Who Has the Advantage in the NBA Finals?

LeBron James and Klay Thompson
LeBron James” by Erik Drost is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Golden State Warriors vs the Cleveland Cavaliers part four begins tomorrow night! To be honest, I was kinda hoping for a new NBA Finals matchup. I wanted at least one new team. I would have loved to see a Warriors vs Celtics or Rockets vs Cavs matchup, or even a Rockets vs Celtics matchup, but what we get is another Warriors vs Cavs. Even though this is a matchup most of us didn’t want to see again, there are some good storylines. Can LeBron really lead this team to a championship? Will the Warriors actually play like themselves? It will be interesting to see how this series plays out. As I did with the Eastern and Western Conference Finals, I’ve taken a look at the numbers for both teams during the playoffs and have broken down who has the advantage in several categories. Who has the advantage in the NBA Finals? Let’s take a look.

SCORING

When it comes to field goal percentage, these two teams aren’t that far apart. The Warriors have shot 47.2% during the playoffs, while the Cavs have shot 46.1%. A 1% difference doesn’t really give the Warriors an advantage. Where the Warriors have the advantage over the Cavaliers is in points per game. Golden State has averaged 109.1 points per game, which is about eight more points than the Cavaliers 101.2 points per game during the playoffs. Probably the biggest reason for the difference in scoring averages is the Warriors shot attempts. They’ve averaged 86.3 attempts per game, making an average of 40.7. The Cavs are ranked second to last in attempts per game during the playoffs with 79.6. They also rank 13th out of the 16 playoff teams in makes per game with 36.7.

Advantage: Golden State Warriors

THREE POINT SHOOTING

I kinda thought the Warriors would have a clear advantage in this category, but I was wrong. They do have a better three point percentage as a team (35.2%) than the Cavs do (33.9%), but that’s not a huge difference. These two teams average almost the same three point attempts (Warriors 30.8 to the Cavs 30.3) and makes (Warriors 10.8 to the Cavs 10.3). Next I went to the individual player stats for three point shooting. Cleveland has five players who average 32% or better from three point range, and all of them are big contributors in minutes. Golden State is the same way. They also have five players who average 32% or better from three point range. What I see from the three point shooters on each team tells me there’s no significant advantage here.

Advantage: Even

ASSISTS

This category is interesting. I stated multiple times over the course of the Western Conference Finals that the Warriors haven’t been trusting their game. They played a lot of iso ball during the series with Houston, which isn’t typically how they play. Throughout the playoffs they’ve averaged 25.6 assists per game. That number was 28.9 before playing the Rockets. They went away from their game for a little bit, but it came back in Game 7 when they needed it most. If they can consistently play their way instead of playing iso ball again, the Warriors have a clear advantage over the Cavaliers. Cleveland has averaged 18.8 assists per game during the playoffs. The main reason for this is because LeBron has to do about 90% of the scoring himself. Cavaliers players have good contributions at times, but it doesn’t ever seem to be consistently.

Advantage: Golden State Warriors

DEFENSE

In terms of points allowed per game during the playoffs, these two teams are right there with each other. The Cavs are ranked 2nd in points allowed per game (99.9) and the Warriors are ranked right behind them in 3rd (100.3). In terms of just about everything else defensively, the Warriors have the upper hand. Golden State is ranked first in field goal percentage allowed (42.6%) and three point percentage allowed (31.7%). I’m sure Houston missing 27 straight three point shots helped that a little. Yes that was a shot at the Houston Rockets. Cleveland’s field goal percentage allowed (45.6%) and three point percentage allowed (33.9%) aren’t bad at all, but the Warriors are just better. Golden State also has better steal and block averages than Cleveland, averaging 8.2 steals and 5.3 blocks to Cleveland’s 5.9 steals and 4.5 blocks per game.

