"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more"
Henry V, Act III, Scene I
The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals for a fourth consecutive year. Incredibly, this marks LeBron James' eighth straight appearance and the ninth of his career. That is Bill Russell territory. That is John Wooden territory. Say what you will about him, but what James has done is truly remarkable.
But whether it's the pro or anti LeBron camp, I think both sides can agree on one thing: it's going to be a short series.
If this will be James' last season as a member of the Cavaliers, he's made it one for the ages. He's averaged 34 points, 8.8 assists, 8 rebounds, and shot 54% from the field in the playoffs. And he's done all of it with what could be his worst supporting cast since his first trip to the NBA Finals back in 2007.
Kevin Love is the second best player on the Cavs, but he's suffered injuries through the playoffs. Worse still is that even after four years his role on the team is still unclear. Is he the second option on offense? The third? Or is he merely a 6'10" spot up shooter that is occasionally allowed to post up?
The mid-season trades that brought Rodney Hood, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. may have add a spark to close the regular season, but the playoffs have been a different story. Of the four, only Hill has played any significant minutes. Nance got into a fight with Boston's Marcus Morris. Hood briefly made headlines by not going back into a game. Tristian Thompson and J.R. Smith have been decent in small bursts. But as you might expect, for Cleveland to have any kind of success, it'll have to be LeBron, LeBron, and more LeBron.
Golden State survived a tough series with Houston with one of their best reserves (Andre Iguodala) out for most of it. As a result, it meant giving more minutes to younger players like Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, and Patrick McCaw to play key roles on defense. If Iguodala is still injured, those three will be asked to guard James.
But that might be the only thing the Warriors will have to worry about. Draymond Green hasn't played well in the playoffs as his 27% from three-point range and 3.5 turnovers will show. But he still averaged 11 points and 11.6 rebounds. Klay Thompson has been solid defensively and has delivered a few knockout blows this postseason. And as dominant as Kevin Durant has been, Stephen Curry is the team's catalyst.
Complacency might be the Warriors biggest weakness. They've started games slow. They've been sloppy with the ball, made ill-advised passes, and taken hurried shots. But after halftime, it doesn't seem to matter. Golden State averaged 30.3 points in the 3rd quarter this season, the highest in the league. That dominance came into play in Game 6 & 7 of the Western Conference Finals where the Warriors erased leads of 15 and 11 with Curry and Durant leading the charge.
LeBron James has been fantastic in these playoffs. No one player has been able to stop him and no one player on the Warriors will either. But a notoriously bad defensive team like the Cavaliers just doesn't have enough against an offensive juggernaut like Golden State. James may be able to handle a gutty Indiana team, a fragile-minded Toronto team, and a upcoming Boston team. But taking on an immensely talented and battle-tested Golden State Warriors team is something else entirely. Warriors win in five.