In the 21st century, sports have been defined by numbers. From Moneyball to Moreyball, we’ve learned that the best way to analyze the game—be it baseball, basketball, football or anything in between—is by the numbers. Three is more than two, walks are equal to singles and adhering by these rules wins you championships. For the most part, gone are the days where coaches make decisions by gut and you can’t understand the game if you haven’t played it.
What makes Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, the most important basketball game since, well, maybe ever, so ironic is that none of those numbers really matter at this point. We have 48 minutes to decide who wins the NBA championship and in those 48 minutes, anything can happen. It’s the smallest of small sample sizes. Draymond Green is 7/24 from 3 in the Finals, but remember Game 3 against Portland when Green hit 8/12 3s? That could happen tomorrow night and so could any other normally preposterous outcome.
The last two games have been arguably the two best of LeBron’s entire career, putting up 41-8-11 in Game 6 to follow up a heroic 41-16-7 in Game 5. If LeBron finishes off Golden State with another game of this caliber, he could retire the next day and be universally considered the 2nd best player of all-time, having engineered the only Finals comeback down 3-1 in history against a record breaking Warriors team. He’s had a complete bag of tricks over the past few games; his jumper that everyone thought was gone returned at the perfect time. Coupled with an unprecedented ability to get to the basket, James is very literally unstoppable.
The Cavs have set him loose with an uptick in pick and rolls where Tristan Thompson’s borderline illegal screening can prevent Andre Iguodala from ducking under or fighting over, giving LeBron space to work with. If LeBron’s jumper is working, there really isn’t an answer to this for Golden State. Normally, you could have Draymond Green play far off of Thompson and tell Iguodala to switch. Knowing LeBron either won’t shoot or will most likely miss, Draymond can wait for his drive to try and swallow it up. But when he hits his jumper, that option is taken away. Without any appetizing ways to defend pick and rolls that feature LeBron, the Warriors will likely mix and match their coverages in Game 7, hoping that works instead.
It’s clear at this point that they can’t switch any action involving Curry, the Cavs have constantly thrown him into pick and rolls for just that purpose with great success. Switching Curry, especially onto LeBron, is conducive to easy buckets and the foul trouble that caused Curry (and his wife) to blow a gasket Thursday night. Golden State will likely trap both LeBron and Kyrie Irving sporadically on pick and rolls to try and slow them down but there isn’t much they can do on a possession-by-possession basis outside of hoping Andre Iguodala can fight through screens and slow down LeBron as he’s done in the past.
For most of Game 6, Iguodala looked like a grandmother walking through a church aisle. He couldn’t run comfortably, nor could he stand up straight. Although he played through it, he clearly wasn’t his normal self and it didn’t help that he had to guard LeBron James at his absolute best. Iguodala won the 2015 Finals MVP by forcing LeBron into inefficient shots with great 1-on-1 defense and he continued doing that over the first four games of these Finals. Then an internal switch flipped within James and he became Zeus reigning down thunder onto mere mortals. If Iguodala’s back isn’t healthy enough that he can at least make things tough for LeBron, the Warriors are in a lot of trouble.
Though Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have both done solid jobs guarding LeBron off switches and in cross match situations during the series, having one of them match up against him permanently leaves holes in other parts of the court. Thompson is needed to subdue Kyrie Irving; if he guards James then that job is left up to Curry, which is exactly what the Cavs want. If Draymond does it then it’s up to Iguodala to keep Tristan Thompson off the offensive boards, a job he isn’t up for when fully healthy, let alone when he’s gimpy. If Iguodala gets to the point where he can’t play, things get even worse. The Cavs have targeted traditional centers like Festus Ezeli and Anderson Varejao in pick and rolls with great success , Leandro Barbosa is a defensive liability and while Shaun Livingston is a decent option defensively, he does hurt their spacing offensively so it would be tough for the Warriors to have him on the floor during crunch time.
Harrison Barnes’ confidence is another x-factor for Golden State. After an abysmal 2/14 showing in Game 5, the Cavs decided to treat Barnes like Tony Allen. Despite him having shot fairly well over the season, he was 0/8 in Game 6 on mostly wide open shots. That doesn’t even count the number of looks Barnes passed up when there was no defender near him. Golden State’s Death Lineup is so good because all five players can shoot at least passably well and, most of the time, they can switch anything. If Barnes isn’t knocking down wide open 3s, then the Death Lineup goes from one of the best five-man groups ever to fairly average.
