The original tagline for FB&G was “A Lakers Blog. Thoughts, reflections, and the odd rant on the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA (even the Clippers).” I’ve gotten away from the “and the NBA” part of things over the last year or so, but I’m back on that horse today with the NBA Finals about to start — and doing it with an old format to boot.
So, without further ado, here are some Fast Break Thoughts on the NBA Finals…
- With this being the 4th straight years these teams have met in the Finals, you’d think there’d be few storylines to explore, but I’m not sure that’s true. The version of the Cavs in front of the Warriors is remarkably different from the one from just a year ago, to say nothing of the one from the two Finals matchups prior.
- Not only is this Cavs team worse than last year’s, it rivals the 2015 team that was injury depleted to the point that Matthew Dellavedova was a key starter and “impact” player for that team. Speaking of that team, while they were less talented than this 2018 version, I’d argue their solidified identity as a slow-it-down, defense first group gives them a bit of an advantage over this current group which still doesn’t have an identity beyond “rely on LeBron to be amazing and hope at least two of our role players are good tonight”.
- If you’re looking for a Lakers angle, there are 4 former FB&G’ers in this series: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., and Jose Calderon for the Cavs and Nick Young for the Warriors. I think Clarkson and Nance can both be useful in this series, even if the popular consensus is that JC is more than likely to struggle as he has for most of these playoffs. Clarkson can match up with either Young or Cook (should the latter play at all) and his athleticism should come in handy should the pace of this series ratchet up (which isn’t to the Cavs advantage, but that’s another story). As for Nance, I think he’ll do fine when guarding any of the Looney/West/Draymond trio, but will likely struggle if asked to switch repeatedly onto KD or Curry — though, you know, you can say that about nearly every big man in the league.
- One thing I’ll be watching closely is how much Golden State decides to switch defensively this series vs. playing more conventional coverages in the P&R. LeBron will surely try to get Curry or Looney switched onto him in order to isolate and force double teams, but the Warriors might be better served trying to hedge and recover until the Cavs prove they can work that action enough to not only generate shots for their 3-point shooters, but to have those shooters actually make the shots.
- Speaking of shooters, one recurring theme is likely to be whether Korver and Love (whenever he is cleared medically from being in the league’s concussion protocol) can hit enough shots to justify what is likely to be really difficult defensive matchups for both. Love may have an easier time staying on the floor when the Warriors play with two bigs, but when Draymond is at C it will be difficult for Love to protect the paint against the drives and back-cuts the Warriors will execute when looking for shots at the rim.
- Tristan Thompson will be a major x-factor in this series. If he can turn GSW’s defensive glass into a scrum, it will limit the Warriors ability to get out and run, which in turn will limit the types of transition 3’s that they use to blow games open. In the WCF, Clint Capela and PJ Tucker were tremendous at getting to the O-glass and it slowed the Warriors down and turned things into a halfcourt game. Can Thompson replicate that?
- I expect the Warriors rotation to expand a fair amount this series. I think we’ll see David West, Cook, and maybe even Zaza Pachulia get more than just garbage time minutes. We might even get a JaVale McGee spotting or two.
- Is there a path to the Cavs making this even a somewhat competitive series? My gut says no, but if there is a formula i think it comes down to: 1. LeBron being head and shoulders the best player in the series 2. Love and Korver shooting in the mid 40’s on 3’s at a semi-high volume 3. fantastic wing defense by JR Smith and George Hill (as well as scoring punch) 4. Thompson being a monster on the glass 5. bad GSW luck. If this seems like everything going right, well…yeah. The Cavs have negative margin for error here; they not only have to have everything work that they try, they need the Warriors to actively fail or have unforseen circumstances plague them. Andre Iguodala’s injury can be meaningful, but the Warriors can compensate for that better vs. the Cavs than they did against the Rockets.
- One Cav I have not mentioned is Rodney Hood. In theory, Hood’s scoring ability and size on the wing could be really useful. Once deployed, however, he’s proving to be too much in his own head and not engaged enough. Can that change at the highest level of competition? Seems a lot to ask, but nothing is impossible, I suppose.
- I’m not too keen on making a prediction, but I will say this: I think Warriors win and either do so in a sweep or in 6 games. I know that’s a hedge, but I could see the Cavs stealing one of the 1st two games in Oakland (and maybe game 1 with Iguodala out) and then, if that happens, getting another game in Cleveland (probably game 5). But then I’d see the Warriors closing it out in game 6 before going back to Oakland (remember the Finals switched to a 2-2-1-1-1 format over the last couple of years). That said, it would not surprise me at all for the Warriors to simply outclass the Cavs from the gate and win 3 of the 4 games going away while a super performance from LeBron keeps (at least) one of the games close, but not enough to win.