How do you stop Stephen Curry? Slow down LeBron James? Opposing scouts break down the NBA Finals matchup.
In advance of the 2015 NBA Finals, SI.com had opposing scouts break down the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. This story originally appeared in the June 8, 2015 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.
Enemy Lines: Warriors
Stopping Stephen Curry
"Is prayer an option? We didn't have any success against him this year, and we tried everything. A common strategy is to use length. A taller defender who can stay with Curry can at least contest some of his shots. Iman Shumpert is a little overrated as a defender—he has not been the same since his ACL injury [in April 2012]—but he's big, long and athletic. Expect Cleveland to give Shumpert first crack at defending Curry.
"You have to be physical with him too. Pressure him up the court, bump him in the lane. Knock him down once or twice when he goes to the basket. He's considerably stronger than when he came into the league, but you can still bully him a little bit.
"The best strategy to defend Curry is to make him work on the other end. This is why Kyrie Irving is so critical. Curry is a decent defender, but you can beat him off the dribble. If Irving is hurt and the Cavs play Matthew Dellevadova big minutes, Curry is going to destroy them. Hell, he probably will anyway. He's that good."
X-Factor: Draymond Green
"To me, Green is this series' most important player. He has two challenges: Stay with LeBron on the perimeter and fight with [power forward] Tristan Thompson in the paint. There's no question Green will get time on LeBron. He's the best match physically, even if he gives up quickness. [Green is 6'7", 230 pounds; James is 6'8" and listed at 250.] I wouldn't be surprised if Steve Kerr tries Green on LeBron one-on-one, no help, and see what he does. LeBron has been posting up a lot. Golden State will take that. If Green can bang with Zach Randolph, he can bang with LeBron.
"Green is one of the most competitive guys in the league; he loves this stuff. Since Kevin Love went down, the Cavs have become a much more physical team. They just beat up Atlanta. Thompson doesn't do anything special, but he is relentless on the glass. Green has to win those battles in the paint. He's undersized for a four, but he's so active. He has great hands and instincts. He gave Randolph fits. If Green plays well, Golden State is going to cruise."
Enemy Lines: Cavaliers
Stopping LeBron James
"Make him a shooter. He's become better from the perimeter but it's by far the lesser of two evils. Send your defender under the screen and dare him to beat you from three. Give him space, send him left and hope he settles for jumpers. It's dangerous—if you are too far back, he might get a head of steam and drive. Then he's unstoppable. And you don't want to send help because he makes quick passes to three-point shooters that can kill you. It's why he's so effective in the post. If you have to double, he reads the floor so well. He will find the open shooter.
"Your best play is to guard him straight up and hope he has an inefficient night. San Antonio won last season because it had Kawhi Leonard, who made LeBron's life hell. The Warriors will give him a bunch of different looks, just like they did with James Harden. And they have a very good rim protector in Andrew Bogut who can contest in the paint when LeBron attacks. Look, you can live with 25 to 30 points from LeBron. You can't live with 10 to 12 assists too."
X-Factor: J.R. Smith
"I don't know how much different J.R. is from the guy who left New York. He's still streaky and he still takes bad shots. That [28-point] explosion he had in Game 1 [of the conference finals] against the Hawks—those were bad shots. He's been more focused defensively. Cleveland's numbers since the trade have improved, and that's directly related to J.R. and Shumpert coming over. He has to stay locked in on [Golden State shooting guard] Klay Thompson. The Warriors are going to run Thompson off a hundred screens. They will try to catch J.R. napping. He can't lose him.
"Offensively he's not going to get a lot of open looks. Golden State is great at running teams off the three-point line. If the three isn't there, J.R. has to resist the urge to shoot it anyway. You can't miss a bunch of jump shots against the Warriors; they will kill you in transition. He has to drive and make the extra pass. These are not J.R.'s strengths. He can't get into a macho shooting contest with the Warriors' guards. He'd lose, and he would shoot Cleveland right out of the series."