The biggest thing for the Warriors in this game is the most obvious: they need their superstars to play at their highest level. Curry hasn’t shot poorly in this series, he’s at 43.1 percent from 3, but he also hasn’t been quite at the level he was at during the regular season. If Kevin Love is on the floor, the Warriors need to go at him in pick and rolls until Ty Lue decides he can’t be on the floor anymore. When there are pick and rolls involving Tristan Thompson, Curry needs to take advantage of the Cavs switching. Thompson has done a great job containing Curry so far in the series and that can’t continue if Golden State is to win. All season, Curry has taken advantage of big men switching with stepback 3s and easy drives to the hoop. He should be able to do both against Thompson. If Curry still can’t get going with Thompson switched, the Warriors should go to Draymond Green in the post with Kyrie Irving switched on him. From there, they can get into some of their signature sets, such as Curry and Klay Thompson getting open off of split cuts or Green can simply back down a bad defender in Irving.
It’s also been floated that Steve Kerr should isolate Curry on Irving more often. While this has been successful during the series and Kerr should go take advantage of the matchup, the Warriors should avoid reverting back to what the offense they ran under Mark Jackson. They got here by passing, cutting and screening and they shouldn’t go away from that in their most important game of the season. Even if they isolate Curry more often than they have been doing, the Warriors need to be moving and screening for each other off ball, even if they know the ball isn’t coming to them. A big part of the reason their offense has looked out of sorts is in the past few games is a lack of movement off the ball. If nothing else, it will keep the defense occupied so they struggle to find help when Curry drives.
Strategy aside, there’s always a chance that Curry or Klay Thompson go nuclear. If one or both of them does, there’s nothing Cleveland can do. Klay saved Golden State’s season in Game 6 against OKC by hitting shots that most players couldn’t dream of. While both have seen heat checks in this series, neither has carried the Warriors to a win. It may come down to something as simple as Curry just being due for an insane performance.
This could also be the game for Draymond Green. In addition to turning into a pro wrestling villain, Green has also struggled for a lot of this series. Tristan Thompson has dominated him on the boards and he hasn’t been able to get downhill in transition, distribute or do any number of little things that he excels at. In December, when I was at the Warriors-Celtics double-OT game, what stood out to me was the way that Draymond just wouldn’t let them lose. He went for 24-11-8 with 5 steals and 5 blocks that night, keeping Golden State in it when they were on the road with a raucous crowd, Klay Thompson was out and Stephen Curry wasn’t really hitting his shots. He was not letting them lose that game no matter what. It was the quintessential alpha dog performance. If that Draymond shows up, the one that says “F**k you, we’re not losing this basketball game and I’m going to make sure of it”, the Warriors are going to win.
All stats are from basketball-reference.com or NBA.com unless otherwise noted
 I was trying to think what could be arguably more important than this and here’s what I came up with: Game 6 of the 2013 Finals (LeBron’s legacy on the line), Game 7 of the 2010 Finals (Lakers/Celtics, Kobe, Pierce, KG, Ray Allen legacies on the line), Games 6 and 7 of the 2002 WCF (Kobe, Shaq, David Stern and C-Webb with legacies on the line), Game 7 of the 1984 Finals (Bird and Magic’s legacies on the line, league’s popularity grows immensely as result of series), Game 7 of the 1974 Finals (If Milwaukee wins, Kareem is the defacto 2nd best player ever and it isn’t close), Game 7 of the 1969 Finals (Russell’s undefeated Game 7 streak on the line, Wilt tarnishes his legacy by getting benched in the 4th quarter by Butch van Breda Kloff, West’s best chance to beat Boston in the Finals) and the 1950 game between Fort Wayne and Minneapolis that ended 19-18, leading Danny Biasone to invent the shot clock. That being said, I don’t think any of those are definitively important than this. I have it as a 3-way tie between this game, 1984 Game 7 and 1969 Game 7. Fort Wayne-Minneapolis and Game 7 1974 would make it a 5-way tie, but it didn’t directly lead to Biasone inventing the shot clock, it was only the largest in a number of contributing factors and Kareem was the only top-10 player or borderline top-10 player whose legacy really would have been affected by the outcome of the ’74 Finals given that Havlicek was 33, Robertson was 35 and Cowens is pretty far outside the top-10.
 Except, of course, in this series.
 Love being pulled early in Game 6 after getting into foul trouble hurt the Warriors a lot. Love’s defense has been terrible and given his uninspiring offense, I would start Richard Jefferson in Game 7 if I was Ty Lue. I also can’t believe I’m writing that because 2 months ago I was tweeting about how dumb it was that Ty Lue was playing Jefferson at all.
 With Thompson on Curry, this action will take him out of his comfort zone. The Warriors should go to it regularly when they get that switch.
 It’s somewhat shocking that the Warriors lasted as long as they did without people finding a reason to hate them. They’ve been juggernauts for 2 seasons and it took until this year’s Western Conference Finals for people to start hating them. I’m pretty sure that’s a record in the Twitter Era.