Cleveland Cavaliers

Ranking the most important players in Cavs vs. Warriors Part IV

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Durant, LeBron and Curry (Getty Images)

The 2018 Finals are upon us. The Warriors are the biggest favorites since the Nets beat the Lakers in 2002, but that won't stop LeBron James and the Cavaliers from trying to shock the world once again, even though the four-time MVP has a new supporting cast. Whereas the last three editions of Cavaliers vs. Warriors featured Kyrie Irving, Cleveland has changed a lot more than Golden State since their first matchup in 2015.

With that in mind, we've got the 20 players who matter most in this series, and why...

19 and 20. Nick Young and JaVale McGee, Warriors

Who outside of Cleveland does not want to see these two celebrate on live TV after the Warriors win a title?

They were fun, even if frustrating, teammates when they were in Washington. But now they're playing for a championship-level outfit, and it's likely only a matter of time before they're toasting with Moet in the Golden State locker room.

17 and 18. Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood, Cavaliers

Clarkson has managed to continue to get minutes for the Cavs despite pretty woeful playoff numbers (4.9 points, 30.9 percent shooting, 25.6 percent from the 3-point line). He has had just one game out of 18 in which he has shot better than 40 percent. Hood has been flushed from the rotation altogether after he refused to enter a game during the final minutes of a blowout.

The haul of youngsters the Cavs got back on the trade deadline has really petered out here at the end. But maybe Lue will get desperate enough in this series to throw Clarkson and/or Hood onto the floor for major minutes. Longshot, but Lue might need a longshot here.

15 and 16. Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell, Warriors

Both Looney and Bell were disappointed on their relative draft days, with Looney dropping from a potential lottery pick to the No. 30 pick in the 2015 draft and Bell going from a mid-first-rounder to the second round on a pick the Warriors bought from Chicago.

Both have developed into versatile, defensive-minded big men who have helped Golden State get to the Finals. Just about every team in the league had a crack at drafting Bell or Looney, and there should be plenty of GMs watching this series with regrets for passing them up.

14. Shaun Livingston, Warriors

Livingston has been relatively quiet in the postseason so far, but he typically comes up with a surprisingly big game or two against Cleveland, like the 10 points he scored in Game 6 in 2015 or the 20 he had in the opener in 2016.

At 32, Livingston can have a calming effect on the Warriors offense when he comes off the bench. Because the Cavs don't play a backup point guard, Livingston could be up for another big game in this series.

13. Draymond Green, Warriors

Green has been doing his usual thing during this postseason, slumping as a shooter (11.1 points on 41.7 percent shooting, 27.7 percent from the 3-point line) but continuing to be a defensive anchor who happens to average 11.6 rebounds and 8.1 assists. He is also averaging 3.4 turnovers, a team-high, and that's been the Warriors' biggest area of concern all season and into the playoffs.

Of course, another area of concern is Green's penchant for on-court emotional explosions, though he is coming into this series with a cushion. Green has three postseason technical fouls, which is still four techs away from a suspension, and one flagrant foul. He would need to commit another flagrant, plus a flagrant 2, to be suspended.

11 and 12. Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr., Cavaliers

Coach Tyronn Lue took a while to get Thompson back into the starting five in the playoffs, and he has not been very consistent with the minutes for Nance - he played a little more than eight minutes total in the Toronto series, played 3:53 in the opener against Boston, then shot 12-for-13 with 4.5 rebounds in 14.9 minutes in the next six games.

Golden State has been a very good rebounding team this season, ranking second in the playoffs with a 52.2 rebounding percentage. Thompson and Nance give the Cavs a chance to combat that advantage.

10. Klay Thompson, Warriors

It's not that the Warriors really need Thompson to win this series - it's more that he'd probably like to leave something of a better Finals legacy than what he's put up so far in his career. He has shot 42.2 percent from the floor in 18 Finals games, and 35.7 percent from the 3-point line, averaging 17.4 points. And who could forget Thompson's dud against Cleveland in Game 7 in 2016?

Golden State likely would be looking for a fourth consecutive championship if Thompson had not gone 6-for-17 and 2-for-10 from the 3-point line in that loss.

8 and 9. Kyle Korver and JR Smith, Cavaliers

Lue has some pretty simple choices when it comes to his off-guard rotation. Korver has shot the ball well, but is a blinking green light on the defensive end, and Lue is hesitant to keep Korver on the floor too long - Korver played only 21.8 minutes per game against Boston.

Smith, meanwhile, is subject to deep and nasty slumps, but is a better defender than Korver. Lue has preferred to gamble on the ill-advised shots Smith sometimes takes over Korver's defensive liabilities.

6 and 7. Kevin Love, Cavaliers, and Andre Iguodala, Warriors

Already, Iguodala and his mysterious knee injury have been ruled out for Game 1. That will be a blow to the Warriors' offensive flow - when Iguodala has been on the floor in the playoffs, they have had an effective field goal percentage of 55.5 percent, as opposed to 51.8 percent when he is off the floor. Their assist rate drops from 67.7 percent to 59.4 without him. The focus will be on the team missing his defense against James, but it's really on the offensive side that the Warriors will want Iguodala's presence.

Love, dealing with a concussion, has a less dramatic impact by his potential absence. He's the team's No. 2 playoff scorer, at 13.9 points, but has been a non-factor in Cleveland's three Finals appearances. He was out with a shoulder injury in 2015, averaged 8.5 points and 36.2 percent shooting in 2016 (when he was also dealing with a concussion) and registered 16.0 points on 38.8 percent shooting last year.

5. Jeff Green, Cavaliers

The Cavs would not be in the Finals without Green, who came through in the final two wins of the East playoffs against Boston with 14 points in Game 6 and 19 in a big Game 7 performance. Cleveland would welcome those kinds of numbers from Green again.

Consistency has never really been Green's strong suit, however, so he could well disappear here in his first NBA Finals. Oh, and there's this: He'll have to spend significant time guarding Kevin Durant.

3 and 4. Stephen Curry, Warriors, and George Hill, Cavaliers

Hill has been surprisingly successful against Curry, going 10-4 against him in his career and holding him to just 19.0 points, 4.0 fewer than his career average. Hill has been the better shooter head-to-head, making 48.4 percent from the field and 51.1 percent from the 3-point line.

For Curry, those numbers are 46.1 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from the 3-point line. Gauging whether Hill can outplay Curry on this stage - we're not betting on it - is a fun sidelight.

2. Kevin Durant, Warriors

Durant enters the series after a 34-point, 11-for-21 performance in Game 7 of the conference finals, but he'd been slumping before that, shooting 36.5 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from the 3-point line in his previous three games.

Still, the memory of Cleveland's utter inability to contain Durant in last year's Finals resonates. Durant was the MVP of that series, scoring 31-plus points in each of the five games, shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from the 3-point line.

1. LeBron James, Cavaliers

It's been 11 years since James carried a team featuring Sasha Pavlovic and Daniel "Boobie" Gibson to the NBA Finals, and it's entirely possible that getting this group to the league's championship round is even more impressive. All James has done is average 34.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.8 assists this postseason, averaging 41.7 points in the Cavs' three potential elimination games.

The Warriors have too much depth and talent for Cleveland, but James still figures to present a significant defensive problem, and his individual greatness will be worth watching.

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