The Golden State Warriors have continued their impressive season run: winning 67 of 82 games in the regular season, sweeping all three of their playoff opponents, and obtaining the 8 time NBA all-star, 4 time NBA scoring champion, Kevin Durant. The opposing team in the Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers, has had a less successful season to say the least. Going 51-31 in the regular season and dropping a game to the Celtics without their star player in the Conference Finals, in addition to being in an easier Conference than the Warriors, highlights some of the issues that they have faced this past season. However, does this mean that the Warriors are easily the favorites in this NBA Finals series? Not at all. There are many reasons that point to the Cavaliers as the clear favorite to win it all, despite what it may seem like at the surface of both teams’ gameplay.
First, previous NBA history has shown us that the Golden State Warriors dominance thus far does not signify that they will play as well in the Finals. In the 2015-2016 season, where the Cavaliers won the Finals after coming back from the historic 1-3 deficit, the Warriors have shown the same level of dominance until that series. They had a 73-9 record during that same season and a 67-15 record in the 2015 regular season, but still were unable to have a concrete playoff run. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, have had mediocre regular season performances, going only 57-25 before beating the Warriors in the Finals. In summary, the two team’s records throughout the past two NBA seasons have not correlated with the playoff results, so the Warrior’s impressive record is not as significant as it seems.
Additionally, the Warriors’ 12-0 record throughout the playoffs may be slightly misleading to NBA spectators. While they swept the Utah Jazz and Portland Trailblazers with dominance, these two teams were clearly outmatched and were both projected to lose 0-4. The series with the San Antonio Spurs, on the other hand, was a completely different story. In the first game, the Spurs held an early lead of 22 points, where they showed complete dominance over the opposing number one seeded team. However, when their star player, Kawhi Leonard, was subsequently severely injured, causing the Spurs to lose their immense lead and not have their star for the remainder of the series. After being the first team in the playoffs to pose a genuine challenge to the Warriors, the Spurs lost Leonard, who is undeniably the core to their team’s system. From there, the Warriors were given an inevitable 12-0 playoff record, as the first two teams they faced were highly outmatched, and the third team seemingly surrendered after facing a crucial injury.
Further, there is more to it than their win to loss record. Throughout the current playoffs, one Warrior has negatively stood out. Beginning with 22.3 PPG in the regular season, that number dropped to 18.3 after the first series, to 14.0 after the second series, to 11.0 after their most recent series against the Spurs. On top of that, he has only made 64 of 167 shots attempted throughout these playoffs, which is incomparable to his 46.8% field goal percentage in the regular season. While Thompson’s lacking performances are often overlooked due to both Curry’s and Durant’s ability to lead them to the Finals, they will need their NBA all star to restore to his elite abilities before facing the powerful Cavaliers.
While it is undeniable that overall, the Warriors have impressive statistics, there are some concerning aspects that will be and have been exploited by higher level teams. The most common piece of criticism that they receive is their inability to close out games and play well under pressure. While people may believe that this statement is overused, the statistics back it up. On average, they lead the league in the largest point margin after the first three quarters, at +11.7 points. To demonstrate what an extraordinary feat this is, the team with the second highest point margin are the Houston Rockets at +5.9 points. However, in the fourth quarter, Golden State has not even gained more than a one point margin increase. They are still able to win games with their mediocre fourth quarter performances due to the enormous leads they gain throughout the first three quarters, but against the Cavaliers, their ability to play well throughout all four quarters is essential. An ideal example of their subpar fourth quarter gameplay was their game against the Memphis Grizzlies on January 6. They led the game by 24 points during the third quarter and lost that extensive lead within the last ten minutes.
There are additional statistics that the Warriors are lacking in as well. They rank the worst in the number of opponent offensive rebounds, and amongst the worst in number of turnovers and technical fouls. It seems as if many of the Warriors’ weaknesses play right into the hands of the Cavaliers, as they are the most reliable under pressure and skillfully capitalize off of offensive rebounds. While it may seem like the Warriors’ dominant performance throughout the season will solidify them as the 2017 NBA Finals victors, the Cleveland Cavaliers have many underlying advantages that can make them the repeating champions.