Programming note: "Warriors NBA Finals Central" airs tonight at 5 p.m., and immediately after Game 1 on CSN Bay Area. Both shows will be streaming live right here.
OAKLAND – The conventional wisdom is that the NBA Finals between the Warriors and the Cavaliers can be distilled to production of Stephen Curry and LeBron James.
Conventional wisdom needs to check itself.
Though the two superstars will be major factors in the outcome of the series, there are too many other impactful players to dismiss when Game 1 tips off Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
The most identifiable X-factors are Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes for the Warriors, and J. R. Smith for the Cavaliers. All three are capable of taking over a defining stretch of a game. And they might need to, giving all the attention focused on Curry and James.
So make no mistake: The Warriors will be counting just as much on Thompson and Barnes as the Cavs are on Smith.
Warriors by 5.5.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Harrison Barnes et al vs. LeBron James: The Warriors understand that James is the sun around which the Cavaliers revolve. He’s a scorer and a facilitator. They’ll rely on Barnes and others – Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson – to try to keep James from finding a rhythm. Above all, they want to force him into jump shots and keep him out of transition. Don’t be surprised if he Warriors turn to some zone defense.
Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving: It’s not likely that Irving, who has been limited in practice by tender wheels, will spend most of the game defending the league MVP. On the face of it, he can’t keep up. That also should help Curry defend Irving. But Curry is key to the Warriors, whether he’s igniting transition or breaking down the opponent in the half court. I suppose the Cavs could turn to Iman Shumpert, but . . .
Klay Thompson vs. Iman Shumpert: This is a good matchup, better than one might perceive. Shump is a solid defender and if he gets his jumper going, it’ll make Thompson work that much harder on defense. If the Cavs use Shumpert on Curry, then who gets Thompson? What Cleveland seems to have is a dilemma.
KEYS TO VICTORY
1) Start fast: This is the Warriors debut on the big stage, but they can’t afford to act like it. If they find themselves early, they could ride the energy throughout the night.
2) Heavy D: This is a staple. When the Warriors focus and engage on defense, they’re really hard to beat – no matter how good the opponent might be.
3) Respect the rock: The Cavaliers are an opportunistic bunch. If the Warriors stroll down turnovers alley, they’ll get a good look at the back of James’ jersey.
“This is what it’s all about. To finally be here where it’s time to play, it’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s what you prepare for all year. In those workouts in the summer, trying to get better, this is what you’re preparing for. To finally be here, it’s definitely a relief.” – Warriors forward Draymond Green
Warriors 12-3, Cavaliers 12-2.
Warriors: No injuries listed.
Cavaliers: F Kevin Love (dislocated left shoulder) and C/F Anderson Varejao (ruptured left Achilles tendon)
This is the first postseason meeting between the franchises. They split two games in the regular season, with the Warriors posting a 112-94 win at Oracle Arena on Jan. 9 and the Cavaliers taking a 110-99 victory at Quicken Loans Arena on Feb. 26.