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LET'S PLAY

Lebron vs. Curry is a contrast in styles making these NBA finals a riveting spectacle

USA TODAY Sports/Bob Donnan
A thing of beauty
By Omar Mohammed
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Tonight the Cleveland Cavaliers, take on the Golden State Warriors in a pivotal game 4 in what has become one of the most watched NBA finals in memory. It has been a riveting battle thus far. The Cavaliers have the edge right now, leading 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.

At the center of it are two characters: Lebron James and Stephen Curry.

James is arguably the greatest player of his generation while Curry, the MVP, has been the best player while playing for the best team in the league this year.

And watching these two great players, with such contrasting styles, has been one of the more rewarding elements of these finals.

Lebron, the two-time champion and four-time “most valuable player” is about relentless power. Just watch him here, from game 3, dunking, driving hard to the basket and at times just bullying his way to the paint and score.

Curry, meanwhile, is a sweet-shooting point guard, all elegance and polish. This possession here, one of the few times that he has come face to face with Lebron in the series, is just exquisite balance and panache.

Their different styles of playing the game extends to their teams as well. The Cavaliers play a lot of so-called isolation basketball, with Lebron isolated on the post, making plays either for himself or his teammates. The Warriors are all about ball movement, shooting three pointers and fast-paced transitions from defense to offense.

Interestingly, this contrast aptly characterizes an increasingly polarizing debate over the future of NBA basketball itself. There are the so-called analytics-driven folks, whose penchant for three pointers—the midrange jumper is stupid, they say—is personified by the way the Warriors play.

Take a look at this possession. Andrew Bogut passes on an alley-oop dunk for a three-point corner attempt by Klay Thompson.

I know, you are wondering the same thing I am: Why in the world would Bogut do that?

But here is Danny Chau’s analysis over at Grantland:

Obviously, Bogut going for that alley-oop finish himself was a higher-percentage play, but it ignores the fact that his pass was a measured gamble—a 3-pointer is 50% more valuable than a dunk. A Bogut alley-oop attempt has an effective field goal percentage of 75.5. A right corner 3 from a Warriors player has an eFG% of 72.2. If you counted only regular-season attempts, a 3-point attempt from the right corner would actually be more likely to yield points than a Bogut alley-oop.

This data-driven trend is driving the so-called “purists” of the game crazy. Among them, the legendary former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers head coach (and current president of the New York Knicks) Phil Jackson, who tweeted this earlier in the playoffs.

Another critic is Charles Barkley, the hall of fame former player and current TNT basketball analyst. Watch him go after the analytics impresarios here:

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are all about their superstarsbuilt around the talents of Lebron and, before they were injured, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

So whoever emerges victorious in this series will likely shape the way basketball is played for years to come. Will it be the fast-paced, quick ball movement, three point shooting of the Warriors? Or will the Cavaliers’ star-driven system win over. By the end of this magnificent series, we shall find out.

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