I may have unintentionally jinxed the Oklahoma City Thunder last week, but the Golden State Warriors have another opponent coming up – this time in the NBA Finals. We’re about to see a rematch between one historically dominant team vs. another that’s starting to heat up at the right time.
After a relatively rocky season involving possible chemistry issues between players and the loss of a head coach, the Cleveland Cavaliers look better than they have all season. LeBron James may have permanently lost his jumper, but his team has decimated its competition – and the numbers goes beyond Cleveland’s scorching 10-0 start to its playoffs.
Although it’s possible that Golden State could just catch on fire and sweep Cleveland – given that Stephen Curry is not a mere moral – basketball fans have plenty of reasons to be thrilled for this season’s NBA Finals.
Cleveland has outscored its playoff competition in record-breaking, dominant fashion.
The Cavaliers were already an elite offense during the regular season, as indicated by a 110.9 offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), which ranked No. 3 in the NBA. That number has gone up this postseason to 119.2, putting them not only comfortably in the top position for best playoff offense, but perhaps as the best postseason scoring team we’ve seen from a basketball team in the last 25 years. This kind of scoring is literally so good that it invalidates other weaknesses the team might have.
I looked at every playoff team since 1974: no team since has outscored its opponents so thoroughly in the postseason. Here’s the kind of peers the Cavaliers have, for reference of how ridiculous this is.
These are the only teams within the last 42 years to outscore their opponents by at least ten points per 100 possessions within the playoffs. It’s not a coincidence that all of the Cavaliers’ contemporaries are title winners. If you’re not familiar with any of the teams, keep in mind that the 1986 Celtics boasted a 40-1 regular season home record, while the 2001 Lakers were known for mostly coasting through the season before tearing off an absurd 15-1 run through the playoffs. These are immortals – not just champions.
If Cleveland keeps its performance up, LeBron James and his teammates have a chance to put the icing on top of their dominant playoff run: one that, if successful, will definitely eclipse Golden State’s incredible 73-9 regular season record.
However, unlike Oklahoma City, the Cavaliers have another way that they hope to beat the Warriors.
Cleveland and Golden State play two opposite, but similar styles.
Statistically speaking, the grind-it-out Cavaliers are a completely different beast than anyone the Warriors have played in the postseason.
Unlike the Thunder, who tried to beat Golden State at its own game, Cleveland will try to make this series a slower-paced affair. Already a slow-paced team throughout the regular season, the Cavaliers’ pace during the playoffs is currently at 89.7 possessions per game. This marks a drastic difference in an opponent for the Warriors, who have currently played at a 98.8 pace throughout the postseason.
Though the Cavaliers can successfully take advantage of transition opportunities, grading at a blitzing 1.25 points per possession on the fast break this postseason, per NBA stats, they’ll most likely be looking to do the same thing as last year: opt for long, methodical and shot clock-draining half-court sets to tire out the Warriors.
However, unlike last year, Cleveland has many of the same strengths as their opponent. Not only can both teams score around the same level, but they go for the same kind of shots. Both Golden State (.357) and the Cavaliers (.408) are in the top three for highest three point attempt rate, with Cleveland leading every postseason team. Moreover, while we’re all used to the Warriors being dazzling from three (.402), the Cavaliers have been even better (.434), though this might be partially due to small sample size.
They’re essentially like two opposite sides of the same coin – and a fitting match up to close out the year.
It’s a rematch where Cleveland is at 100 percent.
It sounds like a bit too obvious to write as a reason for excitement, but consider how enthralling last year’s NBA Finals were, even with Kyrie Irving’s injury in Game 1 and Kevin Love missing the entire series. Although the series still ended in a convincing 4-2 Warriors victory, it also brought role players like Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova to the national spotlight, particularly for Thompson’s rebounding prowess and Dellavedova’s courageous, if not occasionally questionable do-or-die attitude on the court.
Instead of watching James try to be a one-man team on offense, while being too tired to effectively be the defensive anchor his team, we’re going to see an all-rounds-firing Cavaliers squad face off against what might be the greatest basketball team in NBA history. It’s fast vs. slow; James vs. Curry; big men vs. small ball; flipping the switch vs. sustained excellence; the old guard vs. the new, etc. For our sake as viewers, let’s hope J.R. Smith doesn’t shoot 29.4 percent from the arc again and keeps up his 40 percent regular season numbers.
This column sounds Cavaliers-biased, but most of the tone comes from a level of familiarity with how machine-like and brilliant the Warriors have been all season. As basketball fans, we’ve grown accustomed to their pursuit of basketball perfection, but as shown through the Cavaliers’ performance this postseason, we could also be seeing the best playoffs run ever.
Put the two together on the biggest stage and you have a recipe for entertainment. Tweet to me, @ssbmjecht, for which team you think will win the NBA Finals!