Not too long ago, we put up an article about the Conference Finals in which we stated a number of reasons that we half-expected the Cleveland Cavaliers to take the Atlanta Hawks out of the running and move on to face the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals. Granted, that article was written with an air of hesitation. The Cavs were almost definitely moving on, but most people probably wouldn’t have predicted the 4-0 shutout they managed to pull off against one of the better teams in the association this year.
Well, the 2015 NBA Finals are finally set to start tomorrow. And if you’re tuning in and expecting to see Golden State wipe the floor with their competitors, then you aren’t alone. They’ve been absolutely inimitable this year, a true force with which to be reckoned. So what will happen to Cleveland now that their day of reckoning has arrived? We’re certainly going to be making our own picks, but we’re still pretty excited to see how the whole thing plays out. Will one team make a clean sweep? Will we be treated to a full seven-game series?
These are all valid questions. But for the purposes of this article, let’s forgo talking about whether or not the Cleveland Cavaliers will win and simply talk about if they can win. After all, Golden State may be a heck of a team, but they aren’t exactly flawless. In fact, that’s actually our first major point of discussion.
Golden State Might Want This Almost Too Much
The Golden State Warriors didn’t do much worse than the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals, losing only one game to the Houston Rockets in which they trailed by thirteen points. And if you saw the game, then you already know that it wasn’t like they just let the win slip by them. James Harden played the best game of his career that night, which helped to propel Houston forward quite a bit. And the Warriors were at something of a disadvantage for a fair amount of the game without star player Stephen Curry, who had to leave the court for several minutes after flipping over Trevor Ariza and hitting his head hard on the floor. It’s not the first time Curry and Ariza have had a run-in with one another, but at least this time it was a little more innocent.
Curry’s return to the court afterward, and his reaction to the fall in the press, showed him to be resilient and hard-working. But what did it say about Steve Kerr as a coach? Curry’s a great player, but he isn’t the only skilled player on the team. And while they may not all play the same position, a team with players such as Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson just shouldn’t need to throw a player back on the court right after he’s taken what might be one of the biggest falls of his career. Sure, Kerr and players like Andrew Bogut expressed concerns. But that doesn’t change the fact that he went right back out there after just twelve minutes.
And it almost happened with Thompson as well. He took a knee to the head in the game that finalized Golden State’s victory in the Western Conference Finals, and he was initially cleared to play until it surfaced that he was suffering from a concussion. Granted, that isn’t Steve Kerr’s fault. The blame for that one falls squarely on the doctors who examined Thompson and said he was good to go. So maybe you can’t really blame Kerr for that one, but when you’ve got a player who’s possibly disoriented, concussion or not, it seems potentially wise to rotate him out for a bit.
But you might be thinking “hey, the Warriors won that game.” So what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that they’re going to be working a lot harder against the Cleveland than they were against Houston. The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, and even some bloggers from Golden State’s neck of the woods have recognized that he’s going to be a tough foe to beat. They can do it, but there’s a good chance that LeBron’s going to be defending against Curry and Thompson, so Kerr had better hope they’ve got it together.
More importantly, he had better hope there are no more injuries. Most people would have expected them to wipe the floor with the Rockets without giving up a single win, but they got reckless. They seem to want this quite a bit, which makes sense given that they haven’t been in the NBA Finals for about forty years. But that makes it a terrible time for them to start getting sloppy. If they don’t get it together, then you can rest assured that LeBron will be going home with another ring.
Cleveland Cavaliers Have More Than Just LeBron
We already talked about LeBron during the Conference Finals, and let’s face it…you already know that he has the potential to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers through the next four to seven games. But he isn’t going to be doing it alone. He’s got a pretty slick roster playing alongside him. A roster which includes Kyrie Irving, who it is speculated might be returning to the court despite his knee injury. And yes, that’s pretty similar to the kind of thing we just criticized Steve Kerr and the Warriors for. But in this case, we’re not even sure if it’s going to happen or not. Granted, Irving wouldn’t suffer any permanent damage, so the extra time it would take him to heal might not be too bad once the season’s over.
But even with Irving possibly joining James on the court, there’s more to be said about the Cleveland Cavaliers than just these two great players. And interestingly enough, as SB Nation has pointed out, three of the team’s current key players used to play for the New York Knicks. Two of these three are Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, whose defensive capabilities we praised during the Conference Finals. The third is J.R. Smith, who should be able to put some three-pointers on the board for Cleveland.
As the above link points out, the Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t doing nearly as well in terms of three-pointers before Smith joined their lineup. And while he may have some controversial views regarding Caitlyn Jenner, he isn’t getting paid because he’s a boon to social media. He’s getting paid because, unlike his brother Chris, he appears to be becoming a stronger player with just about every game. His three-pointer percentage is close to 50% with no defenders around, and not too much lower when there’s pressure on. In short, he’s a major asset to Cleveland’s offense.
Then you have Shumpert and Mozgov adding quite a bit on the defensive side of things, and it starts to present a pretty decent picture for the Cavs. Not only is Mozgov talented when it comes to protecting the rim, but he has a decent rapport with teammates such as LeBron and he can match up against Andrew Bogut pretty evenly. The most notable dunk anyone’s had on him lately was actually made by Tristan Thompson during warmups. And while it’s possible that his ego is just as big as his hair, Shumpert appears to be pretty confident in his abilities to defend against league MVP Stephen Curry. If he’s right, then Cleveland will be one step closer to winning this thing.
