After completing the best regular season in history, the Golden State Warriors clinched their rightful spot in the 2016 NBA Finals by overcoming a 3-1 series deficit in the Western Conference Finals.
A significant challenge looms, as a well-rested — and healthy — Cleveland Cavaliers team awaits. The Cavs swept their first two opponents in the Eastern Conference bracket before needing six games to eliminate the Toronto Raptors.
“We’re four wins away from our goal, and that’s a pretty special accomplishment,” Stephen Curry said after the Dubs won Game 7 on Monday.
Ahead of the rematch of the NBA’s heavyweights, here’s the tale of the tape:
Playing style: Since Tyronn Lue took over as head coach in the middle of the season, the Cavs have employed a version of the Warriors’ offense that relies on ball movement and 3-pointers. Lue said on Tuesday that he’s comfortable with his team continuing to play a “run and shoot” style, even if that’s the tempo Golden State prefers.
“We want to push the pace!” Lue jokingly yelled at Cleveland.com reporter Chris Haynes at practice on Tuesday. “You know what I’m saying. Put that on record. Push the pace.”
Best players: Both teams boast leaders with multiple MVP awards to their names. And they both keep the ball humming around the floor.
The difference is Cleveland relies on LeBron James to control the offense, distribute and be a high-efficiency scorer; Golden State needs Curry to rip his opponents’ hearts out by scoring in bunches.
James kept his team in the series last year by putting on one of the best individual playoff performances of all time, but he didn’t have the starpower around him to fight off the relentless Warriors. This year, it’s Golden State that’s been fighting off injury concerns as Curry has been hobbled by a sprained MCL suffered in the first round.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said on Monday that he’s not worried about his superstar’s health, though.
“He looked right again,” Kerr said.
Smallball: The Dubs’ Death Lineup (Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green) gave the Cavs fits last year as their bigs struggled to defend the entire court.
The unit languished for stretches of the Western Conference Finals as the Thunder’s combination of length and athleticism stymied their motion by deflecting passes.
But according to NBA.com stat guru John Schuhmann, the unit has gotten the better of its opponents 141-109 per 48 minutes in the regular and postseason combined — including Games 3 and 4 vs. OKC, when it struggled.
Odds: Sports book William Hill is listing the Warriors as -230 favorites for the series. The Cavs are 5.5-point underdogs for Game 1 at Oracle Arena on Thursday.