once again, that he is still capable of elevating to a level where he can be the best player in any given playoff series.
Kyrie Irving has adjusted after two games of being frustrated by the Warriors stifling defense and has responded with four consecutive strong games. This will be the first game seven of his career and it will come on the biggest stage of his career. We know what LeBron provides in elimination games, and to this point we have seen that Irving can bring it with his back against the wall. Whether he can maintain composure and rise to the occasion in the face of adversity, in front of a hostile crowd will be incredibly important.
The Warriors opted to go to their death lineup to start game six, an adjustment that many figured would come at some point in this series regardless of the status of Andrew Bogut. The Cavs were able to get to the rim and wear down Draymond Green who was tasked with playing far more center. Fatigue was likely a factor, as he hadn't played in a game for about a week. But attacking him consistently and trying to get him in foul trouble will be key in game seven as the Warriors offense is 15.6 points worse per 100 possessions when Green sits.
One of the effects of the Warriors going small means that they have nobody to contain Tristan Thompson. Thompson has had a significant impact in the last two games pulling down 15 and 16 rebounds respectively. His offensive instincts off ball were at their best Thursday night as he managed to find the gaps in the defense and was rewarded with quality lob opportunities made possible by the vision of LeBron. Thompson is a unique center who can stay with the Warriors smaller players defensively while possessing the length to punish them for being small. While he typically has played better at home, he needs to provide the Cavs with every ounce of energy he has in game seven and help swing the crucial rebounding battle into the Cavs favor.
The Cavs managed to contain Steph Curry and Klay Thompson early in this series, but they have managed to find their groove over the last two games, averaging 27.5 and 31 points per game respectively. The key has been limiting the rest of the team and funneling open shots to less consistent or less willing three point shooters on the perimeter. The Warriors still have missed a few open shots and there's a chance that they start to hit in game seven, so the Cavs will need to shore up their defense way beyond the level of the last two games to prevent the Warriors from getting into a groove. After blowing a 3-1 series lead, the pressure is on them. The tougher the looks get and longer the Cavs hang around will only serve to amplify that pressure. This team has not lost three straight games all year, but it's impossible for doubt to not be a factor at this point.
The health of Andre Igoudala will likely be one of the main stories leading up to game seven. Idoudala is almost as important to the effectiveness of their small ball lineups as Green. The Warriors offense plummets 11.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench during the Finals. More importantly he is the primary defender on LeBron. If he is limited, it's a big problem for Golden State.
This series has turned into everything we could have hoped for from teams of this caliber. The last two games have featured James, Irving, Curry and Klay Thompson playing at the highest level when it means the most, and I expect that to continue into the final game of this season. So the question remains, who will be the unlikely hero? The stars will do what they do, but who will hit the big shot like Metta World Peace in the 2010 Finals? Who will be the Leon Powe, coming out of nowhere to swing a game? For the Cavs will they receive big minutes from Kevin Love? Who has been the topic of so much scrutiny despite being integral to the team getting to this point. Will Iman Shumpert find a way to play the controlled game he's capable of playing on both ends of the floor, rather than being a gaping wound in the rotation? Will Mo Williams come in and hit a big shot or two, achieving a sort of redemption for past failures from his first time in Cleveland? Or will it be Tristan Thompson, the often scrutinized role player achieving the ultimate validation as an x-factor on a team that wins it all.
Time will tell, the ink is on the pen as history waits to be written. One team will ascend and achieve the highest honor in their profession while the other will likely be the target on unfair criticism.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction
To me this comes down to LeBron James. I've probably been one of the more critical people of LeBron here at times, but the results validate the process. While his leadership style can seem questionable at times, it's clear that the rest of the team has developed and matured throughout the season and are ready for this moment. While his effort hasn't always been there, he has elevated to an unthinkable level once again when the team needed him the most. As I mentioned before, I believe that the Warriors are on their heels. This will be the first time they have faced an elimination game against a player who has won an NBA championship. This is a different animal for them, and while the pressure is on them, it feels as though LeBron has reached a level of peace in his career. His interviews throughout the playoffs have reflected a tone that he is done trying to convince people of how good he is. He is done worrying about what people think of his legacy. He is just going to go out there, give what he has and live with the results.
I trust in LeBron performing at an incredible level more than anybody else in this series. He is the catalyst of this team and the constant. With him shouldering the load he carries, it enables everybody else to go out and do their jobs with more ease than they ever could without him.
LeBron is 2-0 in his career in games where he has an opportunity to clinch an NBA Championship. He averages 31.5 points, 8.5 assists and 11.5 rebounds a game on 50 percent shooting in that situation.
He's already delivered everything he's promised. He has gotten this team to another level. He has embodied the word leader and I am not betting against him with an opportunity to clinch a title.
I believe the Cleveland Cavaliers will clinch their first ever NBA Championship.