9:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Warriors -12.5, Over/Under: 214
History is in the making as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors clash in the NBA Finals for the fourth time in as many years, becoming the first instance in which the same two teams have met in the championship round of the four major sports in the United States on four consecutive occasions. Both teams endured hell to get to this point, with each being tested and pushed to the limits in securing epic Game Seven Wins on the road. In the case of the Cavaliers (50-32, 4th in Eastern Conference), the deck has been firmly stacked against them, or more appropriately, stacked against LeBron James (27.5 PTS, 54.2% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 8.6 REB, 9.1 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.9 BLK, 28.6 PER), who in this the fourth installment of his annual Summer War with Golden State, will be going to battle without the requisite help that he’d prefer to have. That’s because Cleveland was without Kevin Love (17.6 PTS, 45.8% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 9.3 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.4 BLK, 22.4 PER) in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, after the All-Star Forward suffered a Concussion in the previous meeting. As a result, James put together yet another virtuoso performance, playing the entire Forty-Eight Minutes of the contest, totaling Thirty-Five Points, Fifteen Rebounds, Nine Assists, and Two Blocks in route to willing his side to an 87-79 triumph. Then again, this should come as nothing new to anyone that has been watching the 4-Time MVP compete in these Playoffs, for he’s had no other choice but to carry Cleveland to their fourth straight Finals appearance, and for James, his eighth consecutive trip on a personal level. At the age of Thirty-Three, he’s quite frankly never looked better, averaging a robust 34.0 Points on 54.2% Shooting, including 34.4% from Downtown, along with 9.2 Rebounds, 8.8 Assists, 1.4 Steals, and 1.1 Blocks during the Postseason, with a slew of Game-Winners and Triple-Doubles to his credit. However, the problem (particularly against the Pacers and Celtics) has been that it’s become crystal clear that even with these otherworldly showings, he’s in dire need of help, with the Supporting Cast being a consistent thorn in his side throughout the past three Series. After trading All-Star Point Guard Kyrie Irving in the Offseason, and jettisoning nearly half of the roster at the Trade Deadline, it was always going to be difficult for this Rotation to develop the chemistry and trust to endure another run to the NBA Finals. Say what you want about the teams he’s had in year’s past and their blatant weaknesses, but they had chemistry in spades, which simply cannot be said about this current group. Look no further than the Lineups that Tyronn Lue had employed against Boston; instead of relying upon midseason arrivals such as Jordan Clarkson (12.6 PTS, 45.6% FG, 40.7% 3FG, 2.1 REB, 1.7 AST, 0.7 STL, 15.4 PER), Rodney Hood (10.8 PTS, 44.2% FG, 35.2% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 1.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 12.7 PER), or Larry Nance Jr. (8.9 PTS, 55.0% FG, 7.0 REB, 1.0 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.8 BLK, 21.5 PER), the Cavaliers have opted instead to roll with veterans such as Kyle Korver (9.2 PTS, 45.9% FG, 43.6% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.4 STL, 0.4 BLK, 13.4 PER), J.R. Smith (8.3 PTS, 40.3% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 2.9 REB, 1.8 AST, 0.9 BLK, 8.5 PER), and Jeff Green (10.8 PTS, 47.7% FG, 31.2% 3FG, 3.2 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.4 BLK, 14.8 PER), or in other words, the same faces that have been with the team throughout the majority of this era. In Game Seven alone, Clarkson and Nance logged just barely over Seventeen Minutes, while Hood never got off the Bench. As you can imagine, this has put a MOUNTAIN of pressure on James, who has had to do so much on the court, and looks like he’s constantly on the precipice of dropping the ball, evidenced by the staggering Seventy-Four Turnovers he’s committed thus far. With the aforementioned Smith, Korver, and Green logging such heavy minutes, one has to wonder when things are going to fall apart, particularly with the Warriors on tap, who pose so many problems for the Cavaliers on multiple levels. Given the success that Houston had against them in the Western Conference Finals, expect Lue to go small with his Lineups, stretching the Defense out in turn granting James plenty of room to operate.
Meanwhile, as hard as the Cavs had it in reaching yet another NBA Finals, the Warriors (58-24, 2nd in Western Conference) were tested in ways we never thought possible in their epic 7-Game Western Conference Final against the Houston Rockets. There were a number of moments throughout their war with Houston in which the 4-Time reigning West Champions looked as if they were going to be dethroned. At no point during this current era, certainly not since acquiring Kevin Durant (26.4 PTS, 51.6% FG, 41.9% 3FG, 6.8 REB, 5.4 AST, 0.7 STL, 1.8 BLK, 26.0 PER), have they been exploited or exposed in such a manner; the Rockets managed to really do a number of Steve Kerr’s charges, slowing the Tempo, while halting their Ball-Movement, forcing arguably the most potent offensive attack in NBA History into predictable Isolation Basketball. This was never more apparent than in Games Four and Five, in which the defending Champs looked haplessly turnover-prone and far too-willing to settle for low-percentage, contested jumpers in crunch time. Even facing elimination in Games Six and Seven, they had to break out of those bad habits to overcome 10-Plus Point Halftime Deficits to put together seismic explosions in the Second Half to turn the tables; in both of those contests, the Warriors outscored the Rockets 66-31 in the Third Quarter alone. And it was their All-Stars that led them out of the hole. After struggling the middle parts of the Series, Durant totaled Thirty-Four Points on 11-of-21 Shooting (52.4%) in Game Seven, while Steph Curry (26.4 PTS, 49.5% FG, 42.3% 3FG, 5.1 REB, 6.1 AST, 1.6 STL, 28.2 PER) added Twenty-Seven Points on 10-of-22 Shooting (45.5%), including 7-of-15 from Three (46.7%), with Klay Thompson (20.0 PTS, 48.8% FG, 44.0% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 2.5 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK, 16.1 PER) pouring in another Nineteen Points on 8-of-13 Shooting (61.5%). This triumvirate is going to need to keep this up against Cleveland, because they’re dealing with injury issues of their own, particularly in the form of veteran Defensive stopper Andre Iguodala (6.0 PTS, 46.3% FG, 28.2% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 3.3 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.6 BLK, 11.2 PER), who missed the final Four Games of the previous Series with a badly bruised Left Leg, and is seeking a second opinion after failing to be cleared by the Training Staff, while former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green (11.0 PTS, 45.4% FG, 30.1% 3FG, 7.6 REB, 7.3 AST, 1.4 STL, 1.3 BLK, 16.1 PER) tweaked his Ankle in Game Seven. With Golden State likely face more smaller lineups from Cleveland, it’s going to be imperative that these two guys find a way to stay on the court, because they will in all likelihood be spending the majority of their defensive efforts guarding the aforementioned James. After all, Iguodala was the Finals MVP in their first matchup with the Cavs four years ago, and allows Kerr to employ the vaunted Hamptons Five, a small-ball Lineup that has proven to be equally devastating on Offense and Defense.