Not that this was necessarily apparent from the postgame media comments, which for most sports bloviators (Hi Stephen A.!), only reinforced the media line that the Golden State Warriors are a blessed blend of Hercules, Achilles and the Winter Soldier. LeBron and the Cavaliers are last year’s news, handicapped by the fact they don’t play in a major media center, didn’t play in as tough a conference (by some estimations) and don’t have players as “cool” as Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
This is complete, utter bulllshit, spewed forth to feed the 24-7 news cycle’s hungry maw, built to elevate the “now” to the most important moment of all-time and treat yesterday’s victors as something ported over from the Paleozoic age. LeBron hasn’t won a championship in almost three years. Who can remember that far back! Let’s go back to worshipping the new boss!
Saying it was a strange game in several cardinal ways is not an understatement. The aforementioned run was driven by the Warriors bench players, who one local scribe noted play much much better at home than on the road.
“[Typically] role players play better at home than they do on the road. That seems to be the case for most teams. So, you know, you coach each game accordingly. You see who's going. You see if a guy's got a hot hand. You see if a group works. Maybe you don't give that group as much of a chance on the road as you would at home,” said Steve Kerr, in his pregame comments.
He definitely leaned on that hot hand as Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala went 9-9 during the crucial run, while the Cavs went 2-10, with nine of those shots coming from the Big Three, and half of them at the rim.
This was a common theme for the night. Not much went right for the Cavaliers offensively. According to NBA.com’s SportsVu Cleveland went 24-61 (39%) attacking the rim, while Golden State made nearly as many shots in 24 less attempts (22-37, 60%). Almost 60% of the Cavs shots were contested (49 of 84) and they shot 37% on those attempts. They also committed 17 turnovers which turned into 25 Warriors points. Cleveland forced 9 for 12 points.
“I thought we did a good job of attacking the basket and they stripped us low a lot. I thought LeBron, Kyrie, when they got into the paint they did a great job of stripping us low,” Lue said. “We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball, especially against a good offensive team like this. We can’t give them points like that.”
On the other side of the ledger, the Warriors also had a high percentage of contested shots (56%) but sunk them at a ridiculous rate (27 of 49, 55%), while shooting just 42% on uncontested shots (16-38). Somehow the Cavaliers were even worse on uncontested shots (14-35, 40%).
What’s more, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston made 16 of 20 contested shots, the rest of the team was 11-29 (38%). Meanwhile Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were a collective 8-27, including 2-11 on uncontested shots. They combined for 20 points and one free throw (missed). This was Lue’s plan – to take away the Warriors two best players and make the rest beat you. “The Rest” were 35-60 (58%).
“When you get outscored 45-10 on the bench, and give up 25 points off 17 turnovers, no matter what someone does or doesn’t’ do, it’s going to be hard to win, especially on the road,” said LeBron James.
Meanwhile, the offensive plan didn’t work too well. Golden State’s defense is keyed by their ability to switch screens and pick-and-rolls. This limited the number of wide open shots, and encouraged the Cavaliers to attack the mismatches in isolation. This is how you beat a switching defense, by getting a poor matchup and exploiting them.
“They did a good job of switching out on floppy situations or pin-downs [where J.R. has success, limiting him to 3 shots in 36 minutes]. With their length and their versatility defensively, they do a good job of switching out and taking away shots, kind of like we tried to do with Steph and Klay tonight.”
Of course, it will require better defense than evidenced by Kyrie on this Harrison Barnes post-up, exposing him like a Gawker outing.
Unfortunately, the Cavaliers didn’t have much offensive success with the ISO strategy. According to Nate Duncan (who presumably has access to Synergy numbers we don’t), the Cavs only made one basket on 18 isolation possession, with two fouls; the rest were turnovers or misses. They also struggled on second chance points where they were beaten 15-13 as Golden State converted 7 of 9 opportunities and the Cavs just 6 of 16.
The Cavs were also looking to post-up the Warriors, particularly with LeBron and Kevin Love. That didn’t go much better when they posted up. They made their first three, and were 5-30 after that. They did get to the free throw line, where they took twice as many shots as the Warriors and racked up a +9 advantage. In the second half, the Warriors actually won the rebounding battle 22-21 after being outrebounded 26-19 in the first half.
“I think we were being outrebounded by 8 or 9 at halftime,” Kerr said after the game. “Obviously Cleveland’s got a lot of athletic players who can get in there and get offensive boards. Tristan Thompson had a bunch of them [3 in each half]. So you just have to keep boxing out and trying to chase the ball down. It’s not anything magical.”
One of the issues on offense was the slower pace and commensurate lack of movement and passing. As we’ve noted before, one of Tyronn Lue’s biggest changes was picking up the pace on offense, which tended to make the ball move and guys get touches. But it seemed like the Warriors were set on limiting the Cavs supporting players and make the Big Three beat them, especially in isolation/post-up.
Those kinds of offensive plays typically slow the game down and limit passing. Guys off the ball wind up watching, and there was overall very little ball or people movement. The team had 17 assists and four secondary assists. The Warriors had 29 and 9. Just 69% of the Cavs touches were accompanied by passes (they are generally in the 71%-72% range in wins), while for comparison sake, Golden State was at 71%.
“We definitely got to do a better job getting the ball moving side-to-side, getting their bodies moving,” James said. “When you have the ball on one side they’re able to load and do things of that nature.”
James’ comment is important because part of the Warriors success was built on their ability to sink back into the lane on penetration. The Cavs were looking to finish (hence the larger number of free throws) more than kick out, taking just 21 threes, two-thirds their playoff average before last night. In the lane Warriors hands poked away drives, and Draymond Green was a monster.
