The Cleveland Cavaliers meet in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season. It’s the first time in the four major North American sports leagues that two teams have faced each other in the championship series for four consecutive seasons.
The Warriors have won two of the first three meetings between these two teams. Golden State won in 2015, Cleveland in 2016 and the Warriors won the grudge match last season. These teams played twice in the regular season with the Warriors winning both games.
The 2018 NBA Finals begin on May 31st in Oakland. Let’s take a look at the odds, our preview and pick for Game 1:
These teams match up well historically with the Warriors winning 59 out of a total of 111 all-time regular season games. But what really matters to us is how these teams have fared against each other since 2015, or the year when they first met in the NBA Finals. And during that period, it has been a one-sided affair during the regular season as the Dubs have won six out of eight meetings, including all of the games played in Oakland.
In the postseason, these teams have played each other in the last three installments of the NBA Finals. The Warriors won 4-2 in 2015 while the Cavs got their revenge the following year at 4-3. Golden State then didn’t just win the grudge match last season, they did so convincingly at 4 games to 1. Now both teams had almost identical line-ups during their first two Finals meetings but the difference last year was Kevin Durant.
Durant joined the Warriors last season and he was the hero of the 2017 NBA championship series, winning Finals MVP in the process. This season, Durant has been at the helm of the Warriors offense again, leading the team in scoring both during the regular season ( 26.4 points per game ) and the playoffs ( 29.0 points per game ). Against the Cavs this season, Durant averaged 28.5 points per game while shooting 48.6% from the floor and 46.7% from behind the three point arc.
While the Warriors have Durant, the Cavs have the best player in the planet in LeBron James. James and Durant are considered 1-2, the best players in the league today and it would be interesting how they would fare in their second consecutive Finals battle. KD won last year but we know that the King has been spectacular in the current postseason.
James is averaging a career postseason best 34.0 points and 8.8 assists per game in the current playoffs. Not only that, his shooting percentage of 54.2% is the third highest in thirteen playoffs played. His 13 double doubles in the current postseason is one short of his career best and he still has at least 4 games left to play. James has scored at least 40 points in seven playoff games this year and he has topped the 30 point plateau in 10 of 18 playoff games so far.
Against the Warriors during the regular season, James averaged 26.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 8 assists per game. In the Finals, he’ll need more than that if the Cavs want to keep pace for 48 minutes with the defending champions.
In the previous three rounds, the main question surrounding the Cavs’ 2018 playoff campaign was whether LeBron James would have enough gas left in his tank to finish the job. That’s because James has had to do more this year than he’s ever had at any point in his career.
He played 82 games for the first time in his career. He led the league in minutes during the regular season ( 36.9 minutes per game ) and is leading the current playoffs in total minutes played at 743. Some thought he ran out of gas in Game 5 against the Celtics but he bounced back with two strong performances in Games 6 & 7.
But in the NBA Finals, it’s no longer a question of whether James has enough left in his tank or not but it’s about whether the Cavaliers have enough talent on their team to topple the defending champions. If the Cavs lost 4-1 to the Dubs last season, with Kyrie Irving, how will they do without him? With LeBron James likely compromised due to wear and tear in the first three rounds and Kevin Love suffering a concussion in Game 6 against the Celtics, Cleveland is at an obvious manpower disadvantage against the powerhouse Warriors.
The team playing at home is 18-3 straight up in the last 21 Game 1s of the NBA Finals. Golden State has beaten Cleveland in all Game 1s during their first three Finals meetings with an average winning margin of 15 points. Most recently, they beat the Cavs by 22 in Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. Kevin Durant scored 38 points in that game and the Dubs blew the game wide open with a 13-0 run to open the third quarter. Now isn’t that an all too familiar scene?
The Warriors have used the third quarter to rally and take leads or break games wide open this season. So far, the Warriors have outscored their playoff opponents by an aggregate total of 130 points. That’s the highest point differential in any single quarter by any team in the shot clock era. So if there is a stretch in the game where Cleveland must be wary about, it’s the third quarter storms that the Warriors have been unleashing.
Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry averaged 10.4 points and 10.1 points respectively, in the third quarters of the Western Conference Finals. The two combined to shoot 21 out of 39 from behind the three point line in seven third quarters against the Rockets. That’s just too much and the Cavs need to limit that in order to have a chance to win.
We also know about the juggernaut offense and we also know that it’s ball movement that fuels that machine. Golden State led the league in assists during the regular season at 29.3 per game. The Dubs hit 46 once and had at least 35 dimes in 18 games. According to writer Anthony Slater, the Warriors had 20 or less assists in three of the 94 prior games, including the playoffs.
During the Houston series, the Warriors averaged only 17.67 assists per game during their three losses. They failed to top the 20 assists mark twice with 21 as their highest assists total in those defeats. In those three losses, Klay Thompson went an aggregate 8-16 from the three point area, making 8. Percentage-wise, that’s impressive but Thompson produces more when the Dubs are moving that ball well.
In their four wins against the Rockets, the Dubs averaged 23.75 assists per game. During those games, Thompson was able to hoist a total of 39 three pointers, making 19 of them. That’s a huge difference compared to his production when the Warriors aren’t passing the ball. Because 96.4% of Thompson’s three pointers this season were assisted, the Dubs need to move that ball and find Thompson behind the three point line.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, LeBron James must continue to play heavy minutes against the Dubs. One can only wonder how much longer he can keep this pace. But he’s the best basketball player in the planet so you’d expect him to be at his best again. But if that super human version James was enough to win the East, it’s gonna come up short against the Warriors.
Hands down, the Dubs are the better team here and it’s not even close. Sure, this is nothing new to LeBron James as his team has been the betting underdog in 7 of his 9 NBA Finals appearances. But at +650, the Cavaliers opened as the biggest underdogs in the last 16 NBA Finals. That’s massive.
We’re picking the Warriors to win Game 1. The Dubs are 8-1 SU at home in the playoffs with Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals as their only loss. But if you think the odds are too high at -1000, you might also want to look at taking Golden State at -12.5 . The Dubs are 3-0 ATS in Game 1s with an average winning margin of 18.66 points per game in the 2018 playoffs. Also, Game 1s in the NBA Finals are typically not close with 11 of the last 14 victories coming via double digits. That includes the Dubs beating the Cavs by 22 and 15 in 2017 and 2016, respectively.
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