Welcome to the moment NBA fans have been waiting for. It’s time for the third installment of this NBA Finals saga between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Our roundtable participants are:
Ralph Cortes (@Ralphcj0)
Felix John-Baptiste (@TwoSmooth2)
DJ Allen (@DJAllen23)
Justin Kirkland (@jkirk41)
1. This is the first time ever we’re having the same NBA Finals matchup three years in a row. How does it feel to be part of history?
Cortes: Honestly, it doesn’t really feel extremely special. Maybe it’s because we expected this matchup ever since the end of last season, so we already saw this matchup coming. However, the matchup between the two is still one to marvel at as it is one of the most star-studded Finals series we’ve had in a while.
John-Baptiste: It feels amazing! Fans around my age weren’t alive to see the Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the 80’s, and the closest thing we’ve gotten to a Finals rivalry is probably the Big 3/Kobe version of Celtics-Lakers that met 2 out of 3 years. The first two meetings were classic, but this time around with everyone healthy, it feels overly intense. I know non-basketball fans that are choosing sides. This makes for awesome basketball and a great series!
Allen: It’s great! We got the Golden State win in the first round with LeBron going down fighting without his two comrades. Then last year was the impressive comeback from the Cleveland Cavaliers and now we get the rubber match. It seemed that everyone wanted this match-up and all season it seemed inevitable but I’m looking forward to watching who comes out on top.
Kirkland: Too often people don’t appreciate greatness and dominance until its gone. A lot of people are underwhelmed because we all expected this matchup and the playoffs to this point have been underwhelming. We know that in The Notebook the couple dies at the end but yet we still watch because it is possibly the greatest cinematic love story of its generation! This final is no different. There are at least 4 Hall of Famers in this series. We get to watch the greatest shooter of all time go against the man who will end his career in the true GOAT conversation in NBA history. It gets no better than this.
2. Do you believe that Kevin Durant has to personally outmatch LeBron James in order for the Warriors to win?
Cortes: No. The Warriors are deep enough so that Kevin Durant doesn’t have to outperform LeBron James in order to win. Kevin Durant could get his usual 25 & 7 as long as his teammates pick up their own slack as well. If for some reason, Curry experiences de ja vu and plays like it’s the 2016 NBA Finals, then KD might have to take it up another level. Assuming everyone plays like they can, however, Durant just needs to do his thing.
John-Baptiste: No. KD does not have to outmatch LeBron for the Warriors to win. They have enough firepower that KD might not even have to even match LeBron. However, he definitely doesn’t want to pull a disappearing act and then be seen as the one who tagged along to the Warriors bandwagon for a ring.
Allen: Absolutely not. The Warriors have always been a “win by committee” team and even with KD being added, they’ve gone about winning the same way. When they hit moments of offensive struggle, that’s going to be where Durant comes in handy but I don’t think his play over LeBron really matters that much. More important is how they move the ball, diminish turnovers, lock down on defense, and rebound the ball.
Kirkland: KD has to just play his game. LeBron is going to be the best all-around player in this series. All KD has to do is provide situational volume scoring which he has done a great job of in the playoffs so far. He is 7 ft tall and provides things to the game that not even King James can do. Know your role and do it well.
3. Who do you see as the most important player for each team in this series?
Cortes: For the Warriors, Stephen Curry is their most important player in this series. A lot of what the Warriors can do on the offensive side is predicated on Curry and his ability to make plays on or off the ball. On the ball, Curry can, of course, hurt the Cavaliers with his elite shooting or playmaking. Off the ball, Curry can serve as a decoy for teammates or can set solid screens to free up Klay, KD, or even Draymond. For the Cavaliers, it is none other than LeBron James. You’ve seen how average the Cavaliers are without the LeBron. LeBron makes everything happen for the Cavs and without him, the Cavs aren’t even in this position. His ability to dominate the game in every aspect is the reason why Cavs have a shot at taking down the Warriors.
John-Baptiste: The Warriors most important player has to be Mr. Wardell Stephen Curry. They’ve essentially breezed through the postseason thus far without major performances from Klay. Draymond is a jack of all trades, but you’ll likely need high scoring efforts to take down the Cavs and he’s not exactly a high volume shooter/scorer. KD is KD, but the Warriors can survive average performances from him if Steph can light it up. For the Cavs, it’s LeBron James. He will have to play an otherworldly series (which is considered normal) for the Cavs to have a shot. BONUS: The Cavs second most important player is Tristan Thompson. The Warriors have no answer for him on the glass, and if he can dominate the boards and get some putbacks, the Cavs will be in great shape.
