Keys to Cavs ending Cleveland's title drought
BY TAYLOR ROSEN
College Contributor Network
We are just hours away from the ball being tossed up at center court, and the beginning of maybe the most historical NBA Finals of all-time.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors have been resting and preparing to battle one another in what many believe will be a close, tightly-contested seven game series.
Both of these franchises are entering unfamiliar territory, for the most part. The Cavs will make their second NBA Finals appearance in franchise history (first since 2007), while the Warriors are making their first trip back to the Finals since they won it all in 1975.
In fact, the only person who can say they've "been there, done that," in this series is LeBron James. James has won two rings in the last four years with the Heat, and will be making his fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
This will be James' second NBA Finals appearance as a Cavalier, the first coming in 2007 when the San Antonio Spurs swept James, who hadn't been there before, and the Cavs. But this time around, James is ready to show everybody, specifically the folks in Cleveland, exactly what he learned and gained from those four years down in Miami playing alongside Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade.
I believe it's that experience that will carry the Cavaliers in this series. The Cavs have a major advantage over the Warriors, and not many national media 'experts' are pointing it out. Despite Stephen Curry taking home the MVP Award this season, the Cavaliers have the best player on the planet on their team. There isn't one guy on the floor for the Warriors who can single-handedly stop James, and I see him abusing those mismatches for the entirety of this series.
This isn't the same young and inexperienced LeBron James who maybe didn't realize how bright the lights were in his first two trips to the NBA Finals when he witnessed the Spurs and Mavericks steal the glory. Now James knows what it's like, and what it takes to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy, and he's hungrier than ever to do it for the city of Cleveland. James said on Monday he believes this is the best LeBron James any of us NBA fans have ever seen.
"I think if you put it all together, yeah," said James, at Cavaliers practice on Monday. "If you put everything together as far as my mind, my body, and my game. If you put everything in one bottle, this is probably the best I've been."
So why is it that the majority of NBA 'experts' and the people down in Las Vegas are heavily favoring the Golden State Warriors? I don't have the exact answer to that question other than what the Warriors accomplished in the regular season.
The thing is, what any team accomplished in the regular season means absolutely nothing this time of year. Sure, the Warriors coasted through the more superior conference (Western) and ended up earning the overall number one seed in the playoffs, but just ask the Atlanta Hawks how those regular season comparisons worked out for them.
The Hawks beat the Cavs three out of four times in the regular season, but that didn't seem to help them in anyway when the Cavs disposed of them in four games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Warriors are a quickly paced offense, which thrives off of its three point shooting. The Warriors take a lot of low percentage shots, and I see that directly benefiting the Cavaliers. Those shots will create an abundance of transition opportunities for the Cavs. When LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are given space to roam as they please, that's not good for any defense in the NBA. In my eyes, James and Irving are two of the top five players in the league when it comes to pushing the ball and scoring in transition.
The Warriors run an up-tempo offense. Curry has made a habit out of pulling up for three in transition before the defense gets set. For the Warriors, it's absolutely essential the majority of those shots fall, or else they'll be giving the ball and an open court to a freight train (James), and maybe the most skilled ball handler the NBA has to offer (Irving).
As any basketball fan knows, teams will live and die by the three point shot. The Warriors haven't died yet, but they also haven't dealt with a team as deep as the Cleveland Cavaliers this postseason. What Golden State doesn't have is experience. That same experience James' Cavaliers didn't have during their first trip to the finals, when they were swept in four games.
The Cavs must send a combination of defenders Curry and Thompson's way. Switch it up, have different guys guarding them in different situations. The Cavs have enough wing-defenders to slow down the Splash Brothers. They can, and probably will put Iman Shumpert on Curry, and J.R. Smith on Thompson in crunch time. Shumpert is shifty, has quick feet, and possesses a bit of a size advantage over Curry, which makes him the ideal defender to put on Curry.
If the Cavaliers can limit Curry and Thompson's three point shooting, while feeding James in the post, they should be able to close out the Warriors at home in Game 6. A healthy and productive Irving, plus a heavy dose of James in the post, should lead to the Cavaliers ending a 51-year title drought that has been a consistent cloud casting over Cleveland sports for the last half-century.
Taylor Rosen is a junior at Kent State University. He spent time with The Stater covering Kent State football and basketball. Taylor is from Cleveland, and has Cleveland sports under a microscope. Follow him on Twitter: @TRosen12