The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will square off in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season, but this year’s rendition will look decidedly different. One, it will feature Kevin Durant, and two, Kevin Love is playing as well as he ever has in a Cavs uniform.
“I’ve talked to NBA folks who have said this – and I agree completely – even with everything else involved, it’s still going to come down to whose star players play the biggest (in) the big moments,” Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan host Jeff Phelps said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “I think Kevin Durant’s phenomenal. He’s really good. (But) he’s not LeBron. And in the final tree games of the Finals last year, Kyrie Irving showed that he’s every bit as good as Steph Curry. That matchup is going to be fun to watch. I don’t think it’s a huge advantage for either team. It’s about as close to a push as you can get. Their numbers are spooky similar. They’re really similar. And I love Durant, but he’s not LeBron. In these moments, LeBron shines.”
Irving is averaging 24.5 points, 5.6 assists, and 1.4 steals per game in the playoffs – numbers comparable to Curry’s 28.6, 5.6, and 1.9, respectively.
In the end, though, the series may hinge on Love, who averaged 22.6 points and 12.4 rebounds and shot 53.5 percent from three against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. Love has been MIA in the Finals in each of the last two seasons, but that wasn’t necessarily of his doing.
“Two years ago, he was out,” Phelps said. “He had the Kelly Olynyk injury against Boston in the first round and didn’t play in the Finals. And then last year, I’ve read some things that have said, ‘Boy, he was just awful in the Finals last year.’ Well, he suffered a concussion in Game 2, missed Game 3, came back – and even though he was cleared, I can’t imagine he was feeling like a normal Kevin Love. In the first game, when he was completely healthy – and the Cavs did lose – he had 17 points and 13 rebounds. And to me, that’s really the only game that he’s played in the Finals where he was himself. He didn’t do it two years ago. He did it last year – one game – and then suffered a concussion. I’m curious to see (how he plays in the Finals).”
Love averaged 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in Games 4-6 of the Finals last season. Cleveland will need more than that this time around.
“I wish I could say (he’s going to continue to play well) from a Cavs’ standpoint, but I’m curious to see is that what Kevin can do against Golden State when everything is right? Or is he the guy who came back from the concussion and was relatively ineffective?” Phelps asked. “I think Kevin could be the key to the whole thing. If he’s right and he plays like he did against Boston, I think the Warriors are going to have their hands full. He’s a tough matchup for them, but everybody on Golden State is a tough matchup defensively for Kevin. So I’m real curious to see how he plays and how he fits in.”
We’ll find out Thursday in Game 1. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. ET.