Monday, April 23, 2018
Sports

TALE OF THE TAPE

Season series: Warriors, 2-0. Golden State won 89-83 at home on Christmas, then blew away the Cavaliers 132-98 nearly a month later in one of the final games before Cleveland fired coach David Blatt and replaced him with Tyronn Lue. Stephen Curry scored 35 with seven 3-pointers in that rout, while Draymond Green averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds in the two games. LeBron James shot only 40.5 percent, though that was far better than Kyrie Irving (27 percent) and Kevin Love (28.6 percent), who combined to miss all 11 3-pointers in the first meeting.

Story line: A rematch of last year's Finals, which the Warriors won in six games for their first championship in 40 years. They followed with a record 73 victories during the regular season and will try to cap off the winningest season in NBA history. With a far healthier team than last season, LeBron James tries again to end Cleveland's 52-year title drought in pro sports, which includes losses in both of the Cavs' appearances in the Finals.

Key matchup: Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving. Banged up earlier in the 2015 postseason, Irving was having a strong game and on the verge of helping the Cavs to a Game 1 victory in the Finals before breaking his kneecap in the closing seconds of regulation. He didn't return until December and after some early struggles is averaging 24.3 points in the playoffs, just behind LeBron James for the team lead. Now it's Curry who has battled an assortment of injuries during the postseason, though the unanimous MVP looked good as ever in scoring 36 with seven 3-pointers in the Warriors' Game 7 victory over the Thunder in the Western Conference final.

X-factor: Andre Iguodala. Starting or more likely coming off the bench, his chief role is trying to defend the opponent's top player, as he did against LeBron James last June or Kevin Durant in this year's West final. But when he provides scoring along with that, as he did in averaging 16.3 points in winning NBA Finals MVP honors, or scoring 20 on 7-of-8 shooting in the regular-season rout at Cleveland, that makes an already potent team even tougher.

Position-by-position

Center

Andrew Bogut vs. Tristan Thompson: The Warriors turned around the Finals last year once they benched Bogut and went small, so who knows how much time he gets now after he was needed against the Thunder's big men in the Western Conference final. Thompson averaged 13 points in the 2015 Finals and could have those opportunities again against small lineups.

Power forward

Draymond Green vs. Kevin Love: Love is making his NBA Finals debut and will have to shoot better than he did against the Warriors in the regular season, when he made 28.6 percent from the floor. That will be tough against Green, the runnerup again for defensive player of the year who must be careful to avoid any more flagrant fouls and face an automatic suspension.

Small forward

Harrison Barnes or Andre Iguodala vs. LeBron James: In his sixth straight NBA Finals, it will be hard for James to play any better than he did last June, when he averaged 35.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. But he shouldn't need to carry as heavy a load with Love and Irving available this time. The Warriors moved Iguodala into the starting lineup late in the Western Conference final, and the Cavs are well aware of the impact he can make, as he won NBA Finals MVP honors last season after averaging 16.3 points.

Shooting guard

Klay Thompson vs. J.R. Smith: Expect plenty of 3-pointers from these two, as Thompson has made 77 in the postseason — including a playoff-record 11 in Game 6 of the West final — and Smith has nailed 49 in 14 games. Thompson is an All-Star and better all-around player, though Smith is a much-improved defender. Now the Cavs need him to improve his 31 percent shooting in last year's Finals.

Point guard

Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving: Curry missed six games with a knee injury but appeared fully recovered in Game 7 of the Western Conference final win over the Thunder, making seven 3-pointers and scoring 36. The league MVP had a nearly identical performance in Golden State's 132-98 thrashing of the Cavs in January, scoring 35 on seven 3s in just three quarters. Irving is averaging 24.3 points in the postseason, leading the Cavs until James edged in front of him late in the East final, and is looking forward to his Finals shot after breaking his kneecap late in Game 1 last season.

Reserves

The Cavs have upgraded their bench since adding the shooting of veterans Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson to the perimeter defensive abilities of Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova. But Golden State might still have more quality reserves in Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights.

Coaches

Steve Kerr vs. Tyronn Lue: The experience edge goes to Kerr, and he has been doing this only two years. But from handling the Warriors' pursuit of the league's record for wins to his adjustments in bringing them back from 3-1 down against Oklahoma City, it's clear the coach of the year has already mastered the job. Lue replaced the fired David Blatt midway through the season and clearly improved the chemistry and culture of a team that led its conference but seemed to have something missing.

Associated Press

Playoffs NBA Finals

CAVALIERS VS. WARRIORS

(TV: Ch. 28)

Game 1: Thursday, at G.S., 9 p.m.

Game 2: Sunday, at G.S., 8 p.m.

Game 3: June 8, at Cleveland, 9 p.m.

Game 4: June 10, at Cleveland, 9 p.m.

*Game 5: June 13, at G.S., 9 p.m.

*Game 6: June 16, at Cleveland, 9 p.m.

*Game 7: June 19, at G.S., 8 p.m.

* If necessary

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