For the fourth consecutive season, the Cavs will face the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The Cavs know that in order to change the outcome of last year’s finals, they must create switches from the Golden State defense and step up their own defense. The positional matchups will be key once again for the Cavs on both ends of the floor and perhaps one of the most important areas to succeed is at the power forward slot. With much uncertainty at who will remain at power forward for both teams during the series, there are many approaches each team can take on a per game basis.
Cavs: Jeff Green/Kevin Love/Larry Nance Jr.
With Kevin Love’s status still in the air as he remains in the concussion protocol, Jeff Green is currently slotted as the starting power forward. Green may start at the four regardless if the Cavs decide to play small and start Love at center over Tristan Thompson. Whoever gets the starting nod will have to face the down low presence of Draymond Green and Kevon Looney, as well as the mid-range dominance of Kevin Durant. Jeff Green possesses the best balance of offense and defense given his ability to hit jumpers and athletically keep up with Draymond and Durant. Love, if Thompson starts, will be the best option for the Cavs on offense, but may be a liability on the defensive end especially if he isn’t 100% healthy. Larry Nance Jr. will act as the primary big man off the bench, but I worry of his reliability with the way Golden State prevents the basketball from getting inside the paint.
A key to success for the Cavs offensively at the four will be, as always, to spread the floor. Space needs to be created for LeBron to run the offense and it is of utmost importance that the Cavs are able to hit their threes when they are open. In past playoff years, Love has been a great shooter from deep and has actually shot better from behind the line than inside. Jeff Green has been shaky throughout the season offensively, but after a promising series versus Boston and a spectacular performance in Game 7, Green can prove his worthiness to start with a strong opening to the series. Lastly, Nance Jr. may be a crucial member of the bench unit as he has the ability to set the tone and create highlight plays, which may give the Cavs some much needed momentum when they need it most. Look for Nance Jr. to rely on the pick and roll and alley-oop to define his offense.
Warriors: Kevon Looney/Draymond Green/David West
The Warriors haven’t added any new pieces to their power forward spot since last season. While their big men certainly aren’t the most dangerous offensive weapons, the Warriors are almost impossible to defeat when Draymond and Looney start scoring. Neither player is a stellar shooter, but both are deadly inside given how much attention is given to Durant, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry on the perimeter. Looney could help the Cavs succeed if he is held to minimal rebounding and maintains his poor free throw shooting, which is at 47% this postseason. The Cavs will settle with Draymond shooting threes, but there’s not going to be much the Cavs can do defensively if Green is hitting them at a rate of 40% or better. David West may play limited time but must be respected as a solid two-way player capable of hitting the mid-range. Defensively, Draymond’s impact is self-explanatory as he will always be a threat, while Looney is a decent defender capable of stopping shots close to the rim. The Warriors will ultimately need to do what they’ve been doing the whole playoffs and they will continue to succeed down low against the Cavs.
If we see a Jeff Green like we did on Sunday night, then the Cavs may not be very outmatched at power forward. Draymond’s impact on offense can be minimized if he isn’t scoring, but because he is overshadowed by three premiere shooters, Draymond won’t be heavily guarded and will have some pressure on him to shoot efficiently. Kevin Love needs to be 100% healthy to even help the Cavs in this series and if he is still hurt then the Cavs should strongly consider holding him out or at least continue to start Thompson so Love doesn’t carry the rebounding load. I think the Cavs can exploit the Warriors at power forward, but the Cavs really need to be at their best to win this series and hope that the Warriors slip up somewhere.