Position-by-position look at the NBA Finals
A position-by-position look at the matchups in the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers:
CENTER: Andrew Bogut vs. Tristan Thompson. The Warriors turned around the finals last year once they benched Bogut and went small, so who knows how much time he gets now after he was needed against Oklahoma City’s big men in the Western Conference finals. Thompson averaged 13 points in the 2015 finals and could have those opportunities again against small lineups. Edge: Even.
POWER FORWARD: Draymond Green vs. Kevin Love. Love is making his NBA Finals debut and will have to shoot better than he did against the Warriors in the regular season, when he made 28.6 percent from the floor. That will be tough against Green, the runner-up again for Defensive Player of the Year who averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds against Cleveland in the regular-season sweep but must be careful to avoid any more flagrant fouls and face an automatic suspension. Edge: Warriors.
SMALL FORWARD: Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala vs. LeBron James. In his sixth straight NBA Finals, it will be hard for James to play any better than he did last June, when he averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. But he shouldn’t need to carry as heavy a load with Love and Kyrie Irving available this time. The Warriors moved Iguodala into the starting lineup late in the Western Conference finals and the Cavs are well aware of the impact he can make, as he won NBA Finals MVP honors last year after averaging 16.3 points. Edge: Cavaliers.
SHOOTING GUARD: Klay Thompson vs. J.R. Smith. Expect plenty of 3-pointers from these two, as Thompson has made 77 in the postseason – including a playoff-record 11 in Game 6 of the West finals – and Smith has nailed 49 in just 14 games. Thompson is an All-Star and better all-around player, though Smith is a much-improved defender. Now the Cavs need him to improve his 31 percent shooting in last year’s finals. Edge: Warriors.
POINT GUARD: Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving. Curry missed six games with a knee injury but appeared fully recovered in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, making seven 3-pointers and scoring 36 points. The league MVP had a nearly identical performance in Golden State’s 132-98 thrashing of the Cavs in January, scoring 35 points on seven 3s in just three quarters. Irving is averaging 24.3 points in the postseason, leading the Cavs until James edged in front of him late in the East finals, and is looking forward to his finals shot after breaking his kneecap late in Game 1 last year. Edge: Warriors.
RESERVES: Iguodala or Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Anderson Varejao and Ian Clark vs. Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova, Richard Jefferson, Mo Williams, Timofey Mozgov and James Jones. The Cavs have upgraded their bench unit since adding the shooting of veterans Frye and Jefferson to the perimeter defensive abilities of Shumpert and Dellavedova. But Golden State may still more quality reserves, some of whom would start on other teams around the league. Edge: Warriors.
COACHES: Steve Kerr vs. Tyronn Lue. The experience edge goes to Kerr, and he’s only been doing this two years. But from handling the Warriors’ pursuit of the league’s record for wins to his adjustments in bringing them back from 3-1 down against Oklahoma City, it’s clear the Coach of the Year has already mastered the job. Lue replaced the fired David Blatt midway through the season and clearly improved the chemistry and culture of a team that led its conference but seemed to have something missing. Edge: Warriors