LeBron James has done it again. For the fifth straight year, he’ll take center stage in the NBA Finals.
But make no mistake: LeBron will enter this battle as a major underdog. For first time in his career, he’ll have to beat the league MVP in order to win another championship.
That won’t be easy. Behind the play of Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors carried the momentum from their dominant regular season and survived the Western Conference gauntlet to make their first Finals appearance in 40 years.
But in a simulated NBA Finals matchup between the Cavaliers and the Warriors with the league’s two biggest stars squaring off, who will emerge victorious?
In 1,001 head-to-head simulations on a neutral court, the Warriors won a whopping 68.7 percent of the time by an average score of 103.1-95.9.
Despite the presence of LeBron, this series isn’t predicted to be all that close. Although many think it will be a fast-paced shootout between Curry and LeBron, in the end, Golden State’s league-best defense is slated to be the biggest difference maker in the series.
The Cavs averaged 103.1 points during the regular season, but managed to only score 95.9 points in this simulation. Part of that was due to Golden State’s ability to shut down Cleveland’s perimeter players almost completely with their elite defenders.
Over 1,001 simulated games, Cleveland’s supporting cast failed to help LeBron get it done. Iman Shumpert (37.5 FG%), J.R. Smith (37.8 FG%) and Matthew Dellavedova (33.2 FG%) were all highly inefficient, and Kyrie Irving struggled to score at a high rate with just 16.5 points per game.
But what about LeBron? The Warriors couldn’t stop him, but they did manage to contain him. LeBron averaged a beautiful line of 24.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 7.6 APG, but shot only 45.5 percent from the field with four turnovers a game.
Golden State’s stars suffered no such problems against Cleveland’s shaky defense. Curry stayed hot and hurt the Warriors in every possible way, averaging 24.8 points, 8.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds on 47.9 percent shooting and 43.6 percent from deep.
Fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson was nearly as effective from a scoring standpoint, pouring in 21.2 points a game on similar percentages.
With neither team featuring a traditional post scorer since Kevin Love is out for the Cavs, this series was won mainly with smallball and ball movement. Warriors forward Draymond Green averaged 3.9 assists, which was nearly as much as Kyrie Irving (4.6). Over the course of the simulated games, the Warriors totaled 26.1 assists as a team to Cleveland’s 21.7.
While the Curry-LeBron matchup proved to be a great one, the Warriors supporting cast helped shift the tides of the series. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes all averaged double-digit scoring with solid percentages while defending their positions incredibly well.
Barring the media members losing their collective minds, Curry would easily win the Finals MVP award. Fittingly enough, the last player to win the regular season MVP and Finals MVP was LeBron James during the 2012-13 season with the Miami Heat.
If the WhatIfSports prediction holds up, this would be Golden State’s first title since the 1974-75 season.
Visit WhatIfSports.com’s NBA SimMatchup to simulate a game between any two teams in NBA history.