The most intriguing Finals matchups for the Warriors
In the last two weeks, the Warriors capped off their season series with the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference. Now comes the long wait until June to find out who’ll the Warriors will be facing. So in the meantime, here’s my subjective list of the most intriguing possible Finals Matchups.
Dubs in 3
Indiana has been a pleasant surprise to the league. The Pacers seemed to have started a rebuild once they shipped out Paul George after another first round exit. Instead they've cracked the top 7 in the East, and the play of All-Star Victor Oladipo is a large reason why.
Their core has played well and they’re largely untested, but on the slim chance they make the Finals, they’ll have an even slimmer chance to beating the Warriors. While the everyday fan would hate the idea of Pacers-Warriors, Dubs fans would rejoice at Oladipo flourishing after Russell Westbrook conformed him into a dark skinned Alex Abrines.
First of all, these dudes have all of my respect. Last season, they went 11-30 in the first half of the season, and completely flipped their season around going 30-11 in the second half of the season, just barely missing the playoffs.
Fortunately their late season success has continued on into this season, sitting at 4th place, with a 29-21 record. Spoelstra has worked his coaching magic to keep his guys in line and playing hard. He gets the most out of his talent, none of whom have even been an all-star (though Goran Dragic has played like one). At their best, they can make things uncomfortable for the Warriors (see Cavs-Pistons 2016, a hard fought 4 game sweep.)
You’ve got my attention
John Wall will go under the knife for arthroscopic surgery on his knee, which may keep him out for 2 months, maybe more. With a 27-22 record, good for 6th in the East, they’re at risk of dropping out of playoff contention if Bradley Beal can’t carry the load. Beal has been their guy this season; partially because of how Wall’s injuries have inflicted his game, but also because Beal has avoided injuries of his own.
Nevertheless, the Wizards are always a pleasure to compete against because of the extracurriculars they bring to their games. Whether it's claiming the throne before they accomplish anything, being concerned with meaningless player rankings, or planning “funerals”, they're truly the hypebeast of the league.
Their last few matchups with the Dubs featured some theatrics. In 2016, Steph Curry and Wall exchanged 51 and 41 points in D.C. In 2017, Curry exploded for 42 points, holding Wall to just 20. And in the most recent matchup, Beal and Draymond Green got tangled up and brought the scrap into the first row. In a series, I’d give the Wizards a game, but for the most part, they’ll be too in their own heads to truly contend.
Giannis is just incredible. He’s one of the few players that the Warriors really respect the hell out of. However, the pieces around him are still shaky.
Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker (hoping he’s healthy) are all out matched by the Warriors counterparts, and the Bucks bench isn’t even worth talking about. There’s also the game within the game of Delly and Steph's Finals rematch (he isn’t well liked by the Warriors.)
But Giannis is amazing and at his best can make everyone's job easier. He’s also a matchup nightmare. He’s too tall to be guarded by a 3, but too shifty to keep a big man on him. The Warriors counter with KD, who mirrors Giannis’ body type, and can make things just as difficult for the Bucks. What’s most admirable about the Bucks is their demeanor, and it starts with Giannis. His rookie year, he ran through Milwaukee to get to a game because his car wouldn’t start. But for all young stars, the stage of the Finals can change their career trajectories, for better or for worse. So while it may hurt him in the short term to lose on the biggest stage, in the long term it’ll surely sharpen his iron.
Much like the Bucks, the amount of young talent on the Sixers is entrancing. Ben Simmons has carved out a surprisingly effective role for the modern NBA, given his shooting woes, and Joel Embiid, if he can stay healthy, could be a generational player.
Trusting the process got them here but also credit some solid drafting & development of starters Dario Saric and Robert Covington. But there is serious concern with last year's #1 pick, Markelle Fultz. His shooting shoulder has been messed up since preseason, and from what recent footage has shown, his form just looks awful.
But the Dubs are the kind of competition that can teach these players a lot, whether or not they're playing (sorry Fultz). For now though, they just need to do as Embiid says and “Trust the Process”.
Ahhh, that’s pretty interesting!
There isn’t much intrigue left in a Dubs-Cavs Finals. I’m sure most people are expecting it, but I’m just not convinced. The Cavs just don’t have the same vigor and fire to compete that they had in the past three matchups. Lebron is planning his getaway, Kyrie already escaped, IT is cold snitchin’, and Kevin Love broke his finger and is out for two months.
There just isn’t enough focus and attention to detail in the game plan, and it starts with LeBron taking breaks on defense and being ambiguous about his future (which is his right, there’s no loyalty in this game, see Blake Griffin). It’s hard as a fan to really want to match-up with a team that’s half-assing it. There's more joy in beating someone who wants to win as badly as you do.
Still, while it may not be as fun a series as these last two teams, it’s still a nice feeling to beat Lebron in the Finals.
So many factors go into my love of this matchup. For one, we’ll finally get to see Drake actually root against the Warriors. Also, the city of Toronto seriously deserves to host a few finals games, but the team could use it too. This is the best team the Raptors have ever had, and as the Cavs have become more vulnerable, they’ll have a shot at taking them out.
Demar Derozan, a pure-bred gym rat, has finally looked to have rounded out his game. He’s always had a smooth game, thanks to his excellent footwork, and he’s seemed to master the mid-range game. But as Steph and the Dubs have changed the direction of basketball, Derozan has just caught up to the party. He’s shooting a career high in 3PT% while putting up another career high 3.2 three’s a game. He’s also averaging a career-high 5.1 APG, another career high. While these numbers don't jump off the page, they're indicative of the pace, space, drive and kick offense that’s given the Raptors so much success.
Raptors fans are yearning to get to this stage, and while The Dubs may not think too much of this squad, this Raptors core has shown a serious ability to contend with the champs. It’ll all come down to Toronto's mindset when the playoffs return to the 6.
Anything less would be uncivilized
The Celtics are exactly the team I want to see come out of the East for the Finals. Kyrie Irving is in the prime of his career playing under Brad Stevens. Behind Steph, he’s the most offensively gifted and explosive scorer at point, and he does so with so much control.
Stevens, a basketball savant in his own right, has crafted Boston's offense much like Golden State's, just without all of the talent. He’s made Boston play above their talents, which is how the most talented team's function, sports or otherwise. Their foundation though is the defense, cemented on Al Horford's smarts and fundamentals, and once he returns from injury, Marcus Smart's tenacity and lack of shit-giving.
There’s also the byproduct of Gordon Hayward's injury, immediately forcing the team to overcome heartbreaking and scary adversity. While he's unlikely to return his season, the prospect of what Hayward's presence can contribute to the already top seed is an encouraging reminder throughout the season.
The Celtics are Golden State's biggest challenge towards a third title in four years, their close loss to the Dubs last Saturday as evidence. Kyrie responded to Curry's 49-point performance with 37 of his own, giving them the same problems on offense as he did in Cleveland. On the other end, the way every (competent) team defends Steph is the way the Warriors guard Kyrie, sending doubles on screen and rolls, and being quick to rotate on defense, which plays into both teams offenses.
Still, Boston's offense can't touch Golden State. They just don’t have the fire power, but, again, Irving’s control of pace and possession lowers the amount of opportunities for Golden State to score. However, this is the most exciting Finals matchup because it’s inevitable. The Celts have set themselves up so perfectly to flourish in near future, that I just want to get a real glimpse into how this new rivalry takes shape come June.