The Cleveland Cavaliers finished off the Boston Celtics on Thursday night to clinch their spot in the NBA Finals, where they’ll once again face the Golden State Warriors. After beating the Warriors in seven games last year, the Cavaliers will look to win a second consecutive title in the third straight Finals matchup between the teams.
But who has the edge in what could be the best Finals of all time? Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe debated that topic on Friday’s episode of “Undisputed.”
The Warriors should be favored, but ...
"The Warriors should be the favorites. You have two MVPs, three All-NBA players … you have all these guys in their absolute prime. There’s no surprise to me that Vegas would have them as the favorites considering, also, that they blew through the strong Western Conference. 12-0 by the largest margin ever in playoff history. LeBron in his eighth Finals appearance, has only been the favorite twice.
"This is the reason why I said at the beginning of the season this rematch would happen, and I gave the Cavs a great chance of beating them. Because they have something no other team has – something money can’t buy: [LeBron James]. To win this title -- this isn’t about money, this isn’t about being liked. When you got that guy … seven straight NBA Finals. The only man who’s taken two teams to four NBA Finals. And because they have him, [they have a chance]."
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This could be the greatest Finals ever
"I think this could go down as the greatest Finals ever. How great is this? We have LeBron with four MVPs, three rings. We have Steph with two MVPs, the first ever unanimous, and we have Kevin Durant joining that team with an MVP and a Finals appearance, for that matter. So you have lots of Finals experience and MVPs running head-long into each other.
"… I’m extremely torn about who has the edge in this. It’s very close to me, much closer than Vegas made it last night. Golden State is favored by seven in the opener at Golden State, and there are a lot of doubts I have about Golden State.
"I’m gonna give you this: LeBron is better than Kevin Durant. He’s just better. He’s all-around better than Kevin Durant, and psychologically, he thinks he can beat Durant on this stage because he did it before to win his first ring in Miami. So I’m gonna give you a big psychological advantage with LeBron over Kevin Durant."
Brian SpurlockBrian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Kyrie Irving is the mentally toughest player
"No. 2: I’m gonna give you a huge advantage because the mentally toughest player on the floor … Kyrie. Tougher than Draymond. … Kyrie is a better player on this stage than Steph Curry. What have we seen from Steph Curry the last 2 Finals? Did he live up to either MVP? Nope. Did Kyrie hit the shot that finished Game 7 of the Finals last year? By the way, who finished the game on Christmas Day in Cleveland with the best shot I saw all year? He is the closer for the Cavs. He’s clutcher than Steph on this stage, in the playoffs. I haven’t seen much of anything from Steph. I saw him cakewalk through the West. I’m going to give Kyrie the advantage over Steph for the reasons I just named."
David RichardDavid Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland's defense is outstanding
"No. 3 on my list of key reasons in favor of Cleveland: No team has defended the Golden State Warriors better than the Cleveland Cavaliers have. Two years ago in the Finals, Cleveland held Golden State to 10 points in those Finals games below its regular-season average. This past year, Cleveland held Golden State to 15 points under its regular-season average. Im not saying Cleveland’s an all-time great defensive team, but they match up extremely well with this Golden State team."
Brian SpurlockBrian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Durant is an X-factor
"Now, Kevin Durant: X-factor, because I think LeBron is going to have to guard him a whole lot. I don’t know that for a fact, but I'm pretty sure LeBron can’t play center field anymore. Somehow, Cleveland’s guards play Steph and Klay extremely well physically and knock them out of what they do. They rough them up, the knock them off balance. They keep them from getting into any rhythm or flow that we’ve seen in previous playoff rounds. So I'm gonna go advantage Cleveland there."
LeBron is best as an underdog
"No. 4: I like LeBron much better when he’s the quote-unquote ‘hopeless underdog.’ Vegas is saying this is kinda hopeless, ‘You’re a prohibitive underdog.’ But in this case, I like some of the pressure taken off of LeBron, when he can be a little better, a little freer, and all of that pressure is going onto Kevin Durant, who left OKC to join the superteam that won 73 games last year. Kevin, you’re on big fella. You got what you wanted, now close that deal. Can he? What if he doesn’t? You don’t think he’s going to take the brunt of the heat if they fail?"
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Golden State had a cakewalk in the West
"Final reason I give Cleveland some edge here: My Spurs had them down in Game 1 by 25 in the first half and 23 by mid-third quarter when Kawhi Leonard was lost. Tony Parker had already been lost, and then David Lee was obviously lost. I saw that day, in Oakland, they’re not invincible. They’re not unbeatable. Before the season, I picked Cleveland to win it all and what was my No. 1 reason? Because I thought Cleveland would cakewalk through the Eastern Conference playoffs 12-0 … but I thought Golden State would have to fight for its life in all three Western Conference playoff rounds. I thought it’s gonna be scratch and claw, knock down drag out, maybe they get hurt, maybe someone gets nicked up by the time they finally got to an incredibly rested LeBron and Co. And what happened? The bigger cakewalk was in the West. … I think that’s some advantage for Golden State. They’re rested now, and they’re going to be much healthier than they were a year ago."
Soobum ImSoobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Warriors have the slight edge
"Finally, we get to defense. I remind you, the Cavaliers for whatever reason finished 22nd in total defense. Golden State finished second barely to my Spurs, but they were No. 1 in opponent field-goal percentage, No. 1 in defending the 3-point shot, and by far No. 1 in steals – almost 100 more than Washington had at No. 2. So this team can flat-out lock you down, tie you up on defense. Suffocate you.
"The point is, Golden State is a better defensive team than Cleveland is. I gave you the advantage of Cleveland versus Golden State – they defend Golden State better – but in the big picture, you add KD defending the rim in the middle of that thing. He started playing defense in ways he never thought about playing defense for the OKC Thunder. He’s rebounding the ball better than he was with the Thunder.
"Here’s what my takeaway is: My eye test is telling me that right now, especially over the last three months, Golden State has consistently been a better basketball team than the Cavaliers. And my gut test is telling me that the Warriors are on a season-long mission to get even. To right the wrong of losing a 3-1 lead last year. And my gut-gut test is telling me that I don’t like LeBron saying last night, ‘It’s too stressful to start talking about Golden State.’ It’s too stressful? Can you imagine Michael Jordan ever before a playoff series saying, ‘It’s too stressful for me to worry about playing Karl Malone and John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek?’ … That scares me.
"I reserve the right to change by next Thursday morning, but right now im gonna give a very slight edge, for all the reasons I gave you just now, to Golden State. Slight edge."