By Jason M. Sanin
After tearing through their respective conferences with relative ease, the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the 2015 NBA Finals in the matchup basketball fans were hoping for all season long. And while Golden State enters the series as the favorite, basketball betting experts know not to count LeBron James’ squad out.
Golden State won the Western Conference, the tougher of the NBA’s two conferences, the same way they won 67 games in the regular season; by shooting the lights out. They shot 38% in their series victories over the New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, and Houston Rockets to reach this stage. The big reason for that hot shooting, as always, was Stephen Curry, who shot 43% from three point range in the playoffs.
Cleveland, meanwhile, rode LeBron James to series wins over the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, and Atlanta Hawks. But it was James’ supporting cast that stepped up and got the job done, sometimes in unlikely fashion. Backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova was a standout when replacing the injured Kyrie Irving during the Eastern Conference Finals, while J.R. Smith’s streaky shooting helped Cleveland distance themselves from opponents on a regular basis.
As we now look ahead to what could be one of the most entertaining NBA Finals matchups in recent NBA history, questions surround both teams on the defensive end as both sides possess a number of matchup problems for their opponent, which tipsters must take into account in handicapping these games.
For Golden State, the obvious question is how they plan on defending LeBron James, whose unique combination of size, strength, and speed make it nearly impossible for defenders to keep him in check. To start out the series, it appears as though the Warriors will put Harrison Barnes on James. Barnes, while not a star in the NBA as of yet, is of decent height, and possesses long arms to disrupt James. His build isn’t all that different to Kawhi Leonard, who did a great job of stopping James in last year’s NBA Finals while helping the San Antonio Spurs to lift the trophy. Should Barnes not get the job done, though, Golden State may have a tough time finding anyone else who can check the game’s best player.
Meanwhile, Cleveland has a big question to deal with as well, with that question being how to stop the combination of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, otherwise known as the Splash Brothers. Both Curry and Thompson are prolific three point shooters, and also coincide with the two guard positions on the floor where Cleveland has been weakest defensively this postseason. With Kyrie Irving still nursing injuries, he will either have to fight through pain to make it work, or Cleveland will have to look to its bench to find a second defender for Golden State’s dynamic duo to pair with defensive specialist Iman Shumpert.
The NBA Finals start on Thursday, June 4, but there are already plenty of questions surrounding both teams in what should be an incredible NBA Finals series between Golden State and Cleveland.