By: Harris Hicks
Summary of the first two games
To open up the series the Cavs got off to a fast start. I looked up from my seat at home and somehow, someway, the Cavs had battled their way to a one-point lead at the end of the first frame. From then on, Cleveland, high on hope, were able to scrap and keep the game close.
In game one the Cavs were, once more, led by LeBron- who had elevated Cleveland with a historic, fifty point performance. The Cavs were also undeniably unstoppable on the boards, as they shattered Golden State on the glass 64-42.
Cleveland, energized by what Lebron was doing and the fact that the Warriors were missing some shots, scratched and clawed for the entire forty-eight in a back-and-forth, cover to cover dogfight. When it came down to it, the Cavs found themselves trailing by only one, with the ball and 24 seconds to work with to either tie or potentially, even win the game.
After a frantic sequence in which Lebron was forced to pass to Grant Hill to get out of a Draymond Green/Steph Curry double team, the King got the ball back at the crux of the three-point line with the much smaller Curry standing in front of him with only eleven ticks remaining. In most situations, Lebron would just attack this mismatch by forcing his way to the rack, but Bron, realizing that Kevin Durant had vacated the paint to provide help, fire a pass into a wide open lane. Draymond Green, who had switched from Lebron onto George Hill, stood idly by as Hill streaked by him into wide open space to collect Bron’s feed.
Klay Thompson was forced to tackle Hill to prevent a wide-open layup. There were 4.7 seconds left.
With millions of eyes on him worldwide, Hill stepped up to the line with two free throws to decide the game. He banged the first one to knot things up, but, missed the second.
No need to fear because JR Smith grabbed an incredible offensive rebound to give Cleveland one last chance to win it in regulation. Then, not knowing the situation, Smith ran around like a chicken with his head cut off, thinking Cleveland was up and all he had to was run the clock out. JR realized his error with about a second left and passed to Hill in the corner, but it proved too little too late as Hill’s would-be winner went astray as the horn sounded.
In overtime, the efficiency of Golden State proved too much for LeBron’s rattled Cavaliers. Golden State shot an impeccable 51.1% from the field and a pure 36% from three, which crushed Cleveland’s crippling 27% from deep. Outside of LeBron, the team was helpless. The rest of the Cavaliers shot a feeble 37.3% from the field and 23.3% from downtown. LeBron James became the first player ever to score 50 points in the NBA Finals and lose.
Game two was a complete takeover for the greatest shooter of all time, Stephen Curry. Chef’s jaw-dropping range made the atmosphere in Oracle escalate from excited to straight up frenzied, while Cavs fans all the way across the country in the land were forced to cover their faces in sheer disappointment.
However, despite Steph’s antics, it wasn’t just him. In true Warriors fashion, this particular demolition was a total team effort. The Durant-Curry-Thompson trio was the driving force of Golden State’s 19 point blowout win.
The three combined for 79 points on 54.7% shooting from the field. KD and the Splash Brothers outscored the entire Cavaliers roster, sans LeBron, 79-74. Yet again, the Cavs were impotent outside of LeBron.
Cleveland shot an appalling 33.8% from the field. Their defense looked like the Cleveland Cavaliers we saw in the regular season and not the bouncy switching bunch that showed up in game one. It seemed as if the Cavs were just deflated after blowing a great shot the game prior, and soon as the Warriors threw the first punch in game two, Cleveland began to crumble in terms of their focus as well as their will. They allowed Golden State to make 57% of their shots and 41% of their 3’s.
In game two, the Warriors shot better and played marvelous defense than they did in the series inaugural contest, and when Golden State does those two things, they are nearly invincible. They were in game two. The Warriors won 122-103.
The Cavs now find themselves trailing two games to none in the series. They face a deficit that only four teams in NBA Finals history have ever been able to recover from. They need to make some drastic changes going to have even an iota of a chance at doing that
With that said, here are three things the Cavaliers must do differently from Game One and Game Two:
1. Get LeBron some help
I’m getting really tired of saying this, but for Cleveland, the nonbrons must be more efficient.
A word to describe the Cavs without LeBron would be bad if I’m blunt. Not including LeBron, there hasn’t been one game where the Cavs have shot at least 40% from the field and 30% from three. LeBron is also responsible for 37% of his team’s points and 49% of his team’s assists during the Finals.
On the bright side, the Cavs have gotten help from Kevin Love. Love has scored over 20 Pts in both games, but outside of those two, Cleveland has failed to find answers. The Cavs backcourt shot a disturbing 12/37 from the field in the first two games. In game one, Cleveland had just 3 players scoring double digits and in game two, the Cavs had just four players who scored over six points. If the Cavs want to make this a competitive series, there must be more production from LeBron’s supporting cast.
There are a few ways to go about achieving this if you’re head coach Ty Lue. The most readily deployable of these options would be to tinker with the lineups a little bit.
