The Wudder Sports 2017 NBA Finals Preview: A Basketball Trill O.G.
The first three rounds of the NBA Playoffs concluded last week.
Our analysis of the annual tournament of 16 so far?
But at long last, after an offseason that found Kevin Durant swapping jerseys from last year’s Western Conference Finals, some completely meaningless string of preseason games, 82 mostly meaningless regular season games, a spirited MVP debate that somehow didn’t prominently include a player from Cleveland or Golden State, and three steamrolling series by the two teams you saw coming before it all began….
WE ARE HERE.
Oh Yessssss, We’re Here!
Let’s take a moment to thank the Basketball Gods for this matchup they’ve bestowed upon us, with a fully healthy installment of an NBA Trilogy of monumental proportions.
If you’re at all familiar with #WudderSports, you probably know where our rooting loyalties lie.
Since back in the days of Bomb, Phil Groeling and Jason Keenan sitting in the stands of the Palestra, to see a then-17-year-old LeBron James of St. Vincent-St. Mary’s destroy Maureece Rice & Strawberry Mansion….We’re Down With The King.
To say that LeBron James has somehow managed to if anything over-deliver on the promise that had him featured on an SI cover at 16 years old is amazing.
It’s also amazing to me that we still live in a world where despite that fact, some hateful assholes would roll up on the King’s home in L.A. to vandalize it with racially charged ignorance.
It’s also amazing that we’ve just transitioned from our last presidential visit, when LeBron returned to bring a title to Cleveland for the first time in 50 years after Golden State blew a 3-1 lead, to the potential of going to see you know who.
But let’s not wallow thru the muck of such soul-draining negativity right now.
Let’s be thankful that we’ve finally reached the cusp of these two heavyweights, this pair of star-packed and charismatic franchises finally about to get it on.
We won’t bore you with a lot of X’s and O’s.
But we will take a quick look at the matchups, positional and collectively, before leaving you the objective Nostrabombus prediction.
We’ll fill in with some Respond/React #WudderSports pieces and podcasts as this series progresses, hopefully into an epic rubber-match that we can talk about for years of hoop arguments to come:
Kyrie Irving vs. Steph Curry
Remember this time last year, when the blind-leading-the-blind NBA media and in turn public were trying to claim the Adorable Unanimous MVP Steph as a better player than LeBron James? That was cute.
Thank God sanity returned, in the form of LeBron storming the Golden Gates and taking the trophy home to the Rust Belt region, capped off by the ignominy of Kevin Love locking him down on the perimeter to seal the deal.
Now Steph is no longer even objectively the best player on his own team, which is a boon for his team, but put an end to that cuddly little personal dream.
Neither Kyrie (shout out to the Jersey kid from St. Patrick’s HS) nor Steph is exactly a “point guard” in the more traditional sense. They’re both just guards who score points. Steph mostly on his ability to get shots off from the parking lot, Kyrie by having the best handle in the game and a fearless approach to the attack.
Neither of these guys really guard well on the ball.
Both of these guys once hot are NBA Jam “He’s On Fire!” levels of un-guardable with the ball.
But we’ve seen Steph go two straight Finals without being able to replicate his regular-season swag. We’ve seen Kyrie, injured in the 2015 Finals, hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history in his first NBA Finals. Some guys are just wired like that. Despite Steph having the superior resume, give me Kyrie by a baby hair on an NBA Finals gameday.
Advantage: Uncle Drew
The Pipe vs The PBS Logo
This by any rational meaure should be the most lopsided position in Golden State’s favor. Yet Klay has yet to really get into a rhythm this postseason and has often felt like the odd man out since Durant got to town. Ironically, it was his unconscious scoring outburst in Game 6 of last year’s WCF that got him to this place.
JR Smith is the proverbial enigma wrapped in a riddle. You never know what you’re gonna get. But if he can provide a hot shooting night or two, plus do something crazy but not too crazy that gets Klay thinking, this along with Shump defending could be a huge way to cancel out this decidedly Warrior favorable matchup.
