Let’s preface by noting that the history of water-borne prophecy from the Lady of the Lake to Minority Report is a pocked one. Simultaneously, getting a reading on this Cavaliers team is harder than determining position and momentum of a particle. Heisenberg’s already told us it can’t be done, which incidentally, is how we feel about the Cavaliers season.
At the core of this is a central truth that for a variety of reasons, Golden State fans are unable to comprehend. The Cavaliers, despite some 16 less wins, is just a shade behind them in total talent. The only real difference in the series so far is the utilization and optimization of that talent.
Simply put, the Warriors do what they do and sustain the focus and discipline to do that, which is kind of crazy when you consider that focus/discipline combines with the ridiculous kind of shots Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry take, but that’s sort of the point. That’s who they are.
The Cavaliers are sort of like them, but the opposite, a more penetration-centric 3-point shooting team. Just as everything branches off the ability of the Splash Brothers to beat opponents off the bounce and shoot from distances that stretch defenses to the point of breaking, the Cavaliers are built on the ability of LeBron and Kyrie to beat people off the dribble.
What the Warriors have tried to do is limit their ability to pass out of these situations, taking the “dish” out of the drive-and-dish offense, effectively forcing Irving and James’ top be them by themselves. In Game 3 the team adapted by making LeBron more point guard than slasher and opened up the floor to more cutting.
This underlies another emerging truth. LeBron can still finish tremendously, but the one-dimensionality of his game has made even his great physical insufficient to the challenge of consistently getting to the hoop. We believe part of the solution is to play Kyrie and LeBron off the ball more, bring in Matthew Dellavedova more than Iman Shumpert, and try to get James and Irving get going off cuts a bit more.
We bring this up because the reason we started doing this was to get a voice out there that didn’t treat every game as an emotional battle with the same hackneyed decades old story lines about manning up and bulletin boards and wanting it more and happy locker rooms. There is something to that, however, there’s also a lot of bullshit that’s peddled from people that don’t watch the games that closely or editors who want the dumbest coverage possible from their reporters.
We’d wager more important plays in any game are the result of schematic and gameplan decisions than someone raising their emotional game.
We say that because we’re about to write one of those stories. The whole emotional tenor of this series has changed since LeBron started guarding the Warriors emotional leader Draymond Green. The Mad Kicker is a player, make no mistake; he’s sorta Rick Mahorn with skills. But he also keys a team that has two fairly unemotional leading scorers.
James is very passionate, but also emotional. In Game 4, we think that he got emotional and that was part of the issue. It’s called “Hero ball” as well as ISO, and that’s a great term for it because the player says, “all you follow behind me, I’m going to get us over the hump.” Obviously it’s an admirable sentiment, however, if more than one person is voicing it, and perhaps leading in different directions we can probably agree chaos ensues.
Our spa-borne revelation was that at his best and arguably most emotional, LeBron is emotionless. He has that grim, “I don’t get to smile until this is over" look, and doesn’t celebrate after a basket because he’s not thinking about anything but the next possession. That’s what we’ll be looking for tonight.
For the Cavs, the key is discipline and focus. When they play “right” as Head Coach Tyronn Lue calls it, they make quick decisions. They are aggressive. They move and move the ball. They get up and down the court quickly, allowing more time to run the offense.
Then, ideally, if nothing develops, James or Irving can create something the final few seconds. Too often in the second half of Game 4, the Cavs skipped instructions A-E and went right to F (for #Fail).
We believe the team has learned from this lesson. We don’t generally believe you can get “psyched up” for an opponent or a game, but there are exceptions. We hope to see Cleveland channel their energy into relentless defense, pushing the pace and then be Chilly Willy when it comes to running the offense. We’re talking clinical precision, and enough movement to register on the Richter scale.
They will need it because we expect the Warriors to come out in support of Draymond the way the Cavaliers came out in support of Kevin Love for Game 3. They will play hard and the Wine and Gold must sustain their focus and intensity to hold them off. We believe the Cavs may even trail at halftime, but will win this in the third quarter and early fourth, holding off several Warrior runs.
Look for Kevin Love to be established early in the post, and for the Cavaliers to attack those doubles. The problem with the Warriors switching all their pick and rolls (which they won’t be able to do so much with potential replacement James Michael McAdoo instead of Green) is that it doesn’t leave great passing openings and so you have to attack them off the dribble. Love's doubles can open stuff up, tho' he's got to show his passing instead of foul drawing acumen.
The Warriors are so quick that if you don’t attack those switches quickly the defense gets set and it becomes even harder to drive. When guys are moving around and heads are turning there are many more opportunities to exploit a breakdown.
Similarly, the team needs to keep looking for backdoor cuts or open 3s off screen actions. The Warriors have been overplaying cuts to the three-line and in Game 3 some backcuts beat that. Also with them switching screens, things like slipping the screen (pretending to screen, then dashing toward basket as the defender steps out to other side of the screen to help defend the ballhandler), and backdooring pin-down screens can give the Cavs some needed easy buckets.
If the Cavaliers can dodge the Warriors early punches, they should be able to beat them in the fourth. That kind of emotional energy doesn’t usually last all game long, and missing their most vital ballhandler and creator, the Warriors will eventually start to feel that absence. We see the Cavs overcoming them in the second half if they survive the early haymakers.
We’d like to believe if they go back home for Game 6 that they will win, and indeed, an emotional Game 5 win should swing some momentum back for Game 6. However, Green’s return will also push the Warriors intensity into the red. We’ve seen the Cavaliers falter mentally/emotionally too many times not to fear that in Game 6. However, having lost the Finals last year in Game 6, we’re going to trust our feeling that they won’t let that happen again.
All series long we’ve suggested that the two teams would each win one away game leading into Game 7. If the Cavaliers get to Game 7, we believe they’ll win it, but that’s more wishful thinking than prediction. This series has changed in nature and tenor three times already in four games; we expect a couple more in-game swings at least.
Evidently only twice in the last three decades has a Finals team forced a Game 7 after going down 3-1. Does that just mean it’s unlikely, or that someone’s due? In 2004 when the Red Sox went down 3-0 to the Yankees, nobody had ever come back from that, and yet it happened.
There is no fate, only what happens on that floor. No matter how many times you flip that coin, the discrete odds are always the same. Even after 99 heads flips, your odds shouldn’t change (though we imagine the pit boss would be breathing down your neck.)
So there it is. If the stern, no-nonsense LeBron shows up in Game 5, put it in the black side of the ledger. If the Cavs can’t maintain their poise, put it in the red. We know who the Golden State Warriors are, because they keep reminding us, and their ESPN minions keep parroting it back to us. But we still don’t know who these Cavaliers are. They’ve got three games to show us.
We’ll be at Oracle Arena in five hours for the tip off. We’ll be posting video, analysis and snark. You can follow along on Twitter @CRS_1ne, and read out postgame analysis tomorrow morning here in the Scene and Heard Section, while we fly home for (*fingers crossed*) Game 6.
Smug on the water and fire in their eyes. Smug by the Bay Bridge, they’ll have a rude surprise. In the shadow of the Bridge, having passed over its impressive span the evening prior, as we watched the steam rise off the Jacuzzi, (on the patio of the Hilton Garden Inn Golden Gate Bridge Oakland, [/shameless pandering plug]), we had a pre-cog moment.