The general consensus is it’ll take a miracle for the Cleveland Cavaliers to beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals. They’ve done it once before, but this Cleveland team is nothing like the one that came back from a 3-1 deficit in 2016. The Warriors have also changed since then, only they’ve gotten significantly better by switching out Harrison Barnes for Kevin Durant to give Golden State four perennial All-Stars in the prime of their careers.
Even so, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Cavaliers do pull off the impossible. They still have the greatest player in the world in LeBron James, while the Warriors are coming off of a grueling series against the Rockets that exposed some of their weaknesses. Whereas the Cavaliers have nothing to lose, the pressure is on the Warriors to win back-to-back titles.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at five questions that will determine the series.
How much does LeBron have left in the tank?
LeBron James is putting the finishing touches on one of the most dominant postseason runs of all time, with per game averages of 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 8.8 assists on 54.2 percent shooting from the field. He knocked the Pacers out of the first round with a 45-point performance in Game 7, carried the Cavaliers past the No. 1 seeded Raptors in four games, and then scored a total of 91 points in the final two games of Cleveland’s Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Celtics.
All of this is after he played 82 regular season games for the first time in his career and while logging more minutes than anyone else in the postseason. It’s hard to believe he still has more to give at his age, but the Cavaliers now need him more than ever if they’re going to upset the Warriors.
Who will step up for the Cavaliers?
James can’t get it done by himself, though.
Having traded both Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas over the last 12 months, the Cavaliers no longer have a No. 2 in their backcourt who can be relied on to take some of the scoring burden off of LeBron. George Hill, J.R. Smith, Jeff Green, and Kyle Korver are each capable of giving Cleveland a scoring punch with their outside shooting, but they’ll each need to be far more consistent than they have been in these playoffs to take down the Warriors, especially if Kevin Love is limited in his return from the concussion he suffered in Game 6 against the Celtics.
If none of them do step up, it’ll be an incredibly short series. It’s as simple as that.
How much will the Warriors miss Andre Iguodala?
Despite coming off of the worst season of his career, Andre Iguodala is still the glue that holds the Warriors together on both ends of the floor. They’ll miss his contributions on offense and defense in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and yet his defense on James has been the difference-maker in their previous matchups with the Cavaliers.
While the Warriors switch more than almost every team in the league, Iguodala is usually the primary defender on LeBron. Nobody can stop LeBron entirely, but having a like-sized defender who can focus entirely on slowing the best basketball player in the world down frees up everyone else to do what they do best. For Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant, that means carrying the Warriors in the scoring column. For Draymond Green, it means contesting every shot LeBron takes around the rim with his long arms as a help defender.
The Cavaliers have actually outscored the Warriors in the last three NBA Finals with LeBron on the court and Iguodala on the bench. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues while Iguodala recovers from the leg injury he suffered in the Western Conference Finals.
What do the Cavaliers have planned for Kevin Durant?
The Cavaliers can’t afford for James to be the primary defender on Durant when he’s on the floor. In all likelihood, Jeff Green — Durant’s former teammate in Seattle and Oklahoma City — will draw the assignment, and then hand it off to LeBron whenever he’s not on the court.
If Green can have some of the same success guarding Durant as the Rockets did in the Western Conference Finals, it’ll allow the likes of George Hill, J.R. Smith and LeBron to take their chances against Curry and Thompson. If he can’t, the Cavaliers will have to pick their poison. They’ve previously focused on containing Curry and Thompson, but doing so paved the way for Durant to win Finals MVP in 2017. Will the Cavaliers take their chances with Durant getting his again or do they have something else up their sleeve?
Is this the year Steph Curry wins Finals MVP?
Curry will make the Hall of Fame regardless of what happens between now and when he retires. He already has two championships, two MVPs — one of which was unanimous, putting him in a class of his own — and is on pace to make more three-pointers than anyone else in league history.
The only thing missing from his resume is a Finals MVP.
Although it���s not something he cares about, nor should it be, his performance in these Finals adds some intrigue to the fourth go-around of this matchup. He doesn’t need to score 30 points every game for the Warriors to win — Curry makes a tremendous difference even when he’s not scoring because of the gravitational pull of his three-point shooting — but they become practically unstoppable when he’s playing to his full potential.