The path taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors toward their third straight Finals meeting was relatively drama-free. Their combined 24-1 record is the best mark for two teams entering The Finals in NBA history.
So here they are, right where we expected them to be when this season tipped off seven months ago. Both teams are healthy and ready to break the tie after splitting the previous two meetings. The Warriors have been dominant from start to finish, while the Cavs have been able to flip the switch in the playoffs after a mediocre second half to the regular season.
The Cavs have been the best offensive team we’ve ever seen in the playoffs. The Warriors have held their opponents under a point per possession in a historically good offensive postseason, and have been pretty good offensively themselves.
It’s another series that will help determine the legacy of LeBron James. But it will also help define these Warriors, who have had the most wins over any three-year period in NBA history but just one championship to show for it so far.
The Warriors have home-court advantage and have been the better team, even with the Cavs rising to a new level in the playoffs. Golden State has had the better record and the better point differential while playing tougher opponents.
Of course, the Warriors had been the better team last year too, when the Cavs became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in The Finals. The playoffs are about matchups, James is the ultimate trump card, and sustained success doesn’t matter if you can’t finish the deal.
Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for The Finals:
Golden State Warriors (67-15, 12-0)
First round: Beat Portland in four games
Conf. semis: Beat Utah in four games
Conf. finals: Beat San Antonio in four games
Pace: 102.6 (2)
Off Rtg: 115.8 (2)
Def Rtg: 99.1 (1)
Net Rtg: +16.8 (1)
Warriors playoff notes – General:
– First team in NBA history to win its first 12 playoff games, part of a 27-1 surge since March 14 (Mar. 15, PHL time).
– Have trailed in only four of their last nine games, for just 63 (14 percent) of those 432 minutes.
– Have played the four fastest-paced games of the playoffs.
– Have been the best first-quarter team (plus-31.2 points per 100 possessions) and the best fourth-quarter team (plus-19.8) in the playoffs. Have won the first quarter in nine of their 12 games and have won it by double-digits in seven of the 12.
– Only three of their 12 games have been within five points in the last five minutes. They’ve shot 14-for-21 (4-for-9 from three-point range) on shots in the last five minutes with the score within five, with Stephen Curry shooting 6-for-8 and Kevin Durant shooting 3-for-4 on those clutch shots.
– Starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 32.6 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among 17 lineups that have played at least 50 minutes in the playoffs.
Warriors playoff notes – Offense:
– The Warriors’ mark of 115.8 points per 100 possessions ranks second in these playoffs, but is the fourth-highest postseason Off Rtg of the last 40 years.
– Effective field goal percentage of 57.3 percent is the second highest in these playoffs and also the second highest in NBA postseason history.
– Have assisted on 64.8 percent of their field goals, the second-highest rate in the playoffs, but down from 70.5 percent (the highest rate of any team in the last 13 years) in the regular season. They also rank second in the playoffs with 300.9 passes per game, but their 2.99 passes per possession rank fifth and are down from 3.13 in the regular season. Their 9.1 secondary assists per game lead the postseason.
– Have taken 20.6 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, the highest rate in the playoffs. Have outscored their opponents 248-145 (8.6 points per game) in fast break points and have the three highest single-game fast break totals in the playoffs. They rank last in the playoffs in time of possession, average seconds per touch and average dribbles per touch.
– Lead the playoffs with 20.1 post touches per game.
– Their 136 points in game two vs. San Antonio was the highest-scoring game of the playoffs (and of the last three postseasons). The last team to score more points in a playoff game was the Clippers against the Warriors in the first round in 2014.
– Have set just 40.8 ball screens per game, fewest in the playoffs, but have scored 1.24 points per possession after setting a ball screen, the best mark in the playoffs. (Cleveland is second at 1.18 on 56.2 ball screens per game.)
– Their 19.8 drives per game are the fewest in the playoffs.
Warriors playoff notes – Defense:
– Def Rtg of 99.1 points allowed per 100 possessions is the lowest through the first three rounds and 8.8 fewer than the postseason average (107.9), which is the highest mark in the least 30 years.
– One of three teams (Cleveland and Milwaukee are the others) that has allowed fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs than they did in the regular season.
– Have had the best effective field goal percentage defense in all three rounds, holding the Blazers, Jazz and Spurs all under 48 percent.
– In regard to opponent field goal percentage, they rank No. 2 in the restricted area, No. 4 on other paint shots (and No. 1 in the paint overall), No. 2 from mid-range, and No. 4 from three-point range.
