2017 NBA Finals: The Grudge Match Of All Grudge Matches

After a subpar postseason, the Cavs and Warriors are ready to give NBA fans what they have all been craving for: an actual competitive series

(USA TODAY Sports/Lede In Illustration)

This is a collaborative story between editors Christopher Zacherl and Javier Cortez.

What is the most intriguing aspect of this matchup?

Cortez: The most intriguing aspect of this matchup is that we are finally going to see an even matchup. The talk surrounding these two teams over the past three seasons has been health and for the most part, both teams are relatively healthy going into game one.

Zacherl: Kyrie Irving has been hot during NBA playoffs, recently owning the Celtics before coming the mayor of Boston. It will be intriguing to see how he matches up with Stephen Curry, who has also been amazing for the past three years now. Both of these points gods have serious handles, they are both threats from the 3-point line, and are mighty quick on and off the ball. May the best point guard win.

What is the historical significance of this series?

Cortez: Putting all the individual legacies aside, we have never seen two teams meet three consecutive years in the NBA Finals. It is the ultimate grudge match. These two teams can very well meet again next June, but this is something that should not go unnoticed.

Zacherl: As you may have already heard, this is the first time in NBA history that two teams meet in the NBA finals for three consecutive years. As crazy as that may seem, it’s evident that the power structure of the NBA relies mostly on these two teams, at least for the time being. If you are even slightly interested in basketball, watching this series is a must.

Who is the X-factor for each team?

Cortez: For the Cavs, it has to be Kevin Love. He needs to be effective on offense, especially when the Warriors go small with Durant and Green at power forward and center. Love will have plenty of opportunities to score from the outside in this series, but it’s what he does in the paint that matter most. If he can’t exploit a mismatch against the slimmer Durant or shorter Green, then he essentially becomes another spot up shooter who is completely reliant on James.

For the Warriors, it has to be Andre Iguodala. He has been the most important bench player over the past three seasons in the NBA. He is what makes the Warriors small ball go. Depending on his health and level of play he can make or break this series. Whether you believe he should have been Finals MVP in 2015 or not, he was the Warriors best player that series. His ability to guard James one-on-one and make open 3-pointers eventually broke the Cavs back. As good as Durant and Green are defensively, Iguodala has the best combination of size, speed, and strength to guard James.

Zacherl: For the Cavs, J.R. Smith has to come in with the defensive presence that we all witnessed in last year’s NBA Finals. When you are facing an explosive and quick-scoring team like the Warriors, you need defensive minded players that can shut down star players, even if it’s just for a small time period. J.R.’s defensive presence along with his ability to splash threes will be vital to the Cavs’ success if they find any during this brutal rematch.

For the Warriors, I believe it is Klay Thompson. In this year’s playoffs, he has shown us that he can be quite inconsistent in terms of 3-point shooting which is his main strength, and why he’s found success on this Warriors roster. As a 3-point shooter, he needs to come through as Curry and Durant obviously cannot play a full 48 minutes. At times, he may find himself in a slump in terms of shooting and it’s up to him to keep bombing threes regardless of the situation or provide something else for his team like driving to the basket and racking up assists, which is not his strong suit.

Who wins and why?

Cortez: The biggest discrepancy between these two teams is defense. Simply put, Cleveland was not a good defensive team this season. And in the playoffs, with the “switch flipped”, they have not been much better. Their best defense has been their offense. An offense that has exploited mismatch after mismatch this postseason. Now they have run into a team that can not only matchup with them, but successfully guard them one-on-one without sacrificing their rim protection. In the conference finals, the Cavs once again, showed they are a majorly flawed team defensively. They were late on rotations, got caught sleeping on back door cuts, and were constantly flattened on screens. They kept getting bailed out by Boston’s inability to make wide open shots and that is the difference. Golden State will not miss wide open shots. Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder are expendable 3-point shooters. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant are three of the greatest shooters of all-time. If Cleveland wins this series, they need to play significantly better on defense, a level they have not displayed all season. I can’t make a prediction on what might happen, I can’t see into the future. All I can go off of is everything that has proceeded this matchup. The burden of proof is on the Cavs to display exemplary defensive to go along with great individual play from their best player. Although we have seen the latter to be true, a combination of them both seems less likely than the Warriors playing great team basketball, which is something they have done all season.

Golden State in six.

Zacherl: This rematch between the Warriors and Cavaliers will definitely be fun again. Acquiring Kevin Durant before the season, the Warriors seem ready to get their revenge. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, LeBron James is making his case to be the greatest of all time, in hopes of acquiring his fourth NBA Championship ring. I know the Warriors look unstoppable now that they have returned to the Finals with superstar Kevin Durant, but I just don’t see LeBron James losing this year. This is because LeBron has been around the league for 14 seasons and he is making his 8th NBA Finals appearance. At this point in his career, with the team he has around him, I think the Cavaliers are simply the better team regardless of being in the “weaker” Eastern Conference.

Cavaliers in seven.

Who wins the Finals MVP?

Cortez: If the Cavs pull off the upset, it’s almost a no-brainer that James would be the MVP. With the Warriors, it’s almost like picking your poison. Curry, Thompson, and Durant can take over games offensively on any given night, but the player with the biggest load on his plate is Draymond Green. He incurs so much more responsibility than any other Warrior on defense and will spend plenty of time this series guarding James and Love while keeping Tristan Thompson off the boards. On offense, if he keeps shooting the ball well and quarterbacks the Warriors transition offense, it’s hard not seeing his name on MVP ballots.

Zacherl: If Cavs win……it’s LeBron James, need I say more? If Warriors take the cake, then it could really be anyone on that team. Shit, it can even be JaVale McGee if he can’t be contained by the smaller Tristan Thompson. But in all seriousness, I would probably say Kevin Durant, he has been playing the best basketball of his life this season.

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