2017 NBA Finals: Cleveland’s supporting cast keeps Cavs ahead of Golden State Warriors

May 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23), guard Iman Shumpert (4), and teammates celebrate a score during the fourth quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
May 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23), guard Iman Shumpert (4), and teammates celebrate a score during the fourth quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Cavaliers will face the Golden State Warriors for a record third consecutive meeting in the 2017 NBA Finals. What effect does a solid supporting cast have on NBA Finals contenders?

When it comes to the 2017 NBA Finals, the star players for each team are always glorified to the fullest extent. However, what people don’t see is the star’s supporting cast that will help the team over the finish line. Having effective role players and an active bench are keys to being successful in the postseason.

There is one simple answer for why both of these teams are back in the Finals: star power. With so many star players stacked on each team, a solid supporting cast is clearly a major factor in who reigns victorious. The Cavaliers’ stars are the ‘big three’ which includes LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving. The Warriors’ stars had quite the trio of their own with the ‘splash brothers’ Steph Curry and Klay Thompson as well as Draymond Green.

Right when this budding rivalry couldn’t get more interesting, the Warriors added superstar Kevin Durant during the off season. The Warriors’ surprise acquisition of Durant certainly put them on a fast track back to another NBA Finals appearance. This move basically vanquished every doubt that the Cavs or the Warriors would fall before reaching the championship round. LeBron’s Cavs were not falling to any team in the East and Durant’s Warriors had a clear advantage over anyone in the West.

The common theme in this NBA postseason has been that the team with the most star players in the series would eventually advance. Though this result may not come as a surprise, it is worth noting as it raises the importance of understanding the supporting cast conundrum at hand.

Related Story: 2017 NBA Finals: 5 reasons the Cavs will beat the Warriors

However, the star power trait can only take a team so far. Every super hero has its Kryptonite or specific weakness. The Kryptonite of star power comes in the form of some good old fashioned teamwork. That is the difference between great teams and championship teams. The star players must also be able to lean on their supporting cast for the team to be successful in the long term.

Examples of star power vs teamwork can be found in many occasions in the history of sports. Fortunately, there are a few fine examples that occurred recently within the NBA Playoffs this year.

The first round match-up between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets displayed the star power weakness perfectly. Though Rockets’ star James Harden and Thunder star Russell Westbrook don’t play the same position or line up on each other, they both bring the same things to the table. In turn, the two stars basically canceled each other out which made the star power between both teams a wash. The result of this was that the play of their respective teams would end up having the larger impact in the outcome of the series. In the end, the Rockets clearly had the better team overall as Harden had no problem keeping up with the scoring of Westbrook while frequently dishing to his teams’ bevy of scoring threats.

The Boston Celtics also benefited greatly from effective team play. Interesting enough, the addition of Al Horford ended up being a key component in giving the Celtics the edge over the Washington Wizards. Adding Horford to the roster to complement Isaiah Thomas allowed the Celtics to boast two high-profile players, which evened up the playing field between them and the Wizards’ two stars in John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Celtics’ hard nosed supporting cast did the rest as that edge proved to be the difference.

The San Antonio Spurs have always been the standard when it comes to playing as a unit. On this team, the supporting cast carries just as much importance as the star players themselves. Star players don’t carry themselves as stars when they’re on the Spurs. The real star of the show is the team, not the player. The Spurs’ series with the Rockets was an interesting bout.

Must Read: Who are the experts picking in the NBA Finals?

The Rockets had one star player in James Harden and the Spurs had two in Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. This series took many by surprise as the Rockets stole the first game on the road in emphatic fashion as well as being very competitive all the way through. The Rockets’ supporting cast was much stronger than what people are accustomed to seeing from them. However, the Spurs’ bench and role players were even stronger. This was especially true in the Rockets’ elimination game.

Leonard was inactive due to injury, which left the playing ground even with Harden and Aldridge. The supporting cast filled in for the loss of Kawhi and the collapse of Harden gave way to little resistance from his teammates.

The Spurs and the Celtics were eventually eliminated in the conference finals as the Warriors and the Cavaliers had simply too many stars to account for. However, the Spurs had enough stars, former stars, and supporting cast to make things interesting. That is, until Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia stepped under Kawhi Leonard’s already fragile ankle on a close out which ended his season. At that point, the Warriors’ lopsided star-player advantage was far too much for the Spurs to overcome.

In this NBA Finals, the stars will have to approach the series a bit differently as well as each individual game for that matter. The Cavs and the Warriors are practically a match made in heaven as their stars line up just about perfectly. James vs Durant, Irving vs Curry, and Love vs Green is as close to the best ‘must-see TV’ match ups that you’ll see in today’s sports.

Above all else, consistency from each star will be of utmost importance. As long as the Cavs’ Big 3 stays consistent to their level of play then the role players and bench should be expected to hold up their end of the bargain as well. If the Cavs’ second line can be a consistent supplementation to the first then winning this series could become a lot less complicated.