– Grabbed only 69.1 percent of available defensive rebounds against the Spurs, the worst mark in the conference finals.
– According to SportVU, they’ve allowed just 1.01 points per possession when their opponent has set a ball screen, the best rate in the playoffs.
Warriors playoff notes – Individuals:
– Curry’s plus-minus of plus-215 is, for now, the best postseason mark since the league started logging play-by-play data (allowing for player-on-court numbers) in the 1996-97 season. James’ plus-202 is tied for the fourth best postseason mark (with Ben Wallace, 2004) in those 21 years. In between are Kobe Bryant’s plus-213 in 2001 and James’ plus-209 last year.
– The Warriors have scored 122.5 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the floor and just 97.4 with him on the bench. That is the largest on-off differential (25.1) among players who have logged at least 100 minutes in the playoffs.
– Curry is one of two players (Kawhi Leonard is the other) to have shot 50 percent or better on at least 50 shots, 40 percent or better on at least 20 three-point attempts, and 90 percent or better on at least 25 free throws.
– Have allowed just 94.4 points per 100 possessions with Draymond Green on the floor and 111.9 with Green on the bench. That 94.4 mark is the lowest on-court Def Rtg for any player that has played at least 20 minutes per game in four or more games. His six blocks in game three in Portland were the most in a playoff game this year. He’s tied for the postseason lead with 53 total deflections and ranks third with 4.4 deflections per game.
– Curry (28-for-42, 67 percent) and Durant (21-for-35, 60 percent) rank first and second in mid-range field goal percentage among 34 players who have taken at least 25 mid-range shots. Durant has an effective field goal percentages of 64.5 percent on pull-up jumpers, the best marks among players who have attempted at least 25 in the playoffs. Curry ranks fourth at 58.5 percent.
– Durant has passed the ball just 5.3 percent of the time (2-of-38) on drives, the lowest rate among players with at least 25 drives in the playoffs.
– JaVale McGee (37-for-50) has an effective field goal percentage of 74.0 percent, the best mark among 88 players who have taken at least 50 shots in the playoffs.
– Andre Iguodala has shot 3-for-27 (11 percent) from three-point range, the worst mark among 59 players with at least 25 three-point attempts.
– Klay Thompson leads the postseason with 16 three-point attempts from the right corner, but has made just two of those 16 shots. He’s 4-for-4 from the left corner.
– Green has assisted on 36 percent of his possessions, the highest rate in the playoffs. (Deron Williams ranks second at 33.0 percent).
Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31, 12-1)
First round: Beat Indiana in four games
Conf. semis: Beat Toronto in four games
Conf. finals: Beat Boston in five games
Pace: 97.7 (7)
Off Rtg: 120.7 (1)
Def Rtg: 104.6 (3)
Net Rtg: +16.1 (2)
Cavs playoff notes – General:
– Have been 13.2 points per 100 possessions better in the playoffs (plus-16.1) than they were in the regular season (plus-2.9). That’s by far the biggest improvement, with the Warriors ranking second at 4.7 points per 100 possessions better than they were in the regular season.
– Have trailed by double-digits in three of their 13 games (one in each series) and won all three.
– Have been the best third-quarter team (plus-25.8 points per 100 possessions) in the playoffs. They’ve won the third quarter in 10 of their 13 games.
– Their 44-point margin of victory in game two in Boston was the largest of the postseason.
– Have an aggregate bench Net Rtg of plus-8.6, the best mark in the playoffs. (The Warriors are second at plus-7.8.)
Cavs playoff notes – Offense:
– Have scored 120.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs, the highest postseason mark since the league started counting turnovers in 1977 and 9.8 points per 100 possessions better than they were in the regular season.
– Postseason effective field goal percentage of 59.8 percent is the highest in NBA postseason history.
– Free throw rate (33 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field) is the second highest free throw rate in the playoffs.
– Have had the three best shooting games of the postseason, with an effective field goal percentage of 67.6 percent in both games two and five at Boston, and an effective field goal percentage of 66.7 percent in game two vs. Toronto.
– Have taken 41.9 percent of their shots from three-point range, the second highest rate in the playoffs. Their 14.6 made three-pointers per game are 1.8 more than any other team in postseason history.
– Effective field goal percentage of 68.9 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers is the best mark in the playoffs by a wide margin.
– Have scored just 34.1 percent of their points in the paint, the lowest rate in the playoffs.
– Have four wins when registering five or fewer fast break points. All other teams have three.
