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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

10 most important players in the NBA Finals

Draymond Green

The 2017 NBA Finals will be a star-studded affair, and there is no question that the big names will have to perform if they want to lead their teams to an NBA title. However, both teams have some auxiliary pieces who could also play huge roles in whether the Golden State Warriors take back the title, or the Cleveland Cavaliers manage to defend it.

Here is a look at ten players on both Golden State and Cleveland who will have a big say in who takes home the championship.

10. Kyle Korver, Cavaliers

When the Cavaliers acquired Korver in January, the NBA world was content to more or less shrug it off. Sure, he’s one of the NBA’s most efficient three-point shooters, but Cleveland was seeking a playmaker at the time, and Korver did not fit the bill.

Cleveland will not be regretting their acquisition now.

Korver quickly slotted into the rotation and got better looks due to the Cavs’ abundance of talent. He promptly shot 48.5 percent from beyond the arc during the regular season, and he even helped his star teammate with free throws. He has already shown the ability to impact the postseason as well, as he went 4-for-6 from three in Game 4 against Toronto, playing 28 minutes and helping Cleveland close out the Raptors.

He is the player best equipped to go toe-to-toe with the Splash Brothers, and if Cleveland needs points fast, don’t be surprised if they look Korver’s way.

9. Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers

The Cavaliers don’t necessarily need Thompson to score a ton to defeat Golden State, though it would certainly help. What they do need from their 26-year-old center is rebounds. Thompson averaged 9.2 of them during the regular season, holding firm by averaging 9.3 of them during the playoffs thus far, both marks good enough for second on the team.

Thompson’s rebounding prowess is vital for the Cavaliers on both ends.

It goes without saying that limiting Golden State possessions is a must for Cleveland, and holding them to one-and-dones is essential for success. Perhaps more vital, however, is what Thompson can do on the offensive glass. In last year’s Finals, Thompson averaged nearly four offensive boards per game, taking advantage of his opponent’s more modest rebounding ability. That opens the door for second chance points and keeps the ball out of Golden State’s hands. It needs to happen again for Cleveland.

8. Klay Thompson, Warriors

Lost in Golden State’s 12-0 march to the NBA Finals is the fact that Thompson has been anonymous throughout that run. He was his traditional sharpshooting self during the regular season, but the playoffs have not been as kind to him.

The less-celebrated Splash Brother is shooting just 38.3 percent in these playoffs, struggling with an uncharacteristically low 36.4 percent figure from three-point range. Despite it all, the Warriors have cruised without him.

The Cavaliers will definitely be Golden State’s most difficult opponent yet, and they won’t really be able to afford Thompson being a non-factor for the entire series. Sure, the Warriors are loaded, but if Thompson is knocking down his shots, that’s just one more headache that Cleveland has to account for on the court. If he keeps on missing, the Cavs have the pieces to take advantage of the empty possessions. But if he gets hot, he can single-handedly carry Golden State, just like he did in last year’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against OKC.

7. Draymond Green, Warriors

Green is, as always, most important to his team for being a one-man defensive pillar, but the Warriors also need their star big man to keep his cool.

Draymond didn’t last year, resulting in his suspension for Game 5 of last year’s Finals. Green has even said that he felt that his lack of discipline at the end of Game 4 ultimately turned the series around and opened the door for the Cavalier comeback. It’s in the eye of the beholder whether Green still has something to atone for or not, but he probably feels he does — and now he has that chance.

That’s not to diminish what Green means to Golden State on the court, though. He is the team’s heart and soul, constantly agitating and pushing his teammates to be even better. He’s possibly the league’s premier defensive player, and he will at least have a hand in trying to neutralize LeBron James. He’s even the team leader in assists.

Green will have a lot of eyes on him in this series, and he’ll have to keep his composure and play to his usual high standards to help Golden State take back their title.

6. Kevin Love, Cavaliers

Love is important to Cleveland for all the same reasons Tristan Thompson is, and then some.

As the team’s regular season and playoff leader in rebounds, Love will have a big say in how many possessions his Cavaliers get — and how few Golden State will have. He has double-digit rebounds in six of his last seven playoff games, excelling on the defensive glass, and he’s in for a challenge to keep doing so against Golden State. His 14-rebound showing in last year’s Game 7 was a huge reason the Cavs got over the line.

Unlike Thompson, Love is also a key contributor offensively. He’s shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range in these playoffs, a mark that is probably unsustainable. He was injured during last year’s Finals and wasn’t a huge contributor offensively, so while he doesn’t need to shoot that well, if he can do something between his scorching output this postseason and his diminished role in last year’s would suit Cleveland just fine — and give the Warriors something else to think about.

See Nos. 5-1 on Page 2

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