We started this tournament with 30 of the best duos/trios in the NBA. We figured that with roster depth no longer a hindrance, the playing field would open the door for any team to take the NBA Jam championship.
There were a couple of upsets and a few nail-biting finishes, but in the end, our top four seeds all made it out of their respectable regions. As predictable as that may have been at the outset, the rest is very much open to debate. We took a crack at it, but don’t let that stop you from commenting below with your picks.
Who does Curry cover on defense?
CM: I think as we saw in the finals, that whoever Curry covers also has to live with covering Curry. Even Kawhi has trouble keeping Curry in front of him for very long. I’d probably put Steph on PG3 myself. So much of Kawhi’s game is built on his battering ram-style, while PG is a little less physical, and his handle might be a bit looser.
JR: I like how you’re thinking, Conor, and would agree that guarding PG is the lesser of two evils for Curry. However, all it takes is one timely screen/switch to initiate Kawhi’s bully-ball on Steph. This may boil down to what Golden State can live with - likely giving up two points and hoping enough threes fall on the offensive end... or boldly removing the game’s best shooter!
MO: The Clippers will exploit that switch over and over and over and when Golden State tries to adjust, it just so happens that Kawhi and George are also excellent three point shooters. I’m sensing trouble for the Dubs.
Is Klay/Draymond the better duo for this matchup?
CM: Part of you wants to say yes. The ability to match up on defense is much higher. You could argue that 1-on1, Dray and Klay might be able to lock-up wither Kawhi or PG. They’re both that good. But then you think of the other end, and as talented on offense as Green is, he’s really built for five on five. He’s not going to break you down, shoot over you, or bully you in the post.
In the end you go with Curry and Klay — and if they catch fire beyond the arc, they could run PG3 and Kawhi out of the gym. Curry launching 35 foot bombs that nobody can cover, and then scooting to the rim if they challenge, while Klay needs only that extra couple of inches to catch, shoot and kill.
Conventional wisdom says the bigger guys who can shoot well win. But conventional wisdom could get buried in sauce.
JR: Who are we to doubt conventional wisdom? Kawhi and PG should win this matchup because the most exploitable weakness is Steph’s defense.
Unless it isn’t.
I’d start the game with Klay/Dray and see if it catches the Clippers off-guard. Green’s bone-crushing screens should allow enough space for Klay to catch fire on several occasions. More importantly, the defensive presence they’ll display will be the toughest the Clips have seen in the tournament.
MO: I feel like it can’t be. Klay and Dray are not going to beat Kawhi and PG at their own game ever. So if you can’t beat ‘em, then you’ve got to find another way. As Conor said, you’ve gotta go out firing with your best here. If Curry can’t heat up and scorch the Clips then you, the Warriors, were never going to win the matchup anyway.
Who does Kyrie cover on defense?
MO: “Cover” might be generous here. Kyrie is going to get worked over by either/both of these guys and the best he can hope for is mild disturbance.
CM: I might put Kyrie on Davis. Big men often struggle to overpower little guys because the physics are all off. They commit a lot of fouls. The little guys get down deep in their centre of gravity. Kyrie could also help nullify Davis’ face-up dribble game because he’d be RIGHT THERE for every dribble.
But it’s a bad match-up either way for the Nets.
JR: I’d also put Kyrie on Davis but also think if/when he switches onto James, he’ll know enough about LeBron’s moves from their Cavalier days to stop him a couple of times.
Am I stretching this a little bit because I always thought the Nets would win this tournament? Maybe.
Is Allen a better fit?
CM: Maybe? Allen could stick with Davis, or, if he had to, step out on LeBron. He’s much, much more limited on offense, but it’s 2-on2 — you can’t really send doubles — and a Durant, Allen pick and roll would be pretty hard to stop. Allen is an elite rim-runner.
The only problem is that’s the ONLY play you could run. Allen would be completely ignored in any other situation, and you have to think LeBron would figure out how to defend one action pretty quick.
JR: There’s actually another action — clearing the way for KD to roast LeBron! Okay, I don’t actually believe that. Also, if that was the plan, then you might as well keep Kyrie and his outside shooting on the court.
But this is a similar situation as the Warriors with Klay & Draymond. You’re sacrificing an elite scorer for a much more stable defensive duo — with a sprinkle of offense. I don’t feel as confident with the bench-your-All-Star-point-guard approach as much in this matchup, but can see Durant going supernova, in an attempt to show why he’s the greatest in the game today.
How do the Lakers match up with Kyrie’s handles and KD’s unstoppable offense?
CM: I think the Lakers will struggle to stop the Nets. Kyrie is made for the open court, and neither Davis, nor LeBron, has a prayer of consistently stopping him if they’re left on an island.
Both might fair a little better against Durant, as they have the size and strength to push the Slim Reaper off his spots and to challenge his jumpers. Still though, the Nets are gonna get buckets.
