The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are the first teams in NBA history to meet in the Finals three years in a row.
All season long, the sports world waited for what seemed like an inevitable rematch, and at long last, it’s here.
The previous two Finals have set this up to be one of the best rivalries in sports. In 2015, the upstart Warriors overcame LeBron James and a shorthanded Cavs squad to win their first championship in 30 years.
In 2016, James and Kyrie Irving went into superhero mode, leading the Cavs to a historic comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to win the championship, culminating in one of the most exciting Game 7s the NBA Finals has ever seen.
Now the two teams are back and deeper and more talented than ever. (Did you know the Warriors signed Kevin Durant last summer?)
How will this year’s Finals play out? Business Insider’s staff took a look at it.
How the Warriors can win it all — Cork Gaines
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Last year I picked the Warriors to win and to win easily. I was wrong, but I also hedged my prediction with this bit of prophesying:
“The biggest thing is for the Warriors to stay healthy… The Warriors also need Draymond Green to keep pushing the limits without going too far.”
Sure enough, Curry was hurt in the Finals, Draymond went too far, and still, the Cavs needed a miraculous comeback and a Herculean effort from LeBron to win in seven games.
I’m not hedging this year.
Like many of the people who are picking the Cavs to win this series, I can talk myself into a scenario in which it can happen: the Warriors can’t figure out how to guard LeBron, Kyrie Irving explodes for 45 points in one game, Kevin Love makes seven three-pointers in another, Durant gets into foul trouble once or twice, Curry turns an ankle, and Draymond loses his cool. If most of those things happen, sure, the Cavs can win.
The Warriors (still) have the more talented roster.
The Warriors (still) have the better coach, whether he is on the bench or not.
The Warriors (still) have home-court advantage.
There is no need to overthink this.
If they played this series ten times, the Warriors are winning eight or nine times. And barring several breaks going the Cavs’ way, the Warriors are more often than not winning this series in five games, and getting a driven Durant gets his first ring.
How the Cavaliers can win it all — Tyler Lauletta
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As tempting as it is to simply insert a LeBron James Vine here and walk away from the keyboard, I doubt that would be deemed satisfying analysis by any measure.
The most devastating aspect of the Warriors is their ability to go on huge runs in quick bursts – Steph, Klay, KD, and Draymond are all capable of taking over any given two minutes on the floor. Thanks to their willingness to play fast and shoot from almost anywhere on the court, the Warriors can turn any deficit into a competitive game and any competitive game into a blowout with a three-minute, 15-2 run.
If the Cavs are going to pull off another upset against the Warriors, they are going to need to contain these runs when they inevitably happen and operate with a short memory in the minutes that follow.
Outscoring the Warriors is a Herculean task, but if any team is capable of it, it’s the Cavs. In the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron and company scored 130 points twice and only failed to clear 110 once. They’ve yet to score less than 100 points this postseason, with their lowest total coming when the Pacers held them to 106.
This year’s Finals are going to be a shootout, and for the Cavs to win they’ll need to keep it close for crunch time. If we get to the fourth quarter and the Warriors are already sitting on a 22-point lead, LeBron’s terrifying FINAL BOSS mode is rendered null. But if it’s a four-point game with two minutes left, there is no human on the planet more capable of winning basketball games.
The X-Factor — Scott Davis
Turnovers and fastbreak points.
It seems simple, but it’s a huge factor between these two teams. In last year’s Finals, in three of Cleveland’s four wins, they had fewer turnovers than the Warriors. In three of their four wins, they also scored more points off of turnovers than the Warriors. In all four of their wins, they had more fastbreak points.
The Warriors are both a better offensive and defensive team than the Cavs, and while Cleveland can’t hope to always contain the Warriors, they’ll have a shot at outscoring them. It will be difficult nonetheless because the Warriors were the second-best defensive team in the league this season.
The Cavs will need all of the easy points they can get. Turnovers are the Warriors’ Achilles’ heel, as they can get sloppy, too comfortable, and too flashy at inopportune moments. Turnovers will help dull the Warriors’ offense, and fastbreak opportunities don’t allow the Warriors to lock in on defense. The Cavs won’t run all of the time – they still want to control the pace and slow the Warriors down – but any chance at an easy basket will be huge for Cleveland.
If the Warriors are careful with the ball and don’t fall into their sloppy habits, it will be tough for the Cavs to hang with them.
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Brett LoGiurato: The Warriors have the flash. But we’ve already seen in a seven-game series how a better-gelled team with the best player can win. And, yeah, the Cavs are the sentimental favorite, still. Cavs in 7.
Cork Gaines: I’ll give the Cavs one game in which LeBron just can’t be stopped or Kyrie erupts for 45+ points. But this is the Warriors’ turn and it is going to be easy. Warriors in 5.
Scott Davis: These Warriors feel like they have too much firepower. It’s tough to count out LeBron, but the Cavs have too many streaky shooters to believe they can out-gun Golden State four times. Warriors in 6.
Tyler Lauletta: I have seen LeBron James do so many things we’ve deemed impossible, it feels ridiculous to bet against him. Historically, doubting LeBron is usually the wrong move. Cavs in 6.
Now, here’s how one of the all-time greats fell apart:
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