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Fitz: With Cavs able to shoot 3s, Warriors must maintain edge on defense

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Programming note: Bob Fitzgerald will do the play-by-play alongside Tom Tolbert on KNBR 680’s call of Game 1 between the Warriors and Cavs.

So here we go with the Warriors trying to put an exclamation mark on an historic season.

Good time to pause and appreciate that the Warriors have won 140 games the past two years. They have won seven straight best-of-seven playoff series. They became the first team ever to go 73-9. First team ever to start with a 24-0 record. First team ever to win 54 straight home games. First team ever to win 34 road games in a season. Only the 10th team to come from down 3-1 to win a playoff series. And now trying to become only the seventh team to repeat as NBA Champions. The Warriors have been around 70 years. To make this much history in such a short period of time is beyond description.

I remind people all the time that the San Antonio Spurs have 19 straight 50 win seasons. They have 5 NBA titles in that span. Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are all Hall of Famers. And they never repeated as champions. Think about that and the difficulty of winning back to back championships.

The Warriors have been so good and played such a compelling style of basketball that they forced Cleveland to fire a coach, acquire a 3 point shooting center, start playing “skill ball” and play in the Warriors image. The Cavs are much better than a year ago and will pose a very difficult challenge, because the 3-point line will tell the tale as to who is hosting a parade in a few weeks. In the past 15 seasons, the team that shot the 3 better in the NBA Finals won the championship 14 times (including the Warriors last season).

So this clearly favors the Warriors, right? They average 12 makes per game in the playoffs this year and are shooting 40% as a team, best in the West. Ummmm, Cleveland is making 14 per game and shooting an astounding 43% from beyond the arc, best in the NBA postseason. The Warriors have never played a better 3 point shooting team in the playoffs the past two seasons.

Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, Kevin Love, Channing Frye, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert and Lebron James can all make 3s. Very scary line-up combos. And Tristan Thompson is a relentless offensive rebounder as the Warriors well remember from a year ago.

Still, the Cavs won only two games in the Finals a year ago against the Warriors. A Game 2, 95-93 win in OT as Steph Curry went 5 of 23 from the field and 2 of 15 on 3s. And a Game 3 victory 96-91 as Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes went 2 of 18 from the field. I don’t think either of those scenarios replicate themselves this year.

And while the 3 point shooting will be enormous, the ability to play defense favors the Warriors. Currently, Cleveland is only holding opponents 1 point below their average for the postseason. And that is against Detroit, Atlanta and Toronto. The Warriors have held their opponents to 6.5 points below their regular season average and that’s against Houston, Portland and OKC. The Warriors are a better defensive team, they are currently playing better defense. That gives them an edge.

This is the first NBA Finals to be spread across so many days so the result of each game will take on added importance. Almost too much time for everything to be dissected and overanalyzed. Time off tends to kill momentum as well. The NBA has done everything to eliminate 4 games in five nights during the regular season and that is a good thing. But the Warriors and Cavs could potentially play seven games in 18 days. That is crazy considering the Warriors just played OKC four times in seven days.

It makes Games 1 and 2 at home beyond critical. If the Warriors hold serve on Thursday and Sunday and take a 2-0 lead, the Cavs know they will not be able to beat Golden State 4 out of 5 times to win the title. The Warriors have beaten Cleveland six of the last eight times these teams have played. Conversely, if Cleveland grabs one of these early games at Oracle, this series will feel a lot like the OKC series and be a long grind towards history.

Make 3s, play D, protect Roaracle, make history. Simple to say, harder to play. Enjoy Game 1.

 

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