#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #2 Cleveland Cavaliers
The Warriors are playing for their first NBA Championship in 40 years. The Cavaliers are back in the Finals for the first time since 2007 and have never won an NBA championship. With two new franchises in the spotlight you might expect there to be some malaise from the casual fan about this matchup. However, that is not the case for this series. You have this year's MVP Stephen Curry on the Warriors and the best player in the entire world right now, LeBron James on the Cavaliers. Both teams steamrolled their opponents in the Conference Finals. Cleveland swept the Atlanta Hawks and the Warriors needed just five games to dismiss the Houston Rockets. Cleveland has won seven straight playoff games, while the Warriors have won seven of their last eight playoff games. We will be watching the two best teams going at it, and while the NBA Playoffs lack the charm of upsets that March Madness produces, their Finals typically do match up the very best teams, leading to some highly entertaining basketball.
Curry versus Kyrie Irving will be fascinating to watch. Not only because they are both fantastic players, but because we will see how well Irving can keep up with Curry as he continues to battle injuries this postseason. Curry didn't shoot particularly well in the last two games against the Rockets, and perhaps not coincidentally that occurred after the hard fall he took in Game 4 against Houston. Curry says he is completely healthy and the week off between Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals should mean we see Curry return to his blazing form. Irving missed Games 2 and 3 of the series against the Hawks but returned for Game 4 and played pretty well. Cleveland didn't seem to miss Irving much against Atlanta but they will need him at his best in this series against Golden State. LeBron can only do so much and the Warriors are far more talented than Atlanta. Warriors SG Klay Thompson was having his best shooting day in a while in Game 5 against Houston, then took a knee to the head and has since been diagnosed with a concussion. He is practicing but his status is still up in the air for tonight's Game 1. I expect him to play, which means Cavs SG Iman Shumpert will need his head on a swivel to keep up with Thompson. Shumpert was miserable in Games 1 and 4 against Atlanta, and much better in Games 2 and 3. He has to be constantly on in this series, where scoring will be at a premium to try to keep up with Golden State's attack.
Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green will face the toughest task of their young careers as they try to guard LeBron. Green is pretty strong defensively, and Barnes has been turning up his offensive game recently, and ended the Rockets series with one of the best performances of his young career. Their goal will be to frustrate James, and find ways to try to limit his impact on the game. James has struggled with his shooting in these playoffs but he is such a complete player that it hasn't mattered. He has still found ways to get assists, and rebounds. No one can stop LeBron, but he can be contained. He has shown a new level of maturation to his game that wasn't there in previous Finals appearances though, so the Warriors gameplan should mostly focus on stopping LeBron's over performing supporting cast. Cleveland would appear to have a distinct advantage inside with Tristan Thompson and Timofy Mozgov. Thompson and Mozgov continued to give quality minutes and production against Atlanta, and have been huge in offsetting the loss of Kevin Love in these playoffs. Andrew Bogut played pretty well against Dwight Howard in the Conference Finals but with the Twin Towers that Cleveland has, bench player Festus Ezeli will be called upon to provide a lot of help in this series. Speaking of the benches, the Cavs have a torch thrower of their own in J.R. Smith. Matthew Dellavedova continues to annoy his opponents and earn a reputation as a dirty player, but he also has been highly productive for Cleveland in the playoffs. James Jones is mostly a minutes eater for Cleveland and can give LeBron a few breaks to catch his breath. Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala provide lots of minutes off of the bench but can be hit or miss as far as production. I would argue the Cavs have the more productive bench of the two teams.
So if Cleveland has the better bench and the best player in the world, that means I expect them to win the series right? Wrong. Golden State is one of the best teams we have seen in the NBA. They are 79-18 this year and don't get talked enough as perhaps one of the best teams ever. However, if they beat Cleveland and win the Championship they will earn their place in history. While Cleveland does have a size advantage, I don't think it will matter when the Splash brothers are hitting their shots left and right. The Warriors have gone through the battles of the tough West while Cleveland has benefited from being in the pathetic East. Homecourt advantage will also be huge in this series. Beating the Warriors at Oracle is next to impossible and in order to win this series Cleveland will have to do that at least once and probably twice. I think James can lead the Cavs to a title eventually and what he has done this postseason without Love and a good chunk of time without Irving has cemented his legacy. But a fourth loss in the NBA Finals awaits him as Curry will add the Finals MVP to his regular season MVP trophy case and Warriors coach Steve Kerr will become the latest to win Championships as both a player and coach.
Prediction: Warriors over Cavaliers, 4-2