Advantage: Golden State Warriors

REBOUNDING

The Warriors rank 2nd in rebounds per game during the playoffs (46.2), while the Cavaliers rank 11th (40.2). Getting six more rebounds than your opponent may not seem like a lot, and may not always make a difference, but sometimes it does. Getting six more rebounds per game than the Cavaliers gives the Warriors six more chances to score. Cleveland allows less rebounds per game to their opponents, but it’s only by about two rebounds. If we look at player stats we can see the advantage the Warriors have also. They have six players averaging four or more rebounds per game during the playoffs, while the Cavaliers only have three.

Advantage: Golden State Warriors

FREE THROWS

Golden State is one of the best free throw shooting teams in the league. During the playoffs they’ve averaged 81.5% from the free throw line, which ranks them 3rd among playoff teams. Cleveland ranks 11th in free throws, shooting 75.6% from the free throw line. For Cleveland to win this series, they have to convert these easy opportunities for points. Most everyone you put at the line for the Warriors can knock down their free throws. Yes, they’re only worth one point each, but when you keep getting an easy point, those one point shots add up over time, especially when the other team is missing theirs. Cleveland actually gets to shoot an average of 2.5 more free throws than the Warriors, but they don’t knock them down as consistently. That needs to change if they’re going to win another championship.

Advantage: Golden State Warriors

BALL SECURITY

It’s pretty close when it comes to turnovers per game. The Warriors average 13.1 turnovers per game and the Cavs average 12.1. Their turnover percentage is almost identical (Warriors 12.4% to Cavs 12.5%). These numbers tell me that both teams need to be better about taking care of the ball. One of the reasons why both Conference Finals matchups went to seven games is because these two teams turned the ball over a lot, while their opponents were two of the best teams during the playoffs at not turning the ball over. Neither team wants to give the other more opportunities for points. Keep an eye on turnovers during this series. It could make all the difference.

Advantage: Even

STAR POWER

Cleveland has LeBron James, who is the biggest star of them all in the NBA Finals after making it here for the eighth straight year, but after him there’s not much else. As I said in my post “Who Has the Advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals,” I’ve never really seen Kevin Love as a star, even though he gets voted to the All-Star Game just about every year. I don’t feel like the Cavs get enough from him to consider him a star player. While Cleveland has the biggest star, the Warriors have four stars in Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. When you have four all-stars, two of whom have been league MVP’s, you obviously have the advantage against anyone.

Advantage: Golden State Warriors

EXPERIENCE

After making it to the NBA Finals eight years in a row, LeBron’s experience is far greater than any other player in this series. This Cavs team has some very experienced players who have been to the playoffs and NBA Finals several times in addition to LeBron, Kyle Korver, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, and Tristan Thompson being the main contributors. For the Warriors, they have a team with a few players who have been to the Finals four years in a row. Some other players have been to the Finals with this team, but haven’t been with the team all four years they’ve been. Both teams have a few players who have never been to the NBA Finals or playoffs before this year as well. Overall I’d say the experience on both teams is about the same. They both have a core of players with plenty of playoff and NBA Finals experience to go along with some players recently introduced to the playoffs.

Advantage: Even

Based on the numbers, I’ve given the Golden State Warriors the advantage in six out the nine categories. Cleveland didn’t get any advantage with the other three categories being even. Despite the advantage, I’m not going to ever count the Cavaliers out because they have LeBron James. The Warriors are beatable, but can the Cavs find and execute a game plan that works? Based on what I see from the numbers, I’m going to have to pick the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA Finals in 6 games. With that being said, I would not be surprised if the Cavaliers can pull of an upset and bring another championship to Cleveland.

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5 thoughts on “Who Has the Advantage in the NBA Finals?

  1. Great article! I love how you broke it down to important categories.

    It’s gonna be a bloodbath! LeBron is the best player in the league, but without Love (concussion) it’s not even fair….one against four All-Stars. They believe in their motto “Strength In Numbers” and so do I.

    Warriors in 5.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Agreed. Worried about Love. That collision with Tatum was not that hard and he went down too easy. Reminds me how Mike Vick was later on in his NFL career; he had so many concussions that he would get hit in the ribs and feel it in his head. Love has quality years in the NBA left in him, hate to see it cut short with health issues.

        Liked by 1 person

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