Mike’s Five: NBA Finals Edition

Michael Bajalia

Mike’s Five is a new segment installed by River City Rogue in which, given a certain topic, he will discuss five key factors, considerations, and/or predictions. The first installment of Mike’s Five will break down the keys to the highly anticipated, upcoming battle royale between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

1. Three Point Shooting
When you think Golden State Warriors, if you’re like me the first thing that pops in your mind is the incredible, video-game like three point shooting. It’s been on full display since the Splash Brothers joined forces years ago. But they are finally facing an opponent who is equally as deadly from long range. Cleveland’s success can largely be attributed to the plethora of deadly snipers they’ve placed around Lebron. Kyrie Irving, Kyle Korver, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Deron Williams, and Channing Frye all see regular minutes and all are capable of knocking down threes consistently in a game and a series. In last year’s finals, when Golden State had built a commanding 3-1 lead, they were shooting nearly 40% from 3-point range while Cleveland was shooting barely 30%. As we all know, Cleveland then rattled off three straight victories. This was done largely due to the reversal of the three point shot, as Cleveland shot roughly 38% compared to Golden State’s 31% in those last three games. This turnaround was also reflected in the box score as Golden State, who averaged 108 points in their three wins, but only averaged 96 points in the last three games. How did Cleveland do this? The threes were contested. What I mean by that is they didn’t allow Golden State to run out in transition and attempt wide open threes. They forced them into a half court offense, allowing them to challenge, alter, and contest Golden State’s three point shots. You’re never going to take the three point shot away from the Warriors. I mean they jacked up 252 of them in last year’s 7-game finals. But contesting them in the half court can negatively affect any shooter, even someone as lethal as Curry or Thompson.

2. Winning the Clutch
Most people expect these games to be relatively close. And just as football is won in the trenches, close basketball games are won in the clutch, the last three to five minutes of the game. Over the last two playoff seasons, when there is less than five minutes left in the game, Kyrie Irving and Lebron James scored 62 points, shooting 41% and 32%. Each shot 31% from behind the arc. Those 62 points were over a period of 99 “clutch” minutes. Given the same scenario, Steph Curry alone scored 62 points in only 37 “clutch” minutes, shooting a remarkable 59% for two point shots and 58% from three. Now we know the stars are going to shine bright in this one, particularly as this series plays out. But as the games get more and more competitive, the team that can shine the brightest when it matters most, whether that be Steph or Lebron, or Kyrie or Klay, or a rotation player, may have just enough of an edge to lift that trophy when it’s all said and done.

3. Steve Kerr’s Possible Return
I have all the respect in the world for Steve Kerr. I think he was an incredibly talented player and is a brilliant coach. I will never take that away from him. While he did take over a Warriors squad that had been rebuilding and reloading for several years and had Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, there is no doubting he was pivotal in their rise to glory. But momentum, continuity, consistency are what wins championship bouts. You see it in every sport and on every level. When you bring someone back who has missed a prolonged period of time, it has the potential to disrupt EVERYTHING. Why change the winning formula that got you to this point? If you win, you still get a ring at the end of the day. Nobody will question your toughness or your contribution to the team. But come on, the team is 12-0 in these playoffs and looks unstoppable. Best case scenario, he jumps back into the thick of it and they just maintain status quo. Worst case, he disrupts the team entirely and throws everything into a downward spiral. Mr. Kerr, you have NOTHING to prove, just take care of yourself and your team.

4. Can Steph right the ship?
Hear me out on this. I sincerely believe Steph Curry is the most dangerous, offensive weapon in the NBA and he’s obviously a remarkable shooter. But in the last two finals appearances, he’s struggled. Even in the finals they won in 2015, his shooting percentage, scoring totals, and assists declined. Most other people would have been thrilled to have the kind of performances Curry did in those finals, but for a select few individuals, there is a much higher standard and a much higher expectation. There’s no denying he did not meet those. I mean, there was a reason the MVP of the league and the best player on the court did not win the Finals MVP. He’s had an incredible playoff so far, just as he did the previous two years, but struggling could cost him another NBA finals, particularly against a Cleveland team as talented and deep as they are. Keep in mind too, Curry’s legacy is arguably on the line right now. He’s beginning to develop a reputation as someone who does not perform in the finals. And the difference between someone who is 2-1 and 1-2 in the NBA finals is exponentially different. This series will have a large say on how Curry will be remembered, whether that be as one of the greatest players of all time or just a really good shooter that peaked early.

5. Which star’s momentum will continue / stall?
We all know Lebron and Curry are going to do their thing, but who gets more help will be crucial in pulling out these close victories. So looking at these guys’ right hand men, Klay Thompson is Curry’s “Robin” and Kevin Love/Kyrie Irving are Lebron’s. I include both of them because not only can they both erupt for thirty on any given night, but they have had a near flawless NBA playoffs thus far. If they continue to play the way they do, shooting lights out from three, Kyrie getting the entire team involved, and Love’s smart decision-making, Cleveland is damn near unbeatable. Flip the script in these playoffs, and Klay Thompson has not been the Klay Thompson who has become one of the best players in the NBA. He was basically non-existent in the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio. You could even throw Draymond Green into the mix, but if you remember Game 7 last year when it mattered most, he had 36 points and 15 rebounds in a losing effort. For their teams to win, the stars will NEED to shine big and shine bright.