Allen: Tristan Thompson is always the guy for Cleveland. He demands the boards and is a huge presence in the paint and often the Golden State Warriors struggle with size inside. If he can command the glass and create more offensive possessions, he’ll give Cleveland a greater chance in this series.
Klay Thompson and Javale McGee are the guys for Golden State. No one is really considering McGee as a factor but I believe his size and athleticism can play a huge factor in this series. He can combat the size of Tristan Thompson and give the Warriors a better chance on the boards but he has to avoid the blunders and the clumsy moments. The Warriors also need Klay to get back on track. He’s been struggling during the playoffs and I think they need him to hit shots if they’re going to have a chance. The Cavaliers are going to do their best to keep Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant from getting hot which will leave shots open for Draymond Green and Klay. We always get to see a KLAY game where he gets hot and I think it’s coming in this series.
Kirkland: LeBron is the most important player for Cleveland by a long shot. They lost to the Celtics in the only game these playoffs that he was not great and that was WITHOUT Isaiah Thomas. LeBron is the only player in his series that has to consistently provide a 30-8-8 stat line for his team to be successful.
For Golden State, Draymond Green continues to be the heart and soul of this team. He will be tasked with extreme responsibility on both ends of the floor. It is imperative that he excel offensively and defensively as well as keeping his emotions under control and avoiding costly issues for his team. They go when he goes.
4. Both teams can come with lineups that present serious mismatch problems. Which team do you think has the advantage in that regard?
Cortes: Golden State has the advantage in that regard because of their ability to switch everything. On offense, Steph doesn’t always have to be the one making plays since KD or Draymond are capable of doing so. Klay or KD doesn’t have to be the one spotting up because Draymond and Steph could do just as good of a job. On the defensive end, you can switch with KD and Klay and sometimes even Draymond.
John-Baptiste: The Warriors. Simply because the ‘Death Lineup’ might be their best offensive AND defensive lineup. The Cavs have the ability to match that intensity on both sides of the floor, but with different lineups. Their best offensive lineups give up something on defense and vice versa.
Allen: The Warriors have the advantage in my opinion because of how they operate and understand their system. They have so much talent and so many players who are a threat which makes them so hard to defend. One misstep or lack of communication leads to an open three. The Cavaliers have to be on their P’s and Q’s which they haven’t been this season. For example, during the last series, the Boston Celtics got a lot of open threes that they just didn’t make. If Cleveland plays that same defense against the Golden State Warriors, be ready to watch a bunch of blowouts.
Kirkland: It’s definitely the Warriors. They are the most potent offense in NBA history and no lead is ever safe. If your rotation is not perfect you will lose by 20+ every time. Look no further than being down 23 vs the Spurs and the run they went on to come out with the win. Even though Kawhi was injured the fact that we all collectively felt like the Spurs would lose the game at that point is a testament to how dangerous they can be. The Cavs need to be flawless.
5. What’s your gut prediction for the 2017 NBA Finals?
Cortes: On paper, the Warriors just seem way too strong for the Cavaliers. However, the Cavaliers still have one of the greatest players to ever touch a basketball and that could very well be enough to win a couple of extra games in this series. Even with that, however, the Warriors are still too deep and too versatile for the Cavaliers. Warriors gut it out and win the NBA Finals in 7 games with Stephen Curry hoisting up the Bill Russell Finals MVP award.
John-Baptiste: I really do hope these Finals go to 7 games again. I’m definitely giving each team 2 wins in the series. My gut (as much as I dislike this) says Warriors in 6. However, my heart says Cavs in 6. We’ll see a lot of similar action to last year’s finals. LeBron will have a historic series and Kyrie Irving is COMING. KD will show up and Draymond will have some major defensive plays. If the Cavs win, LeBron gets Finals MVP. If the Warriors win, Steph gets his first Finals MVP. Let’s watch history!
Allen: Everyone keeps calling me crazy but I see this ending with the Golden State winning in 5 games. The Cavaliers have been playing great but I don’t think they have the discipline to get it done against the Warriors. I think the games will be close but I see Golden State coming out on top. They’re too dynamic and too dominant on both sides of the ball. Cleveland’s defense hasn’t been great and all of those open shots that they gave up in the last series will fall this series. With the Warriors winning, I have Stephen Curry winning MVP. He’s been great this postseason and I see that continuing in the Finals.
Kirkland: I think LeBron is the greatest player to ever lace em up and he will cement that this series. Cavs in 7.