Do you want to know a secret? Here it is…LeBron James will not be the most important player for the Cavaliers in this upcoming series. Allow me to explain.
James is the most dominant force in the NBA. Because he has proven he can deliver in big moments, there are no question marks with him. The question marks are Kevin Love and J.R. Smith.
Love is a talented big who puts pressure on opposing defenses. His ability to stretch the floor forces opponents to run at him and contest his shot, while his ability to grab rebounds demoralizes a team. Love is a presence on the floor the Cavaliers can ill-afford to lose. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds and has been a big part of why the Cavaliers are averaging 116.2 points per game this postseason.
His offensive arsenal relieves James and Kyrie Irving of the scoring load. Having three dominant offensive talents on the floor would be scary for any team to deal with, including Golden State.
Despite his brilliance as a shooter, the issue is whether or not Love can stay on the court in key moments. His defense remains a work in progress. The effort is there, though it doesn’t usually end in a defensive stop when he’s the target. Despite his efforts, Love is still the worst rim defender in the league, as he allows a staggering 65 percent shooting among players contesting at least five shots.
Love had a tough time guarding the pick-and-roll in the conference finals with Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan at the helm. It will get much harder with the guards in Oakland.
Though he’s struggled, average defense would be all that’s required from Love. Showing on the pick-and-roll and maintaining his defensive position will be more than the Cavaliers could ask for. If Love can continue to be an offensive threat and play his defensive role, this could really frustrate the Warriors’ game plan.
How does J.R. Smith fit into this equation? His lethal 3-point ability speaks for itself. His inconsistency may drive you up a wall, but when he’s in a groove, he can’t be stopped.
Nothing quiets a crowd like a momentum stopping 3-pointer. Smith is the mostly likely candidate to do just that. Through this postseason, Smith is shooting a ridiculous 46.2 percent on his 3-point shots. His uncanny ability to hit contested jump shots makes it practically impossible for a team to game plan for.
He’s also a much improved defender. He overwhelmed Kyle Korver of the Atlanta Hawks in the semi-finals and had his moments against DeRozan in the conference finals. His defense on Klay Thompson will be something to watch for. Containing one-half of the splash brothers will force the Warriors to rely on other players. Getting them out of their comfort zone is a must.
Whether Love and Smith actually meet expectations remains to be seen. What can’t be questioned is the ability they have to profoundly impact the outcome of this series. The potency of Love and Smith is exactly what the Cavaliers need to keep pace with the Warriors. Matching them offensively is half the battle. Cleveland has had the most efficient offense in the playoffs and they have been a huge part of that.
Again, James will be James. Irving is going to be the offensive star that he is. That’s not the concern. It’s on Smith and Love to show what they’re made of. If Smith and Love don’t deliver in these Finals, don’t expect a championship. These two men are the X-factors.