It’s been a longtime since there was an NBA player we loathed as much as Green, but credit where it’s due, he was fantastic last night. He was their Warriors second-leading scorer with 16 (behind Shaun Livingston’s 20), led them in assists (7), had four steals (many of them strips at the basket), and forced the Cavs to miss 13 of 17 shots at the rim against him. He also drew a charge on LeBron and had six deflections.
What Must Be Done
We feel that Green must be stopped and that the best option is to put LeBron on him, with Thompson on Bogut and Love on Iguodala/Barnes. He’s as important to their offense as Thompson and Curry, perhaps even more so than the former. His ballhandling, size and three point shot make him a nightmare for many, but James could potentially eat him up on defense.
We like the defense that Cavaliers had on Thompson and Curry, and hope they replicate it. They were held to the lowest collective points of their career, and have never both not made a free throw. We look at this and think if just Barbosa and Livingston hadn’t given them such a good scoring performance in the second (7 points) and fourth (10), respectively, the postgame commentary would’ve sounded much different.
“In the first half we struggled a little bit offensively,” Lue said. “We came back in that third quarter, really got physical, really got aggressive and we were able to take a three-point lead. We took LeBron out towards the end of that third quarter and a couple minutes in the fourth quarter, and the game kind of got away from us.”
This brings us to a second issue: Rotations. We understand that Game 1 is a feeling each other out game, but we question whether 90 seconds rest is enough for LeBron in the first half. Similarly, we wonder if Lue didn’t make a mistake in not getting Frye in the game more. He had only 7 minutes of play and missed the one field goal he took. Again, like J.R., the Warriors made sticking to Cavs’ reserves a priority, so he wasn’t getting many looks, but there weren’t a lot of passes either.
We also have questions about Iman Shumpert whose -15 in +/- when on the floor was nicely split between halves (-7/-8). He made the one three he took, had one rebound, two fouls and a turnover in nearly 17 minutes. We’re not sure what the story is, but Shumpert’s defense has been AWOL all playoffs and at some point, the Cavs are going ot need to cut bait (and minutes).
At this point, we feel the Cavs need to go to Richard Jefferson as much as possible instead. Shump needs to earn those minutes. He frequently came in at the “3” replacing Kevin Love and causing James to move up to the “4”. We hope Lue sees that RJ is the superior choice for the moment, and cuts Shump down to what Frye’s seeing until he shows more. Hello! Kyrie can poorly contest a Livingstone jumper.
“I think defensively we had a gameplan and we followed it as much as possible. Well, as great as we could for 48 minutes,” said James. “We had some breakdowns, which we know we can get better with. Offensively, we've got to be much better. We've got to be much better moving the ball, moving bodies.”
We agree with LeBron in feeling the issue was not the defense on Thompson and Curry, but the play of the Cavaliers offense. We’re not sure we’re entirely comfortable with the Big Three taking 60 of 84 field goals, over 70% of the shots. Other guys must get involved, and not just because of their poor shooting (23 of 60).
By diversifying the offense, the Cavs can make it more difficult to predict and defend. ISOing Kyrie and LeBron is the opposite of that, even if it makes sense strategically. They must do more to make the Warriors move their feet, and not load the lane defensively so much by keeping the ball moving. Seventeen assists just won’t get it done.
This was just one game. The Cavs will likely only win one of the first three games in Golden State; that just means it wasn’t this one. Games 2 or 5 would be just as good. While someone noted that 22 of the last 32 Finals teams to lose the first game lost. That makes a lot of sense because the team with the best record hosts Game 1.
We find it far more interesting that of the last seven NBA Finals rematches from the previous year, the runners-up avenged themselves six times. This tracks with our sense that the Cavaliers are hungrier than the Warriors, who’ve largely enjoyed a charmed life the last two years. The memory of last year still burns, according to James Jones, and we think the Wine and Gold will find a way to tap into that.
Game 2 ought to feature a better showing by the Cavs, who won Game 2 at Oracle last year. We expect to see much more ball movement and off-ball action, while tightening up their coverage of backdoor cuts and the coverage of their reserves. Rotations were slow to them, like the Cavs were daring them to shoot. You want the closeouts to be a little better, though on the whole, we think Cleveland would take their chances the role players can’t replicate that kind of performance again.
On offense they must continue to move the ball, and not fall into the habit of settling for jump shots. We saw lots of drive, but little dish, and certainly not enough movement off the ball to create open opportunities. Indeed, too often it looked like the ISO offense Cavs ran during the season before they became much more efficient.
We’re in Golden State – despite awful trouble from Spirit Airlines that put us into Las Vegas too late to hit our connection and forced us to go to a Las Vegas hotel, where we arrived at 2 a.m., before returning to the airport the next morning.
We finally arrived at our hotel at 2 p.m., and discovered when we returned from the game that the wired high speed internet we specifically chose the hotel for, doesn’t exist, making construction of videos from the game so frustrating that we had to go to bed for fear we might smash some furniture or throw a TV out the window without getting news we’re on the cover of Rolling Stone. So our apologies both for the lateness and lack of much video and any play breakdowns. We hope to ameliorate this by Game 2.
That’s where we’ll be on Sunday, Oracle Arena in Oakland for Game 2 with the Warriors. We’ve sorted out video issues with our computer, and will be posting live video, analysis and snark. You can follow along on Twitter @CRS_1ne, and look for our postgame analysis here in the Scene & Heard section on Monday morning.
Cavs fans are advised to put down that bottle of bleach, step away from the ledge and not to set fire to their house unless it’s part of an insurance scam. The Cavaliers lost last night to the Golden State Warriors 104-89, when a 68-67 lead with two minutes left in the third gave way to a 21-4 run over the next six minutes which scotched the game.