The long-awaited rematch (or should we call it a three-match?) between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals is finally here. Or, more accurately, it will be here in a week. As the world gears up for this to get started on June 1 at Oracle Arena, here are five tactical questions about the matchup:
1. How much will the Warriors rely on the 'Durant offense?'
The biggest difference between last year's Finals and this year's Finals is that Golden State now has a 7-footer who can break down the defense, shoot from anywhere and attract double-teams. Kevin Durant has fit into the Warriors' offense wonderfully, but he also gives them another look. If the offense isn't humming like it is supposed to, or if he simply gets hot, then they can give him the ball and tell him to go to work.
This means some isolations and it means Durant running pick-and-rolls and pulling up for jumpers. Sometimes, it will also mean him setting screens -- or, more often, slipping them -- for Stephen Curry. These are simple ways for Golden State to get buckets when things bog down, and they might be necessary against the Cavaliers.
Officiating could come into play heavily here. The big question within this question is whether Cleveland will be allowed to grab and hold Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant at every turn. If they can move relatively freely without the ball, then the Warriors can get into their flow and exploit the Cavs' occasional lack of focus on the weak side. If the officiating is looser, then Golden State will be caught in more of a possession game, and that's when Durant's specific skills are really needed.
2. Can Golden State contain the LeBron-Kyrie pick-and-roll?
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving run a simple play that can be so devastating that ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote an entire column focused on it. The Cavaliers went to this over and over in last year's NBA Finals, and this is one way in which the Durant acquisition doesn't change much for the Warriors.
Part of the reason Cleveland does this against Golden State is to go after Curry. The Cavs want to be physical with him when Golden State has the ball and make him expend energy when they have the ball. If he winds up guarding James on a switch, then the Warriors need to send help. In that situation, no one is better than James at finding open shooters.
With Durant acting as a B+ version of Draymond Green, Golden State's defense is even better than it was last season. Cleveland's offense has been incredible as it has run through the Eastern Conference, but it might not necessarily be able to generate the same kind of looks consistently when dealing with the Warriors' length, speed and versatility. The Cavs found something that worked against them last year, though, and they'll definitely go back to it.
3. Will Steph find his rhythm?
Curry's disappointing performance in last year's Finals has been a bit overstated -- he averaged 22.6 points and made 40 percent of his 3s -- but there is no denying that he was out of sorts. Regardless of how much of that can be attributed to injury, he has had a year to reflect on what went wrong.
Until Isaiah Thomas' injury jumbled up the conference finals, Cleveland spent this whole postseason trying to take out its opponents' best playmakers. That's not so simple against the Warriors, though, especially now that Durant is in the equation. If the Cavs' top priority is to take the ball out of Curry's hands, then Golden State has a bunch of other ways to beat them. At least against the Warriors' starting lineup, Cleveland might have to treat him differently.
Curry will be prepared for the Cavs trying to tire him out. He will expect blitzes and switches and different defenders. It is up to him to play with his usual blend of joy and killer instinct, getting himself into rhythm while limiting his turnovers.
4. Can Frye and Korver stay on the court?
Last season, Channing Frye lost his spot in Cleveland's rotation against the Warriors despite shooting 58 percent from 3-point range in the first three rounds of the playoffs. Coach Tyronn Lue didn't like the matchup for Frye, as he wanted the Cavs to be as versatile as possible defensively.
This might have to happen again, and considering Frye barely played against the Boston Celtics, it looks likely. If Frye doesn't play, it hurts Cleveland's chances of hanging in the 3-point battle, and it eliminates one option when it comes to making alley-oop machine JaVale McGee defend the perimeter.
There is also the possibility that sharpshooter Kyle Korver finds himself in a similar position in this series. While he is an incredible weapon to have on the court with James, Golden State targeted him on the other end in its 126-91 victory over the Cavs in January. As smart as he is defensively, he might not have the speed and length to help and recover to the Warriors' shooters. If both Frye and Korver are unplayable, it hurts the Cavaliers' second unit and puts extra pressure on the starters.
5. Can Iguodala and Green punish Cleveland?
Remember when Harrison Barnes missed all those wide-open 3s last June? It's hard to imagine Durant doing that. This means that if you thought the Cavs were daring Andre Iguodala and Green to shoot back then, just wait until this series starts. The pick-your-poison calculus isn't exactly complicated.
Green is shooting 47.2 percent from deep in the playoffs, but Cleveland would still much rather let him launch away than give up a good look to Curry, Durant or Thompson. The same goes for Iguodala, who has been cold from long range during the postseason and has been dealing with knee soreness.
Primarily, Green and Iguodala will be counted on for their defense. If they knock down their shots, though, the Cavs might not have a chance. Golden State has too many other weapons, and Cleveland can't be expected to take away everything.