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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

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Eyes On NBA: Keys To Victory In The Finals

By @TrueGodImmortal

Let me say this to start this off: this is NOT an article predicting who will win the NBA Finals. I will not give a prediction. I will NOT say I think the Warriors could become the first team to sweep through the playoffs. I will NOT say I think that Steph Curry and Kevin Durant are due to have huge breakout series, and it will be a toss up between the two for Finals MVP. No, I will not say that if things don't run smoothly for the Warriors that the Cavs could win in 7 and Kyrie wins Finals MVP instead of LeBron. No, I will not say that it's possible for LeBron to average a 30 point triple double in the series and that he could get his 4th ring and Finals MVP in the process. No. That's not what I'm here to do (Dubs in 4, 5 at best if I had to choose, hypothetically speaking) at all. I'm here to provide insight for both teams on their keys to win this series. The third and heavily anticipated meeting between the two juggernauts has many wondering who will win this series. There's no possible suspensions, there are no flagrant fouls racking up and technical fouls racking, this is just exactly what we wanted. A healthy Cavs team. A healthy Warriors team. So who wins? Let's take a look at the keys to victory for each team, starting with Cleveland.

Keys To A Cleveland Victory 
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the best team in the Eastern Conference and the defending NBA Champions. They have the best player in the league in LeBron James, a sniper and great player in Kyrie Irving, and a comfortable power forward in Kevin Love. In addition to that, they have a 80 million dollar rebounder in Tristan Thompson, as well as J.R. Smith, a veteran like Richard Jefferson, and two former all stars off the bench in Kyle Korver and Deron Williams. On paper, this is almost an unbeatable lineup. When they were constructed this team back in January, on paper, they seemed like the proverbial favorites to win. Yet, for some reason, they are the underdogs in this series. Should they be? Actually, I don't think they should be. Let's take a look at the keys to a Cavs victory and a repeat championship run.

*LeBron James 
-LeBron has to play at an extremely great level in order to win the Cavs to a victory. He's the biggest key to a victory for them. Without Bron playing at his absolute best, the responsibility falls on the rest of the team and we saw how that's worked out in Game 3 of the Celtics series. The Warriors are a different animal than the Celtics and the Cavs need LeBron to be unstoppable. One has to wonder if fatigue will set in for him if they put Bron on KD, and what possible defensive stops could KD, Draymond, and Iguodala get on Bron. That is the biggest question for the Cavs, but we all expect LeBron to show up and have a very good Finals showing, as always really (except 2011). LeBron is essentially the main key, but of course, he's not the only one.

*Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love
-Lost in the narrative for Bron is that he has two multiple time All Stars who are more than willing to show up when needed. Kyrie is a star, Kevin Love is playing at the best level he's played since he's been in Cleveland, and everything is aligning right. If Love can play really good defense, if Kyrie can continue to score in bursts and make his amazing plays, and they can manage to be almost flawless against this top tier Warriors defense, the Cavs have a clear path to victory. Kyrie seems focused. Love seems focused. However, they both seemed focused before last year's series before they went down 3-1, so in addition to their focus, execution is key for them both and I don't doubt that Kyrie and Love are up to that challenge.

*The Bench Production 
-There isn't a single bench in the NBA that's as strong on paper as the Cavs bench. There is just one issue: their strength is offensive only. After bringing in Andrew Bogut for nothing, getting rid of Larry Sanders and Birdman Chris Andersen, they've found a rhythm with Kyle Korver and Deron Williams, two veterans who are making their first appearances in the NBA Finals. Iman Shumpert is another vital piece, as is Derrick Williams, Richard Jefferson, and Channing Frye. Truthfully, their bench won't get AS MUCH play because it's the Finals and that could be slightly detrimental to them depending how it goes. Regardless, the Cavs have a great chance if their bench is clicking and playing to the highest level.

-Let's be honest here: the Cavs have very little competition in the East. They haven't really turned on the switch like that so far in the playoffs, as we've seen their struggles through the 13 games they played so far, but their biggest struggle is defense. The Cavs had a tough time containing the Pacers, a slightly easier time against the Raptors, who aren't a great shooting team (and missed a lot of wide open shots), and they couldn't sweep a Celtics team that were without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest scoring threat. They didn't play bad defense, but they didn't play champions defense and that's going to be a difference maker in this series. Do I think the Cavs come out playing amazing defense in games 1 and 2? No, I don't. I think they'll play decent defense and make some shots tougher for the Warriors, but the defense is going to make all of the difference going forward. To put it plainly, both the Jazz and Spurs are much better defensive teams and they were swept by the Warriors. Can the Cavs avoid those pitfalls and stay tenacious on defense? That will be the deciding factor in this series for sure. If the Cavs can defend very well in this series, they can win.

