The NBA Finals start tonight and we’ve got you covered for the nuances that should be at the top of your Nuance List. Sure, everyone will have their eyes focused on LeBron James and Steph Curry, but the layers of playoff basketball run deep and we’re peeling them back like an onion. It will be sure to impress all of the people half-watching the games at the bar you’re at this weekend. Let’s get basketballing!
01. Harrison Barnes
Sure, everyone knows the Splash Brothers of Curry and Klay Thompson, but Barnes has been all over the place in the Warriors playoff run. He was shut down twice for single-digit scoring in the opening series against the New Orleans Pelicans; he held his own against the injured wings of the Grizzlies, but was really inconsistent against the Houston Rockets. He blanked on nine shots in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals only to bounce back two games later and score a post-season high 24 points. Barnes needs to be on point if Steph and/or Klay have off-nights, but inconsistencies are not the answer.
02. Kyrie Irving’s knee
The heir apparent to King James’ throne went down with a gnarly knee injury early against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks didn’t do much in that series, but Irving’s recovery has not gone well. Cavs coach David Blatt said Irving is not 100% and his status to start Game 1 is still up-in-the-air. The Hawks were one thing, but Golden State is another and life without Kyrie could make LeBron’s fifth Finals in a row his toughest.
03. Rookie coaches
The Finals matchup features two rookie coaches: Cleveland’s David Blatt and ‘Dubs Steve Kerr. Kerr took over a great team from Mark Jackson and advanced the Warriors to insane heights alongside the MVP-caliber season of Steph Curry. Although Kerr gets his just due, David Blatt has become a bit of a joke in the postseason. Looking over his head on more than one occasion, Blatt has also been overridden frequently by LeBron James. The expectations are higher for Kerr than they are for Blatt, but he has spent all season rising to them and has not once seem flustered.
04. The Ex-Knicks
JR Smith and Iman Shumpert were able to flee the sinking ship that was the New York Knicks when they were traded to the Cavs for draft picks mid-season. Since then they’ve shown the potential that had Knicks fans wanting them to stick around MSG (or at least get more in return). Shumpert had flashes of brilliance in the post-season, scoring 22 points on 47% shooting in the Game 1 loss against the Bulls and shooting three-pointers above 50% five times in the playoffs, but he’s also had some nights where the shots just won’t fall. Smith joins him in up and down nights, mostly on the side of good for the Cavaliers, but their joint play in this series will be counted upon if Kyrie is still sitting.
Andrew Bogut was supposed to be the new cornerstone for the Warriors when he was acquired in 2012, but injuries have plagued him, the Warriors changed coaches and the game plan changed significantly. Now the Dubs only need Bogut to grab rebounds and clear the paint for a slashing backcourt. Although probably not the way he wanted to wind up in the finals, he has a chance to win over some detractors when he takes on Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson in the paint. Mozzy is averaging 9.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game while Thompson has 7.1 ppg and 8.7 rpg. Bogut is the only real paint occupier for the Warriors as Draymond Green will try and help space the floor, so the Mozzy and Bogut “Rim Protector” series could be worth keeping an eye on. As is this: