Finals Rematch Completely Different Than a Year Ago

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For the second straight year the NBA Finals will feature the Golden State Warriors, the Cleveland Cavaliers,  and the NBA’s MVP. As the 2016 NBA Finals tips off tonight in the San Francisco bay area, many of the stories leading up to the series surrounded a number of the same names as last year. However, these are not the same two teams we saw a year ago, let alone four months ago, when Golden State blew out Cleveland on their home court.

The Warriors, while compromised of the same core group of players from last season, have seemingly found a new level of play this year. Their record setting regular season and improbable series comeback against Oklahoma City prove that. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson continue to amaze viewers on a nightly basis with unreal three-point barrages, Draymond Green continues to be an x-factor in Golden State’s success, and every one else seems to contribute at just the right time.

The Cavaliers on the other hand, will (hopefully) be a much different team this time around. With a healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving playing at high level, Lebron James will have the sidekick power he lacked for much of the series last year. The biggest difference in Cleveland from this year to last is the man standing on the sidelines.

Tyronn Lue took over as head coach mid season, after Cleveland’s embarrassing midseason loss to Golden State. In the January 18th meeting, the Cavs failed to contain Curry, who went off for 35 points in just 28 minutes of play. Last year’s Finals MVP Andre Iguodala added 20 off the bench, thanks to 4-5 shooting from behind the arc.

It was all smiles for Curry, who sat the whole 4th quarter, and the Warriors on their January 18th win over Cleveland

It was all fund and games for Curry, who sat the whole 4th quarter, and the Warriors on their January 18th win over Cleveland

The issues for the Cavs following that game are the same question marks heading into this series. Can any Cleveland guard, whether it be Irving, Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, or even Matthew Dellavedova contain the Splash Brothers? And how effective can Love be against the smaller, faster line up of Golden State? In their two losses to Golden State this season, Love struggled to get into any rhythm offensively. He tallied a mere thirteen points combined points off 6-21 shooting, though he did haul in 18 rebounds on their Christmas Day matchup. In the January 18th blowout, Love also struggled defensively and let Draymond Green blow past him and pick apart the rest of the Cavalier defense en route to 16 points and 10 assists.

Kyrie Irving has provided the support King James lacked in last year's NBA Finals

Kyrie Irving has provided the support King James lacked in last year’s NBA Finals. Will his support be enough this time around?

The addition of Channing Frye should help Cleveland stretch the floor on both ends of the floor. After coming over from Orlando, Frye really found came into own in the Eastern Conference semifinals, providing efficient minutes off the bench and shooting 58% from three-point range. Last season the Cavs went big with Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov anchoring the paint down low. With Mozgov seemingly buried on Lue’s bench, Frye could be the answer for Cleveland’s match up struggles.

Yes, the names on the front are the same as last year. And yes, a majority of the names on the back are the same. But these are not the same two teams we saw a year ago; they are better. Can the Cavs match up with the small and quick line up of Golden State? How will Golden State handle a hot Kyrie Irving? Is Anderson Varejao guaranteed a ring now matter who wins? One thing is for sure, we cannot wait to find out.

2016 NBA Finals Series

Game 1 – Thursday, Cavaliers at Warriors, 9 p.m. on ABC

Game 2 – Sunday, Cavaliers at Warriors, 8 p.m. on ABC

Game 3 – June 8, Warriors at Cavaliers, 9 p.m. on ABC

Game 4 – June 10, Warriors at Cavaliers, 9 p.m. on ABC

Game 5* – June 13, Cavaliers at Warriors, 9 p.m. on ABC

Game 6* – June 16, Warriors at Cavaliers, 9 p.m. on ABC

Game 7* – June 19, Cavaliers at Warriors, 8 p.m. on ABC

*if necessary

Hoop Group Alumni Helping Out in Cleveland

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The Cleveland Cavaliers will be representing the Eastern Conference in the 2015 NBA Finals starting June 4th. From the outside, there’s no denying that Lebron James has been the main reason the Cavs are in contention for the franchise’s first ever NBA Championship this year. King James’s numbers this postseason are unbelievable; he leads the Cavaliers in points (27.6), rebounds (10.4), assists (8.3) and blocks (1.8). While Lebron has been the star, this Cavs team is different from the ’07 team (the only other Cavalier team to reach an NBA Final) in the sense that Lebron’s supporting cast is stronger now. Whether it be via the draft or through trades, Cleveland has provided Lebron with a team that is very capable of wining the Finals. Included on this roster are four Hoop Group Alumni.

First let’s look at the players acquired through the draft during the “Post Lebron Era.” With the first pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, the Cavaliers took Kyrie Irving as their first piece to rebuilding. That same year they took Tristan Thompson with the fourth overall selection. Four years later, both players are turning in strong performances in their first career postseason appearances.

Tristan Thompson, a NJ native, played for Saint Benedict's Prep at the Hoop Group High School Showcase

Tristan Thompson, a New Jersey native, played for Saint Benedict’s Prep at the Hoop Group High School Showcase

Playing down low, Thompson was a monster on the glass against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern semifinal. In the four game sweep, the Saint Benedict’s alum averaged 11 rebounds a game, added nearly 12 points per game, and just under 2 blocks. The young power forward was drafted in part due to his high ceiling, and we are finally beginning to see him blossom.

Irving missed two games in the ECF, but his overall resume in his first career playoffs has been a good one. The Jersey native has averaged 18.7 points, 3.7 assists and shot 48% from three-point land. He’s been a great second scoring option and has proved to be a trustworthy player with the ball in his hands in key situations.

While Irving and Thompson have never worn anything but a Cavalier jersey in their short NBA careers, most of Cleveland’s roster are new face coming into the season. Two players providing major contributions this playoff season are coming from guys acquired mid-season from New York, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. Smith and Shumpert, two more Hoop Group alums, were picked up during a fire sale, hosted by Phil Jackson and the Knicks and have more than paid off thus far.

JR Smith, who like Irving and Thompson played his high school basketball in New Jersey, has given the Cavs a high-powered scoring option off the bench. Known more for his off the court antics and questionable shot attempts, Smith kicked off the Eastern Conference Finals with a 28 point effort, sinking 8 of 12 shots from deep. He would then end the series as strong as he started, recording double-doubles in Games 3 (17 points, 10 rebounds) and 4 (18 points, 10 rebounds).

Meanwhile, Shumpert, the third year man out of Georgia Tech, has averaged a modest 10 points per game, 5 rebounds and a steal as well. His biggest contribution was a 15 point, 7 rebound game in a three-point, overtime win versus Atlanta in Game 3.

Lebron James’s video game-like numbers will receive much of the attention heading into these NBA Finals, and understandably so, but don’t think it is a one man show. This is not the 2007 Cavaliers, the expectations are higher because the team is stronger. Thanks to the supporting play of several Hoop Group alumni, there’s no reason Cleveland can’t see their first championship this year.