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 – While fans around the globe watching the NBA Finals will focus mostly on superstars Stephen Curry and LeBron James, we should remember two things:
One, Curry and James play different positions and, therefore, won’t be assigned to defend each other.
And, two, neither would have made it this far without talented teammates.
Here we examine the matchups, position by position, while also taking a look at the coaching staffs and benches of each team.
Small forward: Harrison Barnes vs. LeBron James
Barnes is solid but wildly inconsistent, his performances ranging from the marvelous to the maddening. He’s the third or fourth option in the Warriors offense, and he fits such a role. While his on-ball defense is good, his rotation defense is unreliable.
James is not perfect. Have you seen his outside shot lately? Other than that, he’s a typical, garden-variety four-time MVP and the best player in the world.
Edge goes to the Cavaliers because this is an utterly preposterous comparison.
Power forward: Draymond Green vs. Tristan Thompson
From key reserve last season to impact starter this season, Green has been a revelation. His installation is the No. 1 personnel reason for the team’s dramatic improvement. He’s a superb defender, a fine rebounder and a threat beyond the arc – which makes him a tough cover for most power forwards.
Since moving into the starting lineup five weeks ago to replace the injured Kevin Love, Thompson has been a beast. Though he scores mostly off opportunities in the paint, his rebounding is fabulous, particularly on offense. He has three inches and 20 pounds on Green, but Draymond is accustomed to battling heavyweights.
Edge goes to the Warriors because Green’s versatility makes him special.
Center: Andrew Bogut vs. Timofey Mozgov
Bogut generally doesn’t score much, other than off lobs and the stray jump hook. His game is to defend and rebound and pass, all of which he does better than Mozgov.
Since coming over from Denver in January, Mozgov has been solid in the middle, using his size and activity to make his presence felt. He actually has a midrange jumper and he’s not afraid to shoot it.
Edge goes to the Warriors because Bogut influences games with his defense.
Shooting guard: Klay Thompson vs. Iman Shumpert
Cleared after sustaining a concussion last week, Thompson is an All-Star game starter and probably the best two-way shooting guard in the league. It would surprise no one if he had a 40-point game. Or two.
Shumpert can drop in a nice jumper, even from deep, but he’s regarded mostly for his defense. And he is a strong defender. Let’s face it, though. Shump is replaceable part known mostly for his tall head of hair.
Edge goes to the Warriors because Thompson is a Top 3 shooting guard.
Point guard: Stephen Curry vs. Kyrie Irving
Curry is the MVP and already established as one of the best shot-makers in NBA history. He’s the best 3-point shooter and nobody is better at finding ways to use the glass off the drive. And he had the gall this season to become a factor on defense.
Irving is a wonderful player hobbling with left knee tendinitis and a sprained right foot. If he were healthy, he could make this a very interesting subplot. He’s not. But after being burned by a wounded Mike Conley in the second round, Curry and the Warriors will take no chances.
Edge goes to the Warriors because the Cavs have no answer for Curry.
The Warriors lean toward defense, with Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston capable of guarding three positions. Yet both are capable of scoring, with Iguodala dangerous in transition and Livingston on the block. Center Festus Ezeli made lots of positive noise in the Houston series, so he’ll get some chances. Leandro Barbosa and David Lee are the wild cards off the bench. Performance will dictate now much floor time they get.
The Cavs usually don’t go much deeper down the bench than the mercurial J.R. Smith and the hyperactive Matthew Dellavedova. Sometimes, they are enough. Smith is capable of shooting Cleveland to victory – or defeat. Delly is fast gaining a rep for scrappy bordering on malicious. The wild card here is Mike Miller, whose 3-point shooting will be needed.
Edge goes to the Warriors for being deeper, more versatile and more talented.
Coaches: Steve Kerr et al vs. David Blatt et al
Never mind that Kerr finished second in the Coach of the Year balloting. Ownership invested in him, and he has paid handsome dividends. With veterans Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams riding shotgun, there is no better staff in the NBA.
Blatt interviewed with the Warriors – for an assistant coaching position. He has enjoyed spectacular success on the international scene but continues to evolve in his first attempt in the NBA. His staff is quite good, with Tyronn Lue to Larry Drew particularly valuable.
Edge goes to the Warriors for finding new ways to utilize a strong roster and for showing the ability to make clever adjustments in the postseason.