If there’s one player that the Cleveland Cavaliers are missing, it’s the currently injured Kevin Love. But Thompson has been doing a decent job of replacing him as a starter, and even LeBron seems to think that Thompson should be re-signed for good. While Love has stated plans to re-sign with the team next year, some believe that he might be on his way out. If the Cavs see that they can take home a championship without him, then they might get pretty used to playing without him anyway.
David Blatt Is A Better Coach Than You Think
We mentioned not too long ago that coaches sometimes get overlooked when talking about sports, largely because the athletes are the ones doing the heavy lifting. But if we’re going to talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers and their chances of winning the 2015 NBA Finals, then we have to talk at least a little bit about David Blatt. He’s been with the team during this trip to the championship, and they arguably wouldn’t be the same without him. Whether you feel that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you.
And there are, indeed, people who feel that Blatt is not the best coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Born in Massachusetts, Blatt has actually spent a great deal of his career coaching overseas, and his family still lives in Israel as he works to secure an NBA championship. On this side of the pond, he’s had a number of critics. There was that time that LeBron interrupted his argument with one of the refs during a game. There was that time he tried to call a timeout when the team didn’t have any to call. There were many who initially thought that the Cavs were destined to win some rings this year once LeBron joined back up with the team, but some thought that Blatt’s coaching might get in the way. He’s not even that great with the press, openly criticizing Kevin Love in a fashion that might make even some of the most opinionated coaches cringe.
So, has his coaching gotten in the way? Well, first let’s look at just how difficult a job he really has. You may blame him as a coach for the fact that the team doesn’t always listen to his play calls, but if anything that just underscores how difficult a coach’s job can be. LeBron is one of the most skilled players in the association, but the problem is that he knows it. If he wants to handle the ball a certain way, you can generally bet that he’s going to do it. But Blatt has gotten his bearings straight a little bit, and it would appear that he and LeBron just may be able to work together in the years to come. Even if LeBron is likely to get most of the credit from the fans if the Cavs actually do manage to win this year.
Blatt’s public image is unfortunate, especially given the sacrifices he made in terms of being with family when he agreed to coach what many are now considering to be LeBron’s team. This is especially true when you consider the number of people calling him a “rookie” just because the majority of his career credits are European. We’ll give you a second to make any jokes about European basketball that you want, until you remember that the NBA has recruited a fair number of players from overseas. And they generally don’t get the same number of rookie comments as are doled out in Blatt’s direction.
Jeff Van Gundy of ESPN fame has referred to David Blatt’s coaching as “masterful,” and one of the articles linked above points out that the issue with the non-existent timeout is not exactly a fair basis for which to call him anything else. It was a mistake. And by the way, the guy who’s currently getting most of the credit for the Cavs’ success has made some pretty widely publicized “mistakes” as well (although in this case, “jerk move” might be more accurate). But even LeBron has finally started to give Blatt the credit that he deserves. Maybe it’s time for the rest of us to do the same.
But, On the Other Hand….
It isn’t fair for us to write about the chances of the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the 2015 NBA Finals without saying anything about the difficult struggle that they might encounter while playing the Golden State Warriors over the course of the next four to seven games that it might take them to either secure or give up their championship. If you’ve read our beginners guide to sports betting, then you already know that one should never get too cocky. They might easily lose, and many are expecting them to do just that.
First of all, let us not forget that they were in the 2007 NBA Finals, and things didn’t exactly go their way. And LeBron James was with the team back then, so his participation isn’t necessarily enough to save them. Yes, they now have a completely different starting lineup. Even if the issue with Kyrie Irving has them wondering what, exactly, that lineup will be during the games to come. In addition, they’re going in with some bad press about Matthew Dellavedova, who has been judged pretty harshly for diving on the ball when playing against the Atlanta Hawks.
Now, to be fair, the bad press being given to Dellavedova doesn’t affect the team as a whole. And if Kyrie Irving makes it make for the Finals, then Dell might not be on the starting lineup anyway. Furthermore, this bad press isn’t even necessarily as bad as the press that Blatt has gotten up to this point. But, believe it or not, bad press really can affect athletic performance. And with many media outlets more or less giving this game to the Warriors, the Cleveland Cavaliers might be entering the series with low spirits.
Of course, that same press coverage is likely to affect their determination. The study linked above shows that some athletes may give in when the media doesn’t take their side, but they might just as likely rise to meet the challenges placed before them. And now that they’ve finally had enough time to get over some of the press they got when they ran that questionable video when playing the Chicago Bulls, they can concentrate on the game. That doesn’t change the fact that they’re the underdogs in this one, but hopefully they can overcome that.
No matter how you cut it, this is going to be a tough win for the Cavaliers. There are a lot of unanswered questions regarding Kyrie Irving, the quality of David Blatt’s coaching, and whether or not Golden State is going to underestimate their opponent (or on the other hand, try too hard and become reckless. So it’s hard to say who’s going to take the series when all is said and done. But Cleveland does stand a chance. And as far as we can tell, they’re going to give it their all. No matter what happens, it should be an exciting series for the fans.