Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Atlanta Hawks to complete a sweep of the Eastern Conference Finals and advance to the Finals for the first time since 2007, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets to complete a gentleman’s sweep and advance the Finals for the first time since 1975.
With about a week to spare and a desire to fully prepare ourselves for whatever may happen, we’re going to post once a day, dedicating each article to a position, starting with the one: point guard.
The number one pick of the 2011 NBA draft earned his first All-NBA selection this year, probably thanks to a 57 point game against San Antonio and a 55 point (the rest of the team only scored 44) outing against the Portland Trail Blazers. Four years into the league and Irving is proving to live up to the hype surrounding back when he was just a freshman guard at Duke.
What makes Kyrie so valuable is that he is a certified second option behind LeBron James, the best player in the league right now. He has enough offensive range that he can catch and shoot from the perimeter, or if you close too hard, create his own shot off the dribble. If you don’t want to give him any space outside, he can drive to the hoop as well. LeBron will have an off quarter, half, or even game, and in those moments Uncle Drew can take over. He is a legitimate upgrade over Dwyane Wade of the 2010-14 Heat years, which is saying a lot.
What worries me about Kyrie is that as an upgrade over Wade, he more closely resembles a two rather than a point guard. There have been multiple times this season that Irving finished a game with zero assists, something the media (and LeBron) made it a point to comment on. The argument for this? LeBron may be the best point-guard in the game, and the play making responsibilities really fall on him… but the King doesn’t “play” the position. When we talk about point guards, we talk about assists, and when we talk about assists, we don’t really talk about Kyrie. Is this an issue I’m really worried about? No, but you can bet the headlines will be there if Irving puts up another goose egg.
Then there’s the tendinitis.
Having suffered from tendinitis for over a year in my ankle, I understand how frustrating and persistent the injury can be, especially when you don’t rest it. That being said, I’ve never received the medical care and attention an NBA superstar would, and Kyrie could bounce back a lot better than the average person. I have to imagine though, that even with the extended rest the Cavaliers are about to receive, the swelling in his knee is going to prove to be a problem not only on offense, but how in the world is going to chase Steph around on offense?
The league MVP finished Game Five 7-21 (3-11 from downtown), with 26 points and 6 assists. Not a great night, but not a bad one either. In a game where Steph isn’t lighting it up, he still commands the offense. He’s a better shooter than Irving, and though he may not have the handles Uncle Drew, he can still cross up the best of them (sorry, CP3). He may be the best high-glass finisher in the league and averages almost eight assists, something a point guard is supposed to do, while still proving time and time again he may be the best shooter in the history of the game.
I only have two worries when it comes to Steph, neither of which carries much weight to it. Before this season, Curry (and the rest of Golden State) had the reputation that they couldn’t defend, and to an extent it may have been true. Just like Kyrie has to guard Steph, Curry will have to guard Irving, and tendinitis or not, this could prove to be his most difficult match-up yet. An extension of this, is that Kyrie may not even guard Steph most of the time, but rather, Curry will face the same prescription the Bulls have faced the last few years: LeBron the point-defender. When Derrick Rose got hot, LeBron took over that assignment and essentially shut the problem down. Now, the Warriors are far more diverse than any Bulls team LeBron has faced, and making that switch on defense might only prove to make things worse. My advice? Put Shumpert on Curry.
The second worry is kind of crap, because correlation does not equal causation, but Curry has seemed a little off since his fall Monday night. Granted, as I mentioned, he finished with 26 points in game 5 and he passed the league’s concussion protocol. He also has a week to rest and recover, and he’ll probably come out and hit five straight threes to start game 1. Like I said, this is all garbage, but can you blame me? It’s hard to find a flaw in this guy’s game.
Matthew Dellavedova, the NBA’s newest member of the “dirty player” club, proved he could handle extensive minutes when Kyrie sat out, and has proven he can summon the kind of scrapiness required to survive a playoff round. Whether it was taking out Kyle Korver or baiting Al Horford into a questionably-called flagrant two, Dellavedova has embraced the moment.
Shaun Livingston uppercut Dirk Nowitzki in the junk this year and has above-average length for his position, an advantage that’s proven to give smaller guards (like Delly) issues throughout his career. He can work in the post and guard on the perimeter, though he doesn’t have the same quickness other guards do.
Golden State. This isn’t a match up that the Warriors will necessarily expose, but they certainly have the edge when it comes down to it.
Come by tomorrow for our breakdown of each team’s shooting guards.