It’s hard to define mental toughness, but as sports fans, we know it when we see it. It’s that undying will of not being denied. Even though sometimes you are denied it is the unfailing desire to not only compete but win. The basketball team that shows the greatest amount of mental toughness will be the team that wins the 2015 NBA Championship.
The reason I believe mental toughness will be the key is that the only way the Cleveland Cavaliers can win this series is to muck it up and make it ugly. They know they can’t run with Golden State. But if they make the game a plodding half-court physical affair, they will be in the driver’s seat.
Everyone under the sun is asking the question, “how do the Warriors stop LeBron James?” My answer is they don’t. LeBron will do what he does and that is at times dominate the game the way the only the greatest of the great can do. He will not only dazzle with his ability to score, but his uncanny ability to get his mates involved and have them play at levels they didn’t even know they had. It’s what makes him spectacular and special. The Warriors will not stop James. They will try Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala on him and it won’t work. The best they can hope for is he doesn’t get these vital players for the Dubs into too much foul trouble.
The given is that the Warriors can’t stop LeBron, but they must be able to stop JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. These two New York Knickerbocker cast-offs have been born-again in Cleveland. When LeBron’s creativity is on full display these are the two most likely candidates to deliver daggers. The Warriors team defense has been superb this year and their ability to defend and rotate off of doubles has been flawless at times. It will need to be special again with Smith and Shumpert playing at such a high level.
The Cavaliers cause a match-up issue with the emergence of Tristan Thompson. His Rodman-esque post-season has punctuated a great season for this free-agent to be. Thompson has no offensive game, but his relentless rebounding abilities makes this difficult for the Warriors to contend with in the half-court.
Matthew Dellavedova has been a revelation. His toughness brings an edge to the Cavaliers that has served them well. Can his toughness overcome his short-comings when facing superior athletes. So far it has, the question is whether the St. Mary’s product can shade and handle Steph Curry. I just don’t see it.
The Cavaliers are truly a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Many are pointing to their 12-2 run through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Some are dis-counting that run because of the perceived weakness in the East. Well, let me break something to you, it’s not a perception. The East is very weak. I don’t put much credence into their playoff trek.
When looking at the Warriors its pretty darn simple. They are the most offensive and defensive efficient team in the league. National media point out the Splash Brothers and their high-flying style. But, those of us that watched this team all year knows they can win a grind it out 85-80 game just as well as a 126-121 game. The Warriors play small, but they can play big. They play fast, but they can play slow. Their defense is always over-looked. They have tremendous individual and team defenders in Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. The Warriors are not only athletic but they are long. This length I believe will be a huge factor in the series. Instead of a 6’2 guard challenging Smith’s perimeter jumpers, you will have a 6’7 Livingston or Iguodala. This will be a factor in the series.
Steve Kerr will need to be on his “A” game if the Warriors are to win this series. He will need to make adjustments. When to double and not double LeBron James is one of them. How to match-up the small line-up with Timofey Mozgov and Thompson is another. I see the Warriors having to counter the two Cavaliers bigs. Decisions here could very well determine the series.
As much as the Warriors don’t have any answers for LeBron, Cleveland has a major challenge in defending Steph Curry, or shall I say hiding Kyrie Irving. The Cavs could put Iman Shumpert on Curry and see if Irving can defend Klay Thompson, but that could be fatal. They could “see” if Irving can defend Curry, but I don’t think that will go well at all. They could see if JR Smith could defend Thompson in the Shumpert on Steph scenario but then you have Irving on Barnes. No answers for Cleveland. However you slice it, the talented but injured and defensively challenged Irving has to try to stop someone. I can see the Warriors feeding where-ever this mis-match is. Also, the Cavaliers will have to double Curry, when they double can their rotations be good enough to prevent the wide open looks the Warriors will get ? Can the Dubs knock them down ? While the Warriors dilemma is focused on LeBron, the Cavaliers have a multi-faceted defensive problem when trying to handle the Warriors. And, with the Warriors depth I believe the challenge will be too great, even with the magnificent LeBron James.
Back to mental toughness. There will come times in this series when the Warriors will have to dig down deep and stay composed. This is the biggest wildcard in the series. James is going to have his guys jump on his back because this isn’t his first rodeo. How will the Warriors respond to the first hard foul or the first shot at Curry or Thompson. This is the Finals. There will be no lay-ups without a challenge. The Warriors must not lose their heads. Yes, I am speaking to you Draymond Green. Green must keep his wits about him and stay on the floor. I fully expect the Cavaliers to take some cheapies on the Warriors when that running game gets going. The Warriors can not take a swing or respond in kind. They need to stay what I like to call, “aggressively composed.” Aggressive in mind-set but composed in performance. That is mental toughness. The Bad Boy Pistons of the 90’s relied on teams losing their wits when the game got physical. The Warriors have really yet to face a team that went after them and tried to beat them up. How they handle that will determine the series winner.
Cavalier fans have waited a lifetime. Warriors fans have waited 40 years. The time is here. The 2015 NBA FINALS.
MY PREDICTION: The Warriors have gone 79-19 this year when you include the regular season and post-season. They have gone an amazing 46-3 at home and an NBA best 33-15 on the road. I have watched them play all year-long. I just can’t see a team beating them 4-out-7. If LeBron can lead his team to a title this year against this Warriors team I think it will be his greatest professional achievement.
WARRIORS IN 6