There are three things you can always count on: death, taxes, and LeBron James being in the NBA Finals. With the Cavs triumph over the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron will be headed to his 8th straight Finals appearance. While he is usually expected to end up there, LeBron had a much tougher road to Finals this year. The Indiana Pacers gave the Cavs everything they could handle in the first round and pushed the series to seven games before LeBron & company could advance. They had a relatively easy second round, where they swept the top-seeded Toronto Raptors, before facing the Celtics in the ECF. It took a few incredible performances by LeBron, but the Cavs defeated the Celtics and are headed to their 4th straight Finals appearance.
Another thing that has been normal recently has been seeing the Warriors challenging LeBron in the Finals. They first faced off in 2015, where Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were able to end LeBron’s homecoming to Cleveland with a Finals loss for him and the Cavs, but LeBron and then-Cavalier Kyrie Irving got their revenge in 2016 by defeating the Warriors in seven games. Golden State then added Kevin Durant in the off-season and almost totaled a perfect post-season record, only dropping one game in the playoffs (in the Finals, to the Cavs) before winning the 2017 NBA Finals.
Everyone still expected the Warriors to end up in the Finals but they had their challenges along the way. They started their post-season without Steph Curry (ankle injury) and dropped a game to each the Spurs and Pelicans on their way to the Western Conference Finals. Then they faced James Harden and Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals, who had the Warriors down 3-2 in the series, before the Warriors were able to take the last two games and win the series.
So here we are again: the Cavaliers will be taking on the Warriors for the 4th straight time in the NBA Finals. The Warriors have been the favorite to win the championship since day one of the season, but they showed some glaring holes in their latest series against the Rockets that LeBron James and the Cavs might be able to exploit, making this a more interesting Finals matchup than many would think.
LeBron should learn from Chris Paul and the Rockets performance in the Western Conference Finals
LeBron is the best basketball player on Earth and does everything fairly well, but if he can take some pointers from how Chris Paul played against the Warriors, he might be able to find a lot of success against them in the Finals. Paul played exceptionally well in the WCF before getting injured and having to sit out Game 6 and 7 of the series, and was the primary reason the Rockets jumped out to a 3-2 series lead against the Warriors. The best thing Paul did for the Rockets was that he controlled the tempo and style of the game, something that really flustered the Warriors. He decided when to push the ball down the court and find open shooters, or when to slow it down and set up the halfcourt offense. By doing so, Paul and the Rockets were able to get good looks and not turn the ball over, which then forced the Warriors to play halfcourt offense themselves when they would rather be playing in transition. The Warriors fell into a lull of playing mediocre defense and isolation basketball, something that almost got them knocked out of the playoffs.
There is no doubt LeBron will have to carry the bulk of the offense for the Cavs, but he should seriously consider “modeling” his game in the Finals after Paul’s against the Warriors. If LeBron can slow the game down, push the ball only when able to, and be efficient, he and the Cavs will be able to compete with the Warriors.
The Cavs shooters need to be able to make enough 3’s to make the Warriors respect them and keep the pressure off LeBron
A couple of things we know for sure that will happen in this series: LeBron will play incredibly and that the Warriors will also be great. What it really boils down to is if LeBron’s supporting cast can carry their weight as well. Normally it needs to be a team effort, but when you play with LeBron, only a couple people need to step up. What we learned from the Rockets/Warriors series is that is will boil down to whether their shooters are able to hit shots from behind the arc. When Paul was creating for others and they were knocking down shots, the Rockets had every chance to be able to defeat the Warriors. They also showed how without having a playmaker and shooters making open looks (they missed an astonishing 27 3-pointers in a row) in Game 7, the Rockets had no chance of winning.
I will confidently say that LeBron will a sufficient playmaker for the Cavs, but shooters like JR Smith, Kyle Korver, George Hill, and Kevin Love (when/if he returns from injury), will need to be able to knock down 3-point shots. They are capable of doing so and, if they take and make good shots, they will have a fighting chance in Finals against the Warriors. If they aren’t and LeBron has to play in isolation the whole game, the Cavs are going to be in trouble.