A guy that this is applicable to could be Larry Nance. In game one, Nance showed glimpses that he could be that 3rd option in game one, but he put up a goose egg on the box score in game two. However, Nance can provide a burst of energy off the bench with a dynamic rebounding/defensive punch. Larry can also get you a bucket or two with his back to the basket, runs the floor well in transition, and is a good outlet coming off the pick and roll for lobs and easy dunks. Lue needs to stick to his guns with Nance and continue to give him run.
Rodney Hood is another guy that Lue could turn to here in game three and beyond. Hood, who has yet to play a meaningful minute in this series, was averaging 16.9 PPG on 42% from the floor and 39% from deep for the Jazz prior to his trade deadline acquisition by the Cavs. Hood is also a mobile, long body that can help the Cavs rotate on the defensive perimeter and he is a capable rebounder. Furthermore, Rodney can create his own shot and hit catch and shoot threes- two areas the Cavs have lacked in this series outside of Lebron.
Lue told the media on Tuesday that Hood would get his shot in game three, so we will see how this change makes a difference.
2. Cleveland must play better defensively
The headlines of game one and two were dominated by classic performances by Stephen Curry. Furthermore, whereas they stumbled in game one, both Durant and Thompson also brought their A-Game in game two. And as if those three weren’t enough, as a team, Golden State was terrific. They shot 50%+ from the field and 40%+ from three. The Warriors ridiculous output has been the foundation to a dominant start to the finals, especially in the last 53 minutes of live action.
But, on the other side of thing, Cleveland was a dumpster fire on defense in the last game. The Cavs were strong for the first four quarters in Oakland. They switched well and moved with purpose on that end of the floor, running KD and several other Golden State shooters off the three-point line in game one, forcing them into less comfortable mid-range shots.
However, after the Warriors caught fire from deep in the overtime of game one, the Cavs players looked at each other with frustration and fury. From that point, every time the Cavs would battle back into the game, Steph or another shooter would punish any Cleveland defensive error with a three.
Every time this happened, it seemed as if the Cavs’ rotations would slow down for a second with the lingering fear of Curry’s range front and center in their collective conscious. Subsequently, this allowed other shooters to get open, and pick their spots from downtown. It was like every time Curry made one of his shots, the value of the basket was nine points instead of three of how it would open Cleveland’s defense on the following possessions.
After game two, Tristian Thompson was asked if he felt helpless when guarding the Warriors from range. He responded with a profanity swaddled sentence directed at the media scrum around him and proceeded to walk away. This interaction is a microcosm of the apparent mood of the entire team at the moment. They know the riddle in front of them, but they just don’t have the answers, and that is creating a growingly clear sense of tension among them.
If the Cavs want to make this a series, they must make adjustments defensively. The level of difficulty associated with beating a team shooting over 50% from the field and 40% from three, let alone when it’s Golden State, is almost insurmountable for a team as inconsistent offensively as the Cavaliers.
This may be remedied by an extreme solution.
If the Cavs were to play a lineup comprised of Lebron, Hood, Green, Love, and Thompson, they would have the necessary length and athleticism to switch as needed and better contest Golden State’s looks from deep. The Warriors have also ruthlessly targetted Kevin Love on the pick-and-roll, and with another couple extra inches of Jeff Green and Rodney Hood on the floor, helping becomes easier for the defense in these situations.
This length also makes it much more difficult to pass the ball around the perimeter because the added stretch allows defenders to get into passing lanes and get deflections. In the past, the Warriors have been prone to hemorrhaging turnovers, and the extra possessions could prove invaluable for the outgunned Cavs.
This lineup change also has enough firepower and shooting to not sacrifice offense.
Although it may seem extreme, this is probably the Cavs best route of attack in trying to counteract the Warrior’s awesome offense.
3. The Cavaliers must start making threes
Cleveland lived and died in the regular season by the three ball, but in the playoffs, it’s been a different story. In these last eight games, the Cavaliers have shot at least 40% from three just one time. That problem right there is a big reason why the Cavs went seven games with a damaged Celtics team. Golden State, on the other hand, is not missing their two best players.
Cleveland has shot a pathetic 19 for 64 from downtown, which ends up being slightly below the 30% line. Their perimeter sharpshooters who usually make their shots have gone utterly ice cold. Kyle Korver, who shot a phenomenal 43.6% from the arc has made just one three in the entire series. J.R. Smith, who shot nearly 38% from three in the regular season has shot a lackluster 30% from the 3 point line.
All though Kevin Love has had a solid series, his perimeter shots have not been falling. Love, who made almost 42% of his threes in the lead up to the finals, has lost his touch from deep in the opening two games. He has shot an anemic 25% from three. In game one he shot just one for eight from three.
There is no real schematic suggestion for how to fix this as Cleveland has been getting good looks. Hitting them has been the issue. With the amount of attention that the mere presence of Bron draws on given possesion should create opportunities for other guys going forward. It is up to Ty Lue to figure out who those guys need to be.
(hint: that’s not Jordan Clarkson)
If the Cavs want to climb back into this series, players who usually drain their threes must find their stroke from downtown, or else this will be a cakewalk for Golden State.