Though the Cavaliers and the Warriors are back in the finals, the personnel for the two teams have been altered. How will the roster moves from each team affect this series?

With both teams being so top-heavy, not much attention has been given to what has gone on behind the scenes as far as reinforcements goes. Each team made several moves during the off season as well as during the season concerning their respective benches and role players.

Understandably so, the Warriors made several roster moves after falling short in the 2016 NBA Finals. Though, tinkering with the team too much after falling just one game short of a championship isn’t always recommended.

The Warriors’ notable additions include former MVP forward Kevin Durant, two time NBA All-Star power forward David West, rookie forward Patrick McCaw, veteran forward Matt Barnes, and Dallas Mavericks centers Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee,

On the other end, the defending champions did some roster bulking as well. The Cavs didn’t make many moves in the off season but certainly made up for it with a couple of big hitters during the regular season.

The Cavs’ notable additions include the league’s most efficient 3-point shooting guard Kyle Korver and three-time NBA All-Star veteran point guard Deron Williams.

Both teams have seen positive results from their roster pickups. The Cavs wasted no time implementing Korver and Williams into their second line.

Korver saw the court early and often. It was clear as day that LeBron wanted Korver to be comfortable and confident as a key role player for the Cavs. LeBron made a concerted effort to force feed Korver as many times as possible regardless if his shots were falling or not. Wherever Korver was on the court, he was expected to catch and shoot any time he touched the ball. Korver’s 45 percent 3-point shooting efficiency this season was second best in the league behind Pau Gasol. Korver has been in the top three in 3-point shooting efficiency in four of the last five seasons.

The Cavs had been in need of an effective backup for Kyrie Irving for quite some time. The team elected to draft guard Kay Felder last summer, but that was never going to be a realistic option considering their ‘win-now’ mentality.

Related Story: 5 reasons the Cleveland Cavaliers will beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals

Patience was key for the Cavs as they eventually acquired veteran point guard Deron Williams. This was a great pickup for the Cavs as Williams’ experience and ability to be a scoring point guard was everything that the team was looking for to lead their second line. The Cavs get the best out of Williams by deploying him with limited minutes in the second line which allows him to have the advantage over the backup guard he’s playing against. The Cavs can rest easy when Kyrie needs a break as Williams can provide a similar dual threat attack in his place for the time being. Williams shot 46% from the field, 41% from three, and dished 3.6 assists per game with the Cavs this season.

The Cavs are hoping that their heavy reinforcement of the second line by adding two former all-stars will be effective in staying on track with the Warriors. Korver and Williams are reliable scoring threats which is exactly what the Cavs need in this match up.

As for the Warriors, their decision to ditch Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes may have been just the change that they needed. By doing this, the Warriors have made their team even faster than before. It also cleared plenty of cap space in order to acquire Kevin Durant who was 2016’s most coveted player in free agency.

The Warriors spent very little money in replacing Bogut as they picked up Mavericks centers Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee. This center-by-committee approach allowed the team to be flexible. After all, the Warriors only use their big men for setting screens and being cutoff men so that the shooters can move to their spots without the ball.

How does the Cavs’ supporting cast match up with the Warriors’?

Dating back to two years ago when the Warriors beat the Cavs in the finals, the Warriors have always played great team basketball. Though the Cavs played much of that postseason and almost the entirety of the finals without parts of the ‘Big Three’, the Warriors still flowed through many players. The Cavs on the other hand, flowed through the one man show himself: LeBron James. Since then, there have been moving parts on both sides.

The Cavs’ supporting cast consists of starters Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith as well as bench contributors Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, and Richard Jefferson.

The Warriors’ supporting cast includes starter Zaza Pachulia and bench contributors Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Patrick McCaw, David West, Ian Clark, and JaVale McGee.

The Cavs’ supporting cast has been inconsistent at times in this postseason. The Cavs have had several games where ‘The Big 3′ are the only ones in double digits or the closest player behind them are barely above double digits. This is going to have to change if the Cavs want to keep up with the Warriors’ multi-threat attack.

More from Factory of Sadness

The Warriors’ supporting cast has stepped up more consistently. Their second line has been able to take advantage of the inferior backup players posed by their opposition. However, they’ve also had the luxury of holding comfortable leads for greater parts of their playoff games due to their bevy of stars. A major factor in this series for the Warriors will depend on which Klay Thompson shows up to the finals. Will it be the star version of him or will he fade into the supporting cast?

Overall, the Warriors have one up on the Cavs as far as adding talent since last season solely due to the acquisition of Kevin Durant. However, the Cavs come out on top as far as revamping their supporting cast.

With that being said, the Warriors may not have as much of an advantage on the Cavs as many foresee. As noted earlier in this article, the Cavs and Warriors are just about even as far as star power is concerned. Since the Cavs put all of their roster moves into improving their supporting cast, they may now have an advantage over the Warriors in that area.

Next: Ranking each LeBron James team to go to the NBA Finals

In theory, the Cavs put themselves in a position to still be a step ahead and the Warriors are still in the process of catching up even with the signing of star forward Kevin Durant.