The Warriors and Cavaliers have played so many times that it often feels like we know everything there is to know about the rivalry and how these two teams match up with one another.
That doesn’t mean, in the 25th matchup of these two teams since LeBron James returned to the Cavaliers, we can’t glean some info, even without Isaiah Thomas and Stephen Curry suiting up.
Here’s three things to watch for in Cavs-Warriors:
1. How will Jae Crowder handle Kevin Durant?
Crowder was hailed as a helpful addition to the Cavaliers in part due to his ability to guard perimeter threats and to give LeBron James a brief respite from guarding Kevin Durant and allow him to lock into playing free safety on defense and allow him to conserve some energy.
Jae hasn’t been what fans hoped for offensively, but he has rounded into form as a smart defensive player. He’ll never be a lockdown individual defender, but the Cavs will need to hope that he can at least make Durant work for his buckets, something the Cavs weren’t really able to do during the 2017 Finals.
2. Will the Cavs bench mob hold up against elite competition?
One of the best stories of the season has been the lineups featuring Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver and Jeff Green that have kept the Cavaliers in games and actually bailed out the starters more often than not early in the season.
Lineups Cleveland ran out without LeBron were absolutely destroyed in last year’s Finals, so there’s naturally hope for Cavs fans that this bench unit will help even the score. That is the hope, but it’ll be interesting to see if players with limited athleticism or shooting can truly survive against the Warriors. The bench mob will go a long way in determining how the Cavs progress in June.
3. Can the Cavs hold up defensively with Kevin Love at center?
Cleveland turned to Love at center more often than ever with Tristan Thompson struggling through the 2017 Finals, to mixed results. Love is the full-time starter at the pivot now, and as Fear the Sword’s Justin Rowan likes to note ALL THE TIME, the Cavs defense with the starters has been, well, awful.
They should score at a high level, even against the Warriors, but winning a straight shootout won’t do the job. The Cavs need to at least defend passably well with Love at center. If they can’t, they’re cooked.
This isn’t the kind of game that will glean a ton of information about how the Finals will play out. Curry and Thomas are too important to their respective teams’ identities, and we specifically need to see how the Warriors intend to attack Thomas offensively before there’s much information about how the Finals will play out.
Hell, we haven’t even seen Paul George in uniform for the Cavs yet (kidding, kidding.)
Regardless, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. We’ll see what questions can be answered on Christmas day.