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Do Not Underestimate These Cavs

Golden State may be the heavy favorite, but a Cavs win is not far-fetched

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

LeBron’s blocks are a barometer for his level of dominance on any given night. In Game 5 against the Celtics, you could tell he wasn’t messing around once he did this:

He had 20 points well before halftime. His level of dominance topped out at soul-crushing full throttle in the third quarter when he conquered yet another record, passing Michael Jordan to become the all-time postseason-scoring leader.

The strength of a Cavs title run begins with James, but if the 2015 loss and subsequent 2016 victory delivered any lessons, it’s that LeBron can beat almost any team on his own — except Steve Kerr’s motion offense. And that’s why Golden State should feel some mild concern.

The Cavs finished off a pesky Boston team thanks, in part, to Kyle Korver and Deron Williams — one of whom is a fantastic shooter and noted ocean-floor runner but whose skill has dropped off; the other is a washed veteran signed to the Cavs off of waivers in the middle of the season. These are the players that get you to the postseason, but not the ones who receive actual minutes in a closeout game of a conference final. Neither Ty Lue nor Korver nor Williams got this memo, though, because Korver shot 2-for-4, hitting two 3s to build momentum, while Williams shot 5-for-6 in 17 minutes. Sure, Williams played with the cushion of a 20-point lead, but Deron Williams played meaningful minutes during the last week of May. I hope he doesn’t have annual Memorial Day plans!

Cleveland will meet Golden State for the third straight year, but this time the Cavs enter the Finals with a host of reclaimed parts and meet an old foe equipped with a shiny new toy. Conventional wisdom says the Warriors are the outsize favorites, but if the Cavs have figured out how to revive Korver and squeeze minutes out of unlikely bench players, the case for Cleveland gets a little stronger. James is most effective when surrounded by capable shooters; just ask Paul George and the Pacers. Korver and Williams’s value skyrockets if they can fill those roles. And yet they only have to play backup to J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving. Considered all together, there’s enough offense to contend with Golden State.

The absurdity of a 14-point second quarter from Williams obscures the wonder of how Love and Irving are playing right now. Love shot 53 percent from 3 in the Eastern Conference finals. Meanwhile, Irving had turned in a solid playoffs through two rounds, but he must have remembered that his matchup against Steph Curry was coming, because the Irving of Games 4 and 5 was playing on a whole new plane. He relishes nothing more than playing against Curry, and he may be the most difficult cover for Golden State in the Finals. Remember Christmas?

The Cavs’ defense has been their biggest problem all season long. The advanced-stats heads will immediately point to their abysmal defensive rating. But advanced stats don’t tell the whole story of this team. They are the ultimate switch-flippers. Irving activates the next level when needed. LeBron runs faster when the play demands. Smith blacks out every once in a while. Playoff Cavs are a different team, and the past 13 games indicate they are scary good.