I think in the end it’d come to whether the Lakers dominated the boards. I don’t think there will be a lot of misses, but if Kyrie is on the floor, any misses are going to the purple and gold. Allen probably flips that battle, but as we mentioned, I think the Nets offense can’t score quite enough to win.
JR: I’m kinda/sorta/really glad we’ve gone through this whole matchup discussing five of the possible six players that could see the floor, and completely neglecting the sixth.
MO: Boogie’s timeline from when we started this tournament to when we are ending it is dark, dark stuff.
CHAMPIONSHIP — BATTLE OF L.A.
(3) Lakers (James/Davis/Cousins) vs. (4) Clippers (Leonard/George/Williams)
Who covers who in this all-LA matchup?
CM: This is interesting. I’d put Kawhi on Davis and PG13 on LeBron to start, Kawhi is so strong, and Davis isn’t really a Hulk-Smash kind of offensive player. Plus “The Klaw” would steal the ball every time Davis put it on the floor.
But if I were the Clips, I’d probably switch a lot, so that neither Laker, but especially LeBron got comfortable with the match-up.
On the other end, I don’t quite know what the Lakers do. Davis is so fast and quick he can probably stay with either of the Clips big two, but I think asking him to do it over and over again, especially with Kawhi’s battering ram finishes differing so greatly from George’s smoother game? I think the Lakers would also switch a lot, and probably put LeBron on whoever was hot.
MO: Everyone covers everyone! Both teams are stacked with options to take advantage of their defender that this game is really going to be decided in the margins. LeBron can bully PG13 while Kawhi can bully AD. George will out dance both LeBron and AD but I could see him falling into some frustrations (this may be influenced by a video I saw on Twitter of Joe Ingles barbecuing George on defense). If Davis gets any kind of post position, he can rise over top of both Clips.
I’m real torn.
CM: We forget, but LeBron is still a greater physical marvel than anybody in league history. He can make life miserable for either George or Kawhi.
In the end, I think this one would come down to the fact that the Clippers duo can shoot better. Scrambled plays that end up in the hands of an open player behind the arc would benefit the Clips more than the Lakers.
JR: Is it weird to think that LeBron is the WORST defender in this matchup? Kawhi-AD and PG-James makes sense on both ends of the floor.
MO: No one wants to admit, but your GOAT is slipping and his defense has been the second biggest (behind his lift/burst) aspect of his game that is abandoning him.
JR: Well then as Conor said, the Clippers can shoot better, but I’ve got to believe that the percentages have got to be considerably worse when the defenders are LeBron freaking James and Anthony freaking Davis!
I foresee a defensive battle with low-scoring and fatigued players. This plays into the hands of the Lakers, since LeBron is not human and doesn’t get tired, and AD can post his way to easy baskets over his shorter defenders.
It’s all up to you, Mitch, because the Clippers and Lakers each got a vote.
MO: I feel like LeBron James in a truly terrible for television purple gingham shirt about to make the biggest decision of my life, only it’s hypothetical and not nearly the same!
I need to do this decision justice, so, follow me here people.
It’s a tie.
Just kidding. Just kidding.
I fully agree with Jay that this is going to be a defensive battle where fatigue becomes a real factor. All four of these dudes are gamers, but there is a hierarchy buried within. Here’s how it’s going to play out.
Paul George is clearly the “weak” link of this matchup. While it’s not at all fair to label him as such, there’s just no other way to slice it. His strength in these finals is that he’s probably the best pure shooter of the four. On the flip side, Davis is leaps and bounds ahead of everyone in the post. He’s got every move in his bag and he can just as quickly break you down from the perimeter and pull up from deep or the midrange. Advantage: Lakers.
That brings us to the two big dogs; Kawhi and LeBron. LeBron is unquestionably one of the top two players the NBA has ever seen. He’s adorned himself in every accolade possible in the NBA and the International game alike. He has iconic moments in winning (and losing) scenarios. He’s a role model, leader and king among men.
Kawhi Leonard on the other hand made LeBron do this:
Miss me all the way with any discussion that 34-year-old LeBron James is doing anything to the guy who steals passes without looking, carries championship teams on one leg and forced the greatest player in the moment to turn his head and mutter “fuck” as he saw a 23 year old check-in to the game to guard him. Kawhi is now at the height of his power and while he might not be the defensive wrecking ball he once was (spoiler alert: he still is, just, like, you know, also not) the man more than makes up for it with his MVP level offensive prowess. LeBron cannot and will not be able to guard and as Conor mentioned, Kawhi will bully his way through AD on the regular.
The verdict? The Clippers shooting ends up being a huge factor as they splash just enough triples to counteract the Lakers ground and pound game.
NBA JAM CHAMPION: LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS