“I’m going going, back back, to Cali Cali.”
The infamous chorus from the late, great Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 anthem “Going back to Cali” immediately came to mind once the 2016 Finals showdown was set. Cavs vs. Warriors. LeBron vs. Steph. A rematch from 2015. There are storylines galore with this series, but I have a big problem with a certain narrative that is being pushed regarding this series: rematch.
Is this series truly a rematch? I would argue not so much.
41-12-7. This is the amount of points, rebounds and assists that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love logged this year — and the amount of points, rebounds and assists that the Cavaliers didn’t have last year against Golden State.
The absence of Irving and Love couldn’t be overstated regarding the 2015 Finals. Aside from a numbers standpoint, Irving and Love do things on the court that simply make the Cavaliers go. Irving’s ability to create off the dribble and shoot from outside is a legitimate threat, while Love’s ability to help space the floor and knock down shots is a must if the Cavs want a chance to knock off the defending champs.
Last year, LeBron put on an unworldly, Herculean-type performance. 36 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. Timofey Mozgov, Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson had big moments and they still couldn’t come away with a victory.
This season, Mozgov rarely sees the court, Thompson hasn’t played quite as much in the postseason and Dellavedova is a little more spotty when it comes to consistent minutes (but will play big minutes this series). So where do the Cavs go this time around?
I think the Cavs will do what they do best: Let it fly.
Who would’ve thought the Cavaliers saving grace — in a sense — would come in the form of Channing Frye? The stretch forward has played valuable minutes down the stretch for Cleveland (sometimes to their detriment) and has been a big asset from behind the three-point line. Plus, when Frye is on the court it really allows the Cavs to spread the floor, which allows them to shoot a ridiculous amount of three-pointers, but also clears up the line for LeBron to drive the lane.
I expect Frye to play a lot of minutes and could pose some potential match up problems for Golden State. The next burning question: What will Cleveland do with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the defensive end?
This seems to be the potential fatal flaw for the Cavaliers in this series (other than the fact that Steph Curry can go bazooka mode from three-point range and nothing can stop him). Love is pretty awful on defense, specifically in pick-and-roll situations, which I expect Golden State to try and exploit. While Kyrie is great on offensive, he’s a big time liability on the defensive end.
Folks around the league seem to think you can’t truly hide players while trying to defend the Warriors, but I expect Tyronn Lue and the Cavaliers to try. I expect Cleveland to put Love on Iguodala and Barnes, which aren’t going to kill you from three-point range.
As far as Irving goes, I’m not sure what’ll they’ll do. Dellavedova will guard Curry as long as he’s on the court, but at some point, we might have to see Irving try and guard either Curry or Thompson which won’t end well. Shumpert will play big minutes and he will be key, along with Dellavedova, on the defensive end for the Cavaliers.
The big thing with Irving and Love — they’re going to have to make it worth the Cavs while to be on the court together for extended periods of time. They’re either going to have to ratchet it up on the defensive end (which, as far as we’ve seen, probably won’t be the case) or they’re going to have to pour it in on offense and hope to outshoot the Warriors.
Both teams pose unique mismatches against each other and I think this has the potential to be a very good series. Watch out for Cleveland’s “Let It Fly” lineup of Irving, J.R. Smith, Shumpert, James and Frye. This lineup has the ability to space the floor and jack up lots of three-pointers.
The Warriors are big time favorites, but I won’t count out a healthy Cleveland team with (for now) the greatest player in the world in LeBron James.
Again, this isn’t the same Cavs or Warriors teams, so as far as I’m concerned, this is a new series. I’m taking Cleveland in six games, but The Oracle will be rocking tonight and I think Golden State will take Game 1.