Keys To A Golden State Victory
The Golden State Warriors are the best team in the NBA yet again. In 2015, on paper, fully healthy, the Warriors were slightly outmatched by the Cavs, but a series of events led to Kevin Love and Kyrie not being involved in the series. I think the Cavs were a better team then. In 2016, everything was pointing to a Warriors repeat, as they were 73-9 and able to win 3 games, being just one game away from winning the series. Injuries to Iguodala, Bogut, Steph, and Draymond missing game 5 changed the momentum of the series and lead to the decisive game 7, where the Warriors blew it in the final minutes (they led a majority of the game). The Warriors were the better team this year, but did not win due to injuries and the momentum shift. Similar to 2015, the result of 2016 was decided by momentum and injury in a way. Here we are at 2017. It's do or die. It's win or be ridiculed. It's redemption or another loss that they can't afford. This 2017 NBA Finals literally means everything to the Golden State Warriors and they will need many keys to win. Here are the keys that will make the Warriors tough to beat.

*Steph Curry
-The two time MVP has been playing the best basketball of his career in the playoffs this year and it looks like he is finally comfortable next to Kevin Durant. After deferring a bit for KD to get him into integrated into the system, Steph has returned to MVP form just in time for the NBA Finals. He's well rested and despite a small nagging elbow "injury", it doesn't seem like Steph will be taken off of his game. He's my personal pick to end up winning Finals MVP in the event that the Warriors win, as I think revenge and redemption is weighing heavy on his mind. When Durant went down, Steph stepped up huge when they needed him and returned to form as one of the top 4 players in the entire league. Cleveland, in the playoffs, haven't necessarily had his number, but they've slowed him down a bit. In 2015, in his first Finals, he led the team in scoring and clutch plays averaging 26 points, but 2016 was a bit tougher, as he only had two 30 point games in the entire series and didn't shoot very well. This year, he's healthy, focused, and ready. If Steph goes off, he could very well end up winning Finals MVP and be the vital piece. He's still the leader of the team and he will be the most important piece of the Warriors in this Finals.

*Kevin Durant
-The X Factor. The Warriors last year matched up well with the Cavs. Kyrie and Steph. Klay and JR. Love and Draymond. And either Harrison Barnes or Iguodala against LeBron. Now substitute those names against LeBron with KD. That changes the entire vibe of the series. Dramatically. Will KD go off? He's one of the players that you can't stop or shut down and he's elevated his game. If he's playing great on both ends of the floor, he could end up winning Finals MVP and secure the ring for the Warriors.

*Top Defense And Ball Movement
-The best defense in the playoffs and a top 3 defense all season? The Warriors. They've found that rhythm and are due to hit their final form going into this Finals series. If they play tough defense on the Cavs, they can slow down the scoring barrage the Cavs would try and go on and slow down their pace, which would work wonders for the Warriors. Defense is going to be very important for the Warriors in this series and if they can move the ball like they always have, and defend extremely well, they have great chances.

*Draymond Green
-The heart of the Warriors. Draymond will be your Defensive Player of The Year finally, and he's well deserving. This is his biggest test yet. Draymond is a student of the game and he's had to have been watching and scouting Kyrie, Love, LeBron, and even JR. If he's focused defensively and motivating the team on both ends, the Warriors will take off and score at will and defend perfectly. Draymond is the true biggest secret to victory for the Warriors. Simple as that.

*Klay Thompson 
-During this playoff season, Klay has struggled some. I don't expect it to continue this Finals series. I think the four headed monster of Klay, Steph, KD, and Draymond will all be locked in, which could be very deadly for any team, and if Klay has his shot falling along with his good defense going strong, the Cavs will be in for a brutal series. Klay is needed to produce and I don't think he will let his team down in the Finals. Not this year.

*The Bench Production  
-I remember when the season started and we all felt like the biggest issue that the Warriors would face is the bench, as they brought in faces like Javale McGee, who on paper didn't seem like a factor, and even Zaza Pachulia, who also seemed to not be a factor. After the Durant injury, they would also acquire Matt Barnes, who filled his role pretty well on both ends of the floor, minus a few choice moments. In addition to that, the Warriors drafted Patrick McCaw and Damien Jones, and it was believed that they would not be big factors for the season, but how wrong we were. Alongside 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Ian Clark, the Golden State Warriors bench could really be a difference maker during those 2nd and 3rd quarter moments where they are needed to step up.

Who Wins
Well, I said I wouldn't give an official prediction and I'm not. Who wins in this? The fans do. This will be the most watched NBA Finals in quite some time, and no matter who wins, the result works very well for the league. Who has more to lose? I'd say the Warriors have more to lose in every aspect, and they're playing for revenge. In any event, that could be dangerous and could work AGAINST them instead of for them. However, I've been saying this entire season that this reminds of the 2014 playoffs when Miami had an easy road through the East and got demolished by the Spurs, who were looking for true revenge. The Heat were a better defensive team in that era against a Spurs team with less weapons than the Warriors, which is why the Warriors are the favorites. The Cavs have all the tools to win, but if you ask me who I'm pulling for personally? I love to see redemption. I didn't mind LeBron getting his redemption and revenge last year, and if the Warriors get redemption this year, along with a ring for KD and Javale, I'm more than fine with that. Whoever wins, it'll be a great series in terms of attention, money, and drawing for the NBA. The NBA is the greatest spectacle on earth IMO and this Finals is a big supporter of that. Let the games begin.