NBA Finals Preview: Can the Cleveland Cavaliers Make History?
For as scary as the Western Conference appeared during the regular season, the Golden State Warriors triumphed, largely unscathed, and earned a trip to the NBA Finals.
For as easy as the Eastern Conference seemed for the star-studded Cleveland Cavaliers, they surely weren't as fortunate.
Will the Cavs be able to overcome the disparity in the NBA Finals, or are the Warriors simply too good to beat in the best-of-seven format?
Four Factors Breakdown
In terms of the Four Factors , which are four of the most critical statistics in basketball, the teams are evenly matched in may ways. However, in terms of offense, the Cavs are the more well-rounded squad.
Below are each team's regular season marks in the categories as well as the ranks (in parentheses) and the NBA average.
|Warriors||.540 (1)||13.1 (17)||24.1 (21)||.184 (26)|
|Cavs||.520 (4)||13.4 (18)||26.8 (6)||.216 (7)|
The Warriors were the best team in the NBA in terms of Effective Field Goal Percentage, typically considered the most crucial factor of the four, but their other marks were on the wrong side of the halfway point in the league. The Cavs, however, ranked top-seven in all but turnover rate.
Still, in terms of Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions), the Warriors narrowly edged the Cavs 111.6 to 111.1. Those marks ranked second and third in the NBA, respectively, so each team has a pretty good claim to being the better of the two in terms of offense.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, the defensive side of things wasn't quite as close.
|Warriors||.470 (1)||14.3 (7)||74.4 (18)||.217 (22)|
|Cavs||.502 (20)||12.6 (22)||74.7 (17)||.177 (1)|
Yes, the Warriors aren't a great rebounding team, and they do foul plenty, but they held regular season opponents to the worst Effective Field Goal Percentage of any squad in the NBA. The Cavs, on the other hand, were foul averse, but the rest of their marks were lacking.
Based on the regular season output in these Four Factors, some interesting keys evidence themselves.
The most obvious is that the Warriors' elite Effective Field Goal Percentage could cause problems for the Cavs' defense and, further, Golden State's turnover ability on defense could cause issues for Cleveland.
Conversely, the Cavs both get to the foul line and prevent free throws to opponents. The Warriors have a noticeable weakness in each category. The free throw line could be a turning point for Cleveland.
Further, the Cavs hit the offensive boards hard (thanks in large part to Tristan Thompson's elite offensive rebounding ability), and the Warriors aren't any better than average at cleaning the defensive glass.
Of course, the Cavs aren't the same team they were in the regular season, a season that saw them undergo overhauls throughout. Now, things are clicking, and their offense is dominating the postseason.
|Warriors||.528 (1)||14.0 (16)||27.5 (3)||.178 (14)|
|Cavs||.500 (5)||11.6 (5)||28.5 (1)||.242 (2)|
Their offense again is performing well in various facets, but the Warriors are still the champs in Effective Field Goal Percentage. That's what a lethal three-point team can do, and they're shooting 38.0 percent as a team in the playoffs from deep, second best among any team. They've also upped their offensive rebounding effort but still do not get to the free throw line frequently.
More importantly, the Cavs are still getting to the line, and the Warriors are allowing a high free throw per field goal attempt clip. Oh, and the Cavs fixed some things on their defense.
|Warriors||.469 (4)||13.1 (4)||76.2 (7)||.226 (11)|
|Cavs||.451 (1)||10.7 (15)||77.8 (4)||.210 (8)|
Okay, so it's not elite across the board in the smallish playoff sample, but they've held opponents to the lowest Effective Field Goal Percentage in the playoffs of any team. They still aren't turning teams over, but what I glossed over earlier is the fact that the Warriors have the worst turnover rate on offense of any team in the playoffs.
LeBron James has scored the most points off of opponent turnovers per game in the playoffs (5.4).
By now, you don't need another breakdown of LeBron's importance to the Cavs, and I know you know how good Stephen Curry has been this year. Given that, here are four players to keep an eye on -- if you can look away from Steph or LeBron at any point.
Tristan Thompson - Thompson currently ranks third in the playoffs in offensive rebounding percentage (13.3%), and while we're at it, Timofey Mozgov (12.3%) ranks fifth. The Warriors really will need to focus on the defensive glass to keep the Cavs, whose 15.8 second-chance points per game, are tops in the playoffs. Thompson also leads the playoffs in Offensive Rating (132.2) by a sizable margin over Chris Paul (126.9), and he's earned 1.3 Offensive Win Shares, which ranks seventh in the playoffs and second on the team to Irving (1.4).
Andrew Bogut - Bogut, a former number-one overall pick, will finally get his chance to prove that the Milwaukee Bucks got it right back in 2005. Of course, he won't be the star, but his defense might prove to be. Bogut's Defensive Rating (95.2) and block percentage (6.1%) lead the playoffs, and he ranks seventh in offensive rebounding percentage (10.9%), fourth in defensive rebounding percentage (27.4%), sixth in Defensive Win Shares (0.8), and second in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (6.1). I say this in all seriousness: the battle between Thompson and Bogut could be a deciding factor.
J.R. Smith - Smith no doubt will do something memorable, whether it's good or bad. Still, Smith's Offensive Rating (120.5) ranks 10th in the playoffs, his Win Shares per 48 minutes (.192) ranks 10th as well, and his Offensive Box Plus/Minus (4.6) is sixth. His sparkplug ability for Cleveland will likely prove crucial if the Warriors are able to contain LeBron for stints in the series.
Shaun Livingston - Livingston doesn't sit atop the leaderboards in various stats -- though he does rank 10th in the playoffs in True Shooting Percentage (61.0%). But his size -- he's 6'7" -- could cause some serious problems for the Cavaliers guards. Livingston attempts 38.9% of his field goal attempts within three feet of the rim and has converted at a 55.6% clip on those. Sure, he's scoring only 5.0 points per game (but 10.6 per 36 minutes), but the Cavs' guards will have a new test in trying to stop a guard who doesn't shoot threes (he shot 2 this season, none in the playoffs and just 51 in his 10-year career).
A Tough Out
The most likely conclusion? The Warriors have a 26.57% chance to claim the title in five games.
The odds are stacked against the Cavs, but that's nothing new for the city of Cleveland.