After putting up with a year’s worth of jokes about blowing a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors find themselves facing off against the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third time in as many seasons. But I’m not expecting history to repeat itself.
The Warriors were a Draymond Green crotch punch away from going back to back a season ago, and that shot on LeBron James was the turning point in the series after Green was forced to sit out of Game 5. Both teams enter this year’s Finals on a torrid pace, with the Dubs coming in undefeated in the playoffs and the Cavs dropping only one game in the postseason.
With opening odds of -240 to win the title, sportsbooks are clearly banking on the Warriors to once again hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy and I agree with them. Here’s why:
The Durant Effect
When Kevin Durant departed Oklahoma City for greener pastures in Oakland last summer, the landscape of the NBA was tilted on its head. A team that broke the NBA record for most wins in the regular season added one of the best players in the league. Fans of opposing teams voiced their frustration with the league allowing super teams like these to exist, but one fact remains true: the Warriors are a much scarier team with Durant in the fold.
Durant averaged 25.1 points, 4.8 assists and 8.3 rebounds over 62 games in the regular season and made a seamless transition into an already stacked squad. With four all-stars in the starting lineup, the Dubs are easily one of the most talented teams to play in the Finals in the history of the Association.
While the Cavs are an even better team now compared to the one that went all the way in 2016, Golden State added a former MVP to the mix. That’s worth a lot more. Curry and Durant combined for 59.5 points per game in the Western Conference final against the Spurs and I don’t expect them to slow down vs Cleveland. KD is a difference maker, and you’ll see that soon.
Beast of a bench
Cleveland general manager David Griffin did an excellent job of adding depth by bringing in Kyle Korver, Deron Williams and Derrick Williams and the results have shown. But the Warriors have also vastly improved in that area, as the second unit was continually exposed a year ago. Newcomers JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West have all had big impacts and will be leaned on heavily when the superstars need a breather this time around.
West adds the ever invaluable veteran experience and grit. Often the butt of jokes, McGee has experienced a career renaissance in California which was highlighted by a 16-point effort in Game 3 of the West final. Pachulia has been worth every penny and is a reliable presence in the post.
All of these moves have flown under the radar due to the Durant acquisition, but don’t overlook the Warriors bench. This team is more complete than ever and they’re a big reason why.
The X factor, Klay Thompson
Thompson generally gets overlooked on his own team due to the firepower around him and he was believed to be the odd man out of the rotation due to the addition of Durant. It hasn’t happened. Instead, Thompson averaged 22.3 points per game in the campaign – higher than his number from a year ago – and hit on 41.4 percent of his shots from deep.
The shooting guard struggled mightily against the Spurs, averaging 11 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in the series while shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point land. So far in the playoffs, he hasn’t shot over 40 percent in a series.
He’ll find his shot sooner or later, though, and he’s already established himself as a player who comes up big in key moments. Besides, the Warriors have won 27 straight games by an average of 16 points when Thompson dresses. He’ll have better looks than normal with LeBron James and company chasing around the likes of Durant and Curry, so look for him to awaken from his postseason slumber and rebound into form.
Warriors in seven, which is currently being offered in the ballpark of +350 at Bovada. Justin Hartling thinks Bron Bron and the Cavs are going to repeat as champs, and you can read his reasons why here.
|Golden State Warriors||-240|
Odds as of May 29 at Bovada