NBA Finals Sweepstakes: is a Warriors sweep or Cavaliers comeback more likely?

Apr 15, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; A general view of shirts on the seats before game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 15, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; A general view of shirts on the seats before game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

Will the Cleveland Cavaliers be swept by the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 NBA Finals?

The sweep conversation has been on the table before this year’s finals rematch had even started. For instance, Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman predicted a sweep. Unless you were a fan of LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers or both, you probably didn’t believe the Cavs had a fighting chance in the Finals.

Now with the first two games of the NBA Finals ending in blowout victories for the Golden State Warriors, the general consensus is that calling a Warriors sweep is a safe bet.

However, it’s still too soon to call it a done deal.

With the Cavs at home, it’s less likely breaks, like Stephen Curry taking an absurd 10 free throws in the first quarter of Game 2, will fall the Warriors way.

Coming out swinging against the Warriors is certainly a must but it will not be quite the uphill battle at the Q that it was at Oracle.

Cocky or confident?

The sweep confidence level from the Warriors fan base and national pundits is relatively high considering the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers also fell down 0-2 in last year’s Finals. The Cavaliers would go on to win Game 3 and, after the Warriors won Game 4, the Warriors proceeded to blow a 3-1 lead despite having homecourt advantage.

Both sides can still relive it vividly, down to the final moments of an iconic Game 7.

Curry certainly hasn’t forgotten about it, according to Sporting News’ Jordan Greer.

The “alternative” facts suggest otherwise

Perhaps if we summarized the situation for someone who had missed Game 1 and 2 of this year’s Finals, he or she may assume the Cavaliers were more overwhelmed by the Warriors last year.

Last year, Game 1 and Game 2 were won by 15 points and 33 points respectively (24.0 points per game). This year, the Warriors have won Game 1 and Game 2 by 22 points and 19 points respectively (20.5 points per game).

Last year, in Game 1 and Game 2, the Warriors held an 9-point and 8-point lead at halftime respectively (8.5 points per game). This year, the Warriors held an 8-point lead at halftime in Game 1 and 5-point lead at halftime in Game 2 (6.5 points per game).

Another major difference could be Kevin Love. In the 2016 NBA Finals, Love had been highly ineffective on offense in all but Game 2 and he was ruled out for Game 3 with a concussion. Love again excelled in Game 2 this year, with 27 points and 7 rebounds and will have a chance to stay on track in Game 3.

Instincts overrule statistics

Throwing out data entirely, the eye-test from the first 2 games is much stronger than last year. The biggest factors being the addition of Durant and the Warriors record 29-1 over their last 30 games, including a perfect 14-0 playoff record.

Just watching, it simply feels this year that it would take a lot more from the Cavaliers and a lot less from the Warriors, to win on any given night. There just does not seem to be a path to victory that won’t require the Cavs to play perfectly, given the way the games have played out so far.

So why not assume a sweep?

Home-court advantage has always been a known factor in sports, particularly for the NBA playoffs.

Always exceptions to the rule

In this first round of this year’s playoffs, the eight-seed Chicago Bulls won their first two games on the road against the top-seeded Boston Celtics. However, upon returning home, lost the following 2 games and eventually the series in 6.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers blew out the Boston Celtics in the first two games of the series. Upon returning home, however, the Cavs blew a 21-point lead in Game 3 before going on to win the series in five games.

The home-court loss was the Cavaliers only loss in the postseason prior to the Finals and only poor individual showing for James with just 11 points in an otherwise flawless post-season route to the finals.  Through 15 games, James has a league-high 32.0 PPG, behind only Russell Westbrook (who lost in the first round),

The power of home-court

Consider last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, as the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Toronto Raptors in six games.

Games 1 and 2 in Cleveland were a huge advantage for Cavaliers, winning by 31 and 19 points (average 25).  Games 3 and 4 in Toronto were a slight advantage for the Raptors, winning by 15 and 6 points (average 10.5)

After the Raptors won Game 4 to tie the series 2-2, ESPN Stats & Info had a eye-opening tweet that reflected the importance of homecourt.

Leaving Cleveland for the first time, the series felt on its way to an inevitable sweep but the tables turned in Toronto. Certainly, the series never felt as if the Cavaliers were going to lose.

Nonetheless, it was surprisingly closer when the underdogs showed up to play at home. The Raptors scored more efficiently and the Cavaliers’ players (not named James) were unable to hit nearly as many shots when homecourt shifted in those first first games.

2016 Eastern Conference Finals

At Cleveland

Game 1: James 85% from the field, when the Cavaliers shot 55% and the Raptors shots 42%.

Game 2: James 54% from the field, when the Cavaliers shot 50% and the Raptors shot 40%.

At Toronto

Game 3: James 53% from the field, when the Cavaliers shot 35% and the Raptors shot 46%.

Game 4: James 69% from the field, when the Cavaliers shot 47% and the Raptors shot 54%.

A typical playoff series

Game 1: The feel-out game

How the teams will match up and the coaches’ game plans are still unknown until halftime of Game 1.

Game 2: The initial adjustments

We have a sense of how the teams match up after Game 1 but perhaps one team will be more dynamic in their approach in their approach for Game 2.

Game 3: The homecourt factor

We have a sense how the teams match up and what adjustments the coaches are making but aren’t sure yet how much homecourt advantage matters for both teams.

Game 4: The majority of factors are known

The rest of series could still go in various directors but by this point we shouldn’t expect much in the series to change. The advantages one team has over the other is clear.

A Cinderella story

NBA teams are 18-271 when trailing 2-0 in a 7 game series. So by that metric alone, the Cavaliers would only have a 6.0 percent chance of winning the championship.

While the odds are small, the comeback does happen from time to time. We saw it last year in the finals and we saw it this year in the Celtics-Bulls first round series.

Analogize that likelihood to a 15-over-2 seed upset in the opening round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Those upsets have occurred just eight times since 1985.

In the NBA, coming back from 3-0 is analogous to a 16-over-1 seed upset in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Based on Daniel Friedman’s report for CBS New York, the 3-0 comeback has happened 5 times in all of professional sports history but has yet to happen in the NBA.

Predicting the future

It is fairly easy to tell if one team is stronger than another.

Calling the outcome of a seven-game series – who wins, in how many games – is another story. Doing so before seeing how the teams matchup in Game 1, is like throwing a dart with a blindfold.

Just ask Stephen A. Smith:

It gets incrementally easier to pick the final outcome after each game in the books.  Much like how it gets easier to predict the final outcome of a single game as the game progresses.

We don’t yet know how different Game 3 will be at home in the Cavaliers’ favor but the Warriors should still be the heavy favorites to win.

From sweeps-takes to sweepstakes

If the Cavaliers are going to come back and win the series, they must protect homecourt for Game 3 and Game 4. Winning both of the possible two remaining games away in Oakland this year certainly is a lot to ask.

As is winning four straight.

Related Story: There's a difference between the 2016 NBA Finals and this year

Do you think that the Cleveland Cavaliers will get swept in the 2017 NBA Finals? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section or Twitter @KJG_NBA.