Cavaliers-Warriors: Preview of Big Men and Three Keys for Each Team

Updated: June 4, 2015

While the center of attention in the Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors matchup has focused on both Klay Thompson’s concussion and Kyrie Irving’s left knee to LeBron James vs. Stephen Curry, it is likely that the series could be determined by the play of the big men.

Cavs Tristan Thompson:

Mark L. Baer – USA Today Sports Images

Mark L. Baer – USA Today Sports Images

For the Cavs, everything will start with Tristan Thompson.  Unlike past series, this series will be his most favorable, in terms of size matchups.

Thompson has done an outstanding job replacing the injured Kevin Love in the starting lineup and has shown why he is one of the best rebounders in the NBA.  Being guarded by players like Draymond Green, from time to time, will only benefit him, as Green is an undersized power forward at six-foot-seven.

Averaging 11.5 points and 8.5 rebounds, coming off the bench in each contest earlier this season against the Warriors, Thompson will look to make his presence felt on the glass, after grabbing double digit boards in seven of his ten playoff starts this season.  If the Cavs want to win a title, Thompson will have to continue averaging a near double-double, which is possible, as Green will probably guard James a lot in this series.

For the Warriors, to keep Thompson off the boards, they’ll need the help of former Cavalier Marreese Speights and his size to matchup against Thompson.  As I mentioned earlier, Green is likely to matchup one-on-one against James, mainly because he’s the Cavs best player and Green is the Warriors’ best wing defender.

Warriors Draymond Green:

Photo: Cary Edmondson, USA TODAY Sports)

Credit: Cary Edmondson – USA TODAY Sports

When on the court, Green will cause Thompson problems outside on the perimeter.  Being undersized, Thompson has struggled when guarding players outside the paint.  An X-factor in this series may be Green’s ability to score on fast break opportunities against Thompson.

Despite going 19-72 from the three point arc this postseason, Green has collected double-doubles in 10 of 15 games during the playoffs.  But this has also come against some players that lack the size of Tristan Thompson, one being Josh Smith of the Houston Rockets.

For the Cavs to stop Green from getting into a rhythm, they’ll need to get Andrew Bogut into foul trouble.  They can’t afford to play Thompson at center, as he could get in foul trouble and his presence is needed on the court.

Cavs Timofey Mozgov:

Credit: Jason Miller - Getty Images

Credit: Jason Miller – Getty Images

Timofey Mozgov will have an important role in this series defending Andrew Bogut, however, he won’t be the player the Warriors fear the most.

Mozgov had one of his best game against the Warriors last season.  Averaging a near double-double at 9.5 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game in both games this season against the Warriors, he’ll look to continue making his presence felt in the middle against Bogut.  Statistically, Bogut was outmanned against Mozgov this season, collecting 5.0 points per game and rebounds each contest.

Despite that, Bogut was not much of an offensive factor in the previous Warriors series due to his role defending Dwight Howard and allowing the team’s shooters to do their thing.

This matchup is not as important as the Thompson and Green matchup, but it is important to note that keeping Bogut off the boards is something that Mozgov needs to do.  By doing so, it will limit fast break situations, something we have seen a lot of from the Warriors this season.

Warriors Andrew Bogut:

STEVE DYKES / Associated Press

Credit: Steve Dykes – Associated Press

The Aussie has had a revamped career in the Bay Area, only missing 15 games, each of the past two seasons.  In comparison to their first two series, he saw a decrease in playing time against the Rockets, something the Cavs won’t expect to see when having Mozgov on the floor.

For Bogut to make his presence felt, it will be from inside the paint and he’ll have to show up on the boards.  In four games this postseason, Bogut has failed to grab more than five rebounds, despite the Warriors winning each game.

If Mozgov were to get into foul trouble, Bogut’s presence on the court will increase and possible fast break opportunities may become available for the Warriors, which could cause problems for the Cavs early.


Big men in this series will be one of the least discussed topics this series, but may determine its outcome.

Here’s also three things each team needs to do to win this series:

The Cavs will win if:

1. They contain the Warriors from behind the three point line.

The Cavs have to continue improving defensively, despite being the No. 1 ranked defense in the playoffs, while the Warriors were the No. 1 in the regular season at almost 39 percent a game.  If they do this, their odds will drastically increase.

2. Grabbing loose balls/rebounds.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to many Cavs fans to also say the battle of the boards or loose balls will also be important for the Cavs in this series, just as it’s been throughout the playoffs.

3. Stopping the Warriors in transition.

Just like shooting threes, the Warriors are a great team in transition.   Defending players such as Curry, Thompson, Barnes, etc. from scoring or even passing on fast break situations will be crucial in stop the Golden State “run and gun” offense.

The Warriors will win if:

1. Draymond Green gets it going.

There isn’t any worry about how Curry and Thompson will perform.  Green struggled at times against the Memphis Grizzlies due to the size of both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.  While Thompson lacks the build and ability to defend on the perimeter, the Cavs present more size issues for Golden State, which the Warriors haven’t seen since the Memphis series.

2. Curry becomes Curry.

At this point in the postseason, impact players are not 100%.  But it hasn’t stopped the reigning MVP from shooting lights out throughout the postseason.  We all know that Irving isn’t 100% and that his knee has limited his play since the Bulls series.  Iman Shumpert will have to step up, especially if he’s going to be on the All-Defense team in the upcoming seasons, like LeBron says he will “very soon”.

3. Andre Iguodala has good games.

He may be 31 and coming off the bench, but on most teams in the league, he’d be starting.  He’s only  averaging 7.8 points per game, but Iguodala’s a walking triple double if he gets hot.  In his last four games, he’s had at least six assists or rebounds, which resulted in wins in all but one of those games.

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