Advantage: His Momma Call Him Klay
The King vs. The Slim Reaper
Now we’re cooking with gas!
The two best players in the world for the last six years running, running into each other for the first time since the 2011 NBA Finals.
Durant has started to feel a little heat for the first time ever this season, after his bait-and-switch free agency brought him to a 73-win team from the Bay.
And that’s nothing compared to what LeBron has dealt with since around 2010.
We just don’t care, on the positive or negative end, about Kevin Durant in the same way.
But this might be one of the greatest examples of two Hall of Famers facing off in their prime, with the good chance they could be guarding each other a good amount of the time.
The Finals MVP winner will be one of these two.
Nothing more to say, we just can’t wait to see these two make it do what it do.
Advantage: King James
Draymond Green vs. Kevin Love
Another one with some potential for sparks to fly.
Draymond’s defense and ability to Draymond-y things is one of Golden State’s biggest x-factors.
Draymond’s emotional instability in doing Draymond-y things, while getting check-mated by the King in Game 5, was one of the biggest reasons Golden State blew a 3-1 lead.
Kevin Love, who did check Curry on that fateful play at the end of Game 7, was also checking out mentally all playoffs under the pressure of last year’s NBA Finals, which due to a cheap-play by Kelly Olynick, was his first Finals or truthfully series of meaningful, stakes-raised basketball since his days at UCLA.
He looks comfortable and engaged now. His three-point shooting can help pull Dray Day away from the basket for LeBron and Kyrie to drive.
Meanwhile, we can’t really see him running out to close on Draymond.
Like the Celtics series, they’re likely going to dare him to shoot.
Whether those shots go in, and whether Love can stretch the floor, are both major factors in how this battle goes.
Advantage: Big Mouth
Tristan Thompson vs. Zaza Patchouli Oil
This is Cleveland’s biggest edge in the starting lineup.
But the question isn’t Thompson winning this, but how much can he win it by.
And how much can he assist on team defense, while ideally giving the Cavs a healthy winning rebounding margin.
Thompson is a role player, Zaza is a non-entity, but Tristan needs to dominate to help make up for Golden State having four All-Stars at the other four spots.
Advantage: The one whose baby is allegedly being carried by a Kardashian
LeBron’s Current Cleveland Coach vs. LeBron’s Old Cleveland Coach
Despite the protests of Ty Lue, who laughably claimed his job coaching the Cavs was the hardest in professional sports, or the guy he replaced in mid-stream last year David Blatt, who hilariously compared being a pro basketball coach to being a fighter pilot, the truth is this: NBA Coaches don’t matter nearly as much as they, or the media, would like to pretend. It’s a player’s league in the end.
The fact that the guy Iverson stepped over in the 2001 NBA Finals, coaching against the guy who lasted a year coaching the Cavs without LeBron James, that just replaced Steve Kerr due a back injury before the postseason, reminds us of what we should all know by now.
This is a player's league.
The best either of these guys can do is not mess it up by keeping the wrong guys on the pine for too little or too long an amount of game time.
That’s about it.
Advantage: Lue Dawg (has a ring already + Bron can outfox Brown on his own)
Andre Iguodala looked like he was approaching washed status by last season’s Finals, as LeBron was chasing him down for a title-saving block.
This year, he looks closer to the guy who got the MVP, just for “guarding” LeBron into 36/9/13 averages in 2015.
That’s about all Golden State has on the bench.
Cavs counter with a slightly rejuvenated, less doughy Deron Williams, a malleable wing defender with no offensive game in Iman Shumpert, one of the best NBA three-point shooters in history in Kyle Korver making his Finals debut, and some other stuff including Dahntay Jones.
In other words, this series probably won’t be determined by its benches, and Cleveland getting Bogut only to lose him five minutes later didn’t help. But the Cavs are still slightly better with their slight bench, then Golden State is.
Advantage: The Land
This is the Warriors all day. The only question is by how much. And how much can Cleveland’s lack of defense displayed during the regular season, plus extended stretches of this postseason, come back to haunt them.