– Have isolated on 15.2 percent of their possessions, the highest rate in the playoffs, up from a league-high 11.9 percent in the regular season. Their 1.16 points per possession on isolations is also the highest rate in the playoffs.
– Have averaged 21.9 shots per game with a touch time of six seconds or more, most in the playoffs and more than twice as many as the Warriors have averaged (9.1).
– Rank last in the playoffs with 11.5 post touches per game.
Cavs playoff notes – Defense:
– Ranked 22nd defensively in the regular season and 13th (of 16 teams) in the first round. But ranked second defensively in the conference semifinals and first in the conference finals.
– Over the three rounds, they’ve been 3.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively than they were in the regular season. Only Milwaukee (-4.9) has had a bigger improvement in Def Rtg.
– Have allowed their opponents to attempt only 22 free throws per 100 shots from the field, the second lowest rate in the playoffs.
– Have allowed their opponents to take 54 percent of their shots in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock, the second highest rate in the postseason, behind the team (Portland – 60 percent) that only played the Warriors.
– According to SportVU, they’ve applied the least ball pressure in the playoffs.
Cavs playoff notes – Individuals:
– James is the all-time leading scorer in postseason history with 5,995 points, having passed Michael Jordan (5,987) in game five in Boston. Among players who have played at least 25 playoff games, he ranks fifth with 28.3 points per game, just behind Durant at 28.4.
– Channing Frye (72.7 percent), J.R. Smith (66.1 percent), James (62.5 percent) and Kyle Korver (62.3 percent) all rank in the top 10 in effective field goal percentage among the 88 players who have taken at least 50 shots in the playoffs.
– Have been 26.3 points per 100 possessions better with James on the floor (plus 20.1) than they’ve been with him on the bench (minus 6.2). The difference has been bigger on defense (15.5 points per 100 possessions) than on offense (10.8).
– Have scored 124.0 points per 100 possessions with Kevin Love on the floor. That’s the highest on-court Off Rtg for any player that has played at least 20 minutes per game in four or more games. His seven double-doubles are tied for the postseason lead and he leads the postseason with 14 corner three’s (on 30 attempts).
– Are plus-53 in 44 minutes with Love at center (with both Tristan Thompson and Frye on the bench), scoring 145 points per 100 possessions and allowing only 98.
– Irving’s usage rate (30.6 percent) ranks second (behind that of James) among players on the two teams remaining, but has dropped in each successive round, from 35.3 percent against Indiana to 31.0 percent against Toronto and 26.4 percent against Boston. His effective field goal percentage of 72.3 percent against Boston was the highest mark among 23 players who took at least 25 shots in the conference finals.
– James (16) and Irving (12) have taken 28 of the team’s 35 shots in the clutch and are a combined 9-for-28 (2-for-10 from three-point range). James is also just 4-for-9 on clutch free throws. His assist rate is more than twice as high in the first quarter (25.9 assists per 100 possessions used) than it is in the fourth (12.7). Irving’s assist rate is 23.0 in the first quarter and just 2.5 in the fourth. He has one assist in 59 fourth-quarter minutes.
– James leads the postseason with 41 shots in the last four seconds of the shot clock (11 more than any other player) and is one of only three players that has shot better than 50 percent on at least 10 of those shots. He’s also one of three players who has shot 40 percent or better on at least 25 pull-up three-pointers.
– James leads the postseason with 16.0 points in the paint per game. His 176 points scored in the restricted area are 58 more than any other player.
– The Cavs have scored 1.35 points per possession when James has used a ball screen, the best mark among 26 players who have used at least 100 ball screens. (Curry ranks third at 1.25 points per possession.) James has isolated 17 percent of the time after using a ball screen, also the highest rate among those 26 players.
– Irving has shot the ball 39 percent of the time after using a ball screen, the highest rate among those same 26 players who have used at least 100. James ranks fourth at 33 percent.
– Among 88 players who have taken at least 50 shots in the playoffs, Korver (87 percent), Smith (79 percent) and Frye (69 percent) rank first, second and fourth in the percentage of their shots that have come from three-point range.
– Opponents have scored just 0.87 points per possession when Tristan Thompson has been the screener’s defender on a ball screen, the best mark among 28 players who have been the screener’s defender on at least 100 ball screens.
– Thompson is the only player who has grabbed at least seven offensive rebounds in multiple games in these playoffs. He’s done it three times.
GSW Off Rtg: 110.2 (12th vs. CLE)
CLE Off Rtg: 94.8 (24th vs. GSW)
– Smith missed both games. Korver was with the Cavs for only the second meeting and Deron Williams wasn’t with them for either game.
