This 2017 NBA Finals will be one for the ages. As the Cavaliers and Warriors are set to square off for the third year in a row, it seems this year there is a little extra buzz generated around the series. The Warriors went 12-0 as they swept the Trail Blazers, Jazz, and Spurs on their way to their third straight finals appearance. They are coming into this series with a sense of revenge as they have unfinished business from the Cavaliers winning last year’s Finals in seven games. The Cavaliers went 11-1 with o
The Cavaliers went 11-1 with a slip-up loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. They are playing the role of “hunted” in this series after pulling off a historic upset in last year’s Finals coming back from a 3-1 deficit.
This year will prove to be a great Finals once again. There are a lot of things that will be key to either team’s outcome. Let’s take a look at the five things that could prove to be critical in this series.
1. The Warriors Ability to Cut and Create
The Golden State Warriors thrive on moving without the ball. Without that movement, they would not be able to create the number of open jump shots they earn on a regular basis. This was something that they seemed to lack in Game 7 last year and ultimately cost them a championship. You can most likely assure that will not be the case this time around. The Warriors are averaging 16.1 points per game on 12.3 cut possessions per game in the postseason, per Synergy Sports.
When compared to Cleveland, it’s nearly double what the Cavaliers average (6.7). That is not to say Cleveland can’t produce because of this, they just play a different style of basketball. The Cavaliers give up the sixth most points on cuts among the teams that were in the playoffs. We saw it against Boston, if you are able to catch them sleeping, you can capitalize. A key in this type of basketball for the Warriors will be the play of JaVale McGee and Draymond Green. With Cleveland consistently stepping up to the driver and contesting him, dump off passes and cuts will be key for the Warriors.
2. The Cavaliers will be better in transition defense
In the regular season, the Cavaliers lacked transition defense. They were the worst in points allowed per possession in the regular season, and 15th in opponent fast-break points per 100 possessions. Since they’ve entered the playoffs, they have the fifth-best opponent mark in fast-break points per 100 possessions allowed.
What is key for the Cavaliers is that the Warriors are not playing their best transition basketball right now. They are shooting 48% from the field and when it comes to the Finals, who knows who will step up on either side when it comes to transition basketball. This will be key for Cavaliers on defense and for the Warriors on the offensive side of the ball.
3. Clutch time for both teams.
A telling issue for the Warriors is that they have not experienced much adversity in the playoffs. If it were not for Zaza Pachulia, then this would be a different story. In the regular season, they had only trailed with five or fewer minutes 13 times. When it comes to the Cavaliers, they were the best team in comebacks during the regular season with the best net rating in comebacks per 100 possessions. For the Warriors, they were ranked 20th being outscored by about 11 points per 100 possessions.
As we all remember last year, Steph Curry had a behind the back pass in crunch time that was stolen away by the Cavaliers and eventually lead to Cleveland taking the lead. The Warriors won their games last year by blowouts and the Cavaliers were the ones able to come up in clutch time. Will we see the same this year? Only time will tell. It is all about valued possessions down the stretch for both teams, especially Golden State.
4. The Cavaliers Much Improved 3-Point Shooting
There are two telling stats for Cleveland that shows that they may be just as good of a three-point shooting team as Golden State. They have the second-highest percentage of field goals that are 3-pointers and lead the playoffs in 3-pointers made per game and per 100 possessions (via NBA.com/stats). They also lead all playoff teams in three-point percentage. They have been able to change the whole dynamic of this team because most thought they had enough shooting last year. Now with the additions of guys like Channing Frye and Kyle Korver, they could be X-factors when it comes to the three-point advantage.
The Warriors are only allowing 32% from three point land. They have been able to rotate very well throughout these playoffs and challenge the ball handler in order for them to get back into position. For them, they are able to create bad shots and the opponents find themselves settling for average looks. The Cavaliers are a team that can take a lot of these contested opportunities, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
5. The Warriors can rebound better than you think
The Warriors are a team that is considered to play small a lot, meaning that they won’t have the best opportunities at rebounding. This year that has not been the case. The Warriors have the second-best contested defensive rebound rate. The challenge for them will be keeping Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson off the offensive glass. That is what hurt Boston more than anything else was giving the Cavaliers multiple opportunities on offense.
It will be interesting to see how the Warriors set up against a Tristan Thompson because even though they like to play small, they will need to play tough down low against big men like him.