Keys to Game Seven

Posted: 06/19/2016 by levcohen in Basketball

Tonight feels monumental. Like, biggest game of the century monumental. It’s the 73-win Warriors, who are trying to finally put a bow on their incredible season while avoiding a historic collapse (no team has come back from down 3-1 to win the NBA Finals), against LeBron James, who’s trying to snap his personal Finals skid while finally making Cleveland fans happy. There are other reasons that this game feels like it’s going to be special. Not among those reasons is the fact that the series has generally been uncompetitive. Only one of the six games has been decided by single digits, and that was Golden State’s nine point win in Cleveland in Game Four. I think (hope) that we’ll finally get a bonafide classic tonight. There are all kinds of storylines. There’s Steph Curry and his mouthguard, which made forceful contact with the son of a Cavs minority owner. There’s Draymond Green and his suspension and overall temper. There’s Kevin Love and his bizarre development into a completely ineffective role player. There’s Steve Kerr and the fact that he’s never lost three straight games as a coach. I can go on and on. Instead, I’m going to talk about what I think really matters. Here are the biggest keys to Game Seven aside from the obvious:

  • Andre Iguodala’s back. Iggy’s Golden State’s primary defender on LeBron, and while he won’t shut James down, he’ll do a much better job than anyone else on the team. Unfortunately, his back is hurt, and back injuries don’t usually go away in a couple of days. It’ll be an issue, but the Warriors could be ok if it is only a minor issue. If it tightens up early and Iggy is ineffective, Golden State is going to have to come up with another plan quickly or face a third straight loss.
  • Harrison Barnes. He’s been absolutely horrific recently, and he played only 16 minutes in a scoreless Game Six. For a guy who seems bereft of confidence sometimes, 2-22 in two games isn’t great. But while people have been calling for someone else to play instead of him, I think that Kerr and the Warriors need an effective Barnes to be able to win. Why? Because, in their small-ball lineups, Barnes is the only guy on the roster who can defend power forwards while providing spacing on the opposite end of the court. And since Andrew Bogut is injured, they’re going to need to go to the small-ball lineups early and often. If Barnes isn’t a part of those lineups, the Warriors are going to get torn up on defense.
  • Kyrie Irving’s mindset. You know what might be a great sign for the Warriors? Kyrie Irving hitting a shot early on. It sounds crazy, but that might be all it will take for Irving to go into iso mode. That didn’t work well for the Warriors in Game Five, when Irving hit 17 of his 24 shots, but that’s not going to happen again, and any possession in which LeBron James isn’t orchestrating things is a good defensive possession for the Warriors.
  • Draymond’s offense. In the first two games of the series, Draymond Green put up 44 points. Since Cleveland stuck LeBron on Draymond, he’s scored 23 points in three games. In an elimination game, can he step up? The answer had better be yes, because Steph and Klay will need help even if they’re hot.

The Warriors are favored by 4.5 points, which basically means that this would be a tossup on a neutral court. That sounds about right, although I’d be very tempted to bet on LeBron and the Cavs. Curry, Thompson, and James are all going to get their points, so the game will depend on how the other guys do. If Irving plays efficiently and under control, the Cavaliers have a great chance of winning. If Iggy’s back holds up and Draymond and Barnes contribute, the Warriors should repeat. If both teams are playing their absolute best, the Warriors will win this game, because they’re still the better team. But they haven’t played a true Warriors game this series, and they’re going to need one tonight. I have no idea if they’re going to get one, but we’ll find out in four hours!

My pick: Warriors win 108-101.

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