– In the December game, the teams combined to shoot 11-for-18 in the clutch, but the Warriors had three clutch turnovers, while the Cavs had none.
– The 35-point margin of the January game was the Cavs’ biggest margin of defeat this season. Since James’ return to Cleveland, the Cavs have lost three games in which he’s played by 30 or more points. All three losses (two in the regular season and game two of last year’s Finals) were to the Warriors. James’ minus-32 in the January game was tied (with game three of the 2013 Finals) for the second worst plus-minus of his career. The worst was his minus-34 against the Warriors in January of 2016.
– At about 108 possessions per team, the January game was the second fastest-paced game that the Cavs played this season. In it, they grabbed just 38 percent of available rebounds, their lowest mark in any game this season.
– The Warriors outscored the Cavs 53-16 on fast break points. Durant (20) had more fast break points than the Cavs in the two games and shot 10-for-13 in the first six seconds of the shot clock.
– In the Cavs’ win, the Warriors shot 2-for-23 (0-for-8 from three-point range) in the last 12 seconds of the shot clock. In the Warriors’ win, the Cavs shot 7-for-34 (2-for-13 from three-point range) in the last 12 seconds of the shot clock.
– The Warriors averaged just 2.76 passes per possession, compared to 3.14 in their other 80 games. The Cavs averaged 3.04 passes per possession in their win and just 2.48 in their loss. Both teams made the same number of passes (572) over the two games, but Golden State had twice as many assists (62 to 31) and more than twice as many secondary assists (23 to 9).
– The Warriors’ “Death Lineup” – Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant and Green – was minus-5 in four minutes in the Christmas game and didn’t play together in the January game.
– Irving’s seven steals in the Christmas game were a career high.
– Green recorded one of his five triple-doubles in the January game, which was one of two games in which two Warriors had double-digit assists. Both Green and Curry had 11.
– According to SportVU, Durant was the primary defender on James, guarding him for a little over 10 minutes over the two games. Green was only the fifth most used defender on James, guarding him for just 1:38. But James shot 0-for-5 with Green guarding him.
Notes from the 2016 Finals:
– Love missed game three with a concussion and came off the bench in game four. Green was suspended for game five. Andrew Bogut was injured in the first quarter of game five and missed games six and seven.
– Cleveland won three of the four fastest paced games of the series. They had an effective field goal percentage of 58 percent in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock and 43 percent in the last 12 seconds of the shot clock.
– The Cavs were plus-32 in the first quarter, outscoring the Warriors 33-16 in the first quarter of game three and 31-11 in the first quarter of game six. The Warriors were plus-27 in the second quarter, winning the second quarter in five of the seven games.
– Game seven was the only game that was within five points in the last five minutes. The teams combined to shoot 3-for-19 in the clutch, though the Cavs were 2-for-2 on clutch three’s.
– The Cavs took only 29 percent of their shots from three-point range in the series after taking 41 percent of their shots from three-point range through the first three rounds.
– The Warriors averaged 41.3 points in the paint in their three wins and 30.0 points in the paint in their four losses.
– James led The Finals (both teams) in points (29.7), rebounds (11.3), assists (8.9), steals (2.6) and blocks (2.3) per game, as well as double-doubles (6) and triple-doubles (1).
– James shot 27-for-65 (42 percent) from outside the restricted area in the Cavs’ four wins and 6-for-25 (24 percent) from outside the restricted area in their three losses.
– The Warriors’ old Death Lineup – Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Green – was the team’s most-used lineup and was minus-4 in 53 minutes.
– Barnes shot 5-for-32 (16 percent) over the final three games.
– According to SportVU, Curry was the screener’s defender in 82 ball screens, most in the series. After Curry’s man set a ball screen 16 times through the first two games, he did so 66 times over the last five. For the series, the Cavs scored 1.23 points per possession when Curry’s man set a ball screen.
– Over the final three games, the Cavs were plus-53 in 98 minutes with Irving, James and Tristan Thompson all on the floor and minus-20 in the other 46 minutes.
– The Cavs allowed the Warriors to score just 98.6 points per 100 possessions in Tristan Thompson’s 226 minutes on the floor and 117.1 in Thompson’s 110 minutes on the bench. The Warriors shot much worse, got to the line less often and turned the ball over more with Thompson on the floor. He had the best plus-minus (plus-40) in the series.
– According to SportVU, Iguodala defended James for 44:37 over the seven games, 28 minutes more than any other Warriors defender. James shot 21-for-34 (62 percent) with Iguodala guarding him.
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