Warriors Channel Sparta While Cavs Mimic Browns, Lose Badly

The Cavaliers’ lackluster showing against the Golden State Warriors in last night’s 132-98 loss was at least good news for beat writers, who mostly finished their stories by halftime. Who can blame them when garbage time begins in the second quarter?

We typically don’t start writing until we’ve heard postgame postmortems, so no early evening of work, but it’s still a good night because it’s high tide for hyperbolic imagery.

The Golden State Warriors reached into the Cavaliers’ chest, pulled out the still trembling heart, showed it to them, and proceed to turn it into a variety of balloon animals.

Golden State made like the vegematic, slicing, dicing and julienning Cleveland’s defense cleanly as a Ginsu, prancing and dancing over the cubed Cavs like cackling garden weasels.

The Cavaliers shat the bed and the Warriors grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and smeared their noses in it. Mutant Nightcrawler Draymond Green and his team of Evos shamed the Cavaliers worse than anything the fans, talk radio or even Blatt could have conceived.

They danced and clowned like Rocky’s Apollo Creed, while the Cavaliers proved stiff and lifeless as Rocky V’s Tommy Morrison.

In the postgame presser, Coach David Blatt accepted the blame for not having his team prepared to play the Warriors, which is like blaming Duff McKagan for Loser Illusion (or whatever that self-indulgent double-disc Guns N’ Posers turd was called): Uh, we’re pretty sure there are other responsible parties…

For Blatt the team just had “One of Those Nights.” (And not the kind where the wicked wind whispers and moans. More like belches and farts.)

“We could’ve played anybody and I don’t know that we would’ve had a vastly different result. Obviously their quality will make it that much worse,” Blatt said after the game. “There’s a lot of things that go into a day that’s bad. Having a day this bad is very unusual. I can’t deny that and won’t.

“They played the kind of game they wanted to play,” he continued. “They played our coverages well. They defended us extremely well. We didn’t find answers at either end. And again, I’ll take responsibility for that.”

Of course, trying to assign blame became about the only interesting thing about this game by the midpoint of the second quarter.
From the jump the Warriors were more engaged and shot to a 12-2 lead by making their first five shots. A mini Cavs run cut the lead to 15-11, but by the end of the first, it was 34-21.

It was 38-25 when the Warriors went on a 19-7 run over the next five minutes to push the lead to 25. It happened so quickly and with seemingly so little resistance that you could see the air go out of the Cavs.

By half it was a 26-point deficit and it wouldn’t ever get closer. The way the Cavs just sort of surrendered wasn’t surprising, given how many teams succumb to Golden State’s blitzkrieg attack, but it was very disappointing for anyone who might’ve thought LeBron James and Co. were made of stiffer stuff.

Sadly, the Cavaliers have shown inclinations toward frontrunner-ism, where they look sturdy as titanium when things are rolling and baskets falling, but tear like tissue paper when things don’t go their way. They hang their heads, fruitlessly bicker with the refs (rather than get back on defense) and lose the flow of the game in their stewing emotions.

“We were slow and we were late and we became frustrated when things weren’t going our way,” said Blatt. “I don’t know if it was the effort or if it was our inability to overcome our own frustration, part of that stemming from us just not executing and doing the things that we normally do, or being able to, against a team that really played us tough and hard and challenges us the way they did. We didn’t raise our level to that.”

In a certain sense, it’s not that the Cavs don’t care, it’s really that they care so much they can’t harness their emotions when things go bad. Because they’re so much better than the rest of the league, facing the Warriors or the Spurs is like the small town valedictorian startled by the size of the brains in her Ivy League pond.

We hope that level of intimidation isn’t present for this week’s games against lesser-but-still-top-drawer contenders, the Clippers (Thursday) or the Bulls (Saturday).

The Grim, The Sad & The Ugly

The course of this game was apparent from the very first Golden State possession. While the Cavaliers played poorly, there’s no doubt which is the better team. The silver lining is that GM David Griffin, Blatt and company are better off discovering the truth now than five months down the road in the playoffs.

The Warriors are simply a terrible matchup for the Cavaliers. They’re tough for any team but particular the Wine and Gold because they love to run 1-4 pick and rolls (employing the PG and PF). That’s deadly for the Cavs because they’re two worst defensive players are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. On the game’s first play they exploit the Cavs in a 1-5 screen and roll that leads to a Steph Curry (35 pts, 7-12 on 3s,  5 reb, 4 ast, 3 stl)  alley-oop to Andrew Bogut.
As you can see here, both Irving and Love wind up out of position, Kyrie is slow following Steph and by coming around sort atop Mozgov’s position (instead of below/behind him) he leaves an even wider opening. As he’s slow, Mozgov has no time to run back and raise his arms.

The Cavs were F’d almost from the start, which is amusing in a gallows humor sense; the Warriors punched the Cavs in the nose and basically dared them to stop them. They couldn’t and it broke their spirit.
The very next possession they ran a 1-4 pick-and-roll. Love gets screened by Bogut, putting him out of position to effectively challenge the Curry three from a couple feet beyond the line. They would run this play frequently all game to Love and Blatt’s undoubted dismay.
On this play Love and J.R. Smith trap Klay Thompson instead of having Love race back, but Warriors find the open man. Thompson hits rolling Draymond, who hits Andre Iguodala (20 pts, 4-5 on 3s, 5 ast) as Bogut backpicks LeBron, screening him from Iggy’s open corner 3. Not only did the slick passing Warriors have 33 assists on their 46 buckets, but they had 12 secondary assists as well. Draymond finished with 16 pts, 7 reb, 10 ast, and 2 blk.

“It started with Draymond,” James said after the game. “Draymond did a great job of attacking our scheme and putting pressure on our defense to assist, score or make plays, and obviously Steph hitting the shots that he hit.”
Late in the first the Cavaliers brought Mathew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson into the game to little avail. Here’s the same 1-4 PnR, and you can see the 4-on-3 dilemma caused by trapping Steph so far from the basket. Green drives and LeBron is loathe to pick him up, worried of the pass to the corner, taking away the passing lane. However when Tristan challenges him, Green just passes it to Festus Ezeli for the dunk.

When the Cavs missed – or worse, missed on a drive, the Warriors pushed the ball and attacked before they could get back and set on defense, notching a variety of transition scores. (The Warriors had outscored the Cavaliers in fastbreak points 12-2 by half.) It was probably a bit demoralizing to watch the Warriors make even contested jumpers.

Indeed, the Warriors finished the game 18-31 on contested jumpers (58%) and only 28-54 on uncontested jumpers (52%). And yes, it was a huge issue that 64% of Golden State’s looks were of the uncontested variety.

They did terrific feints, like this fake dribble handoff that Bogut turns into a QB draw leaving Mozgov – readying to defend Steph – flatfooted, forcing him to foul.
It seemed as though the Warriors had an answer for every Cavs coverage. They were ready for Cleveland’s schemes and beat them like Biff Tannen’s Back to the Future II bookie.

“Tactically we could’ve done things better or differently obviously,” Blatt said. “We didn’t do what we wanted to do and we did not raise the kind of fight that we normally to do. And I can’t make any excuse other than to tell you that.”

Offense? Offense? Bueller?

Not only did the Warriors have answers for the Cavaliers defense, but their offense as well. They were basically willing to live with ISO one-on-one drives, which they defended by loading the lane with defenders. Love was doubled when he received the ball in the post, and the Cavaliers did not move the ball (well) enough to take advantage.
Whenever Kyrie got the ball, the Warriors “loaded” the lane, much like a football team stacks the line. Note in the picture below that there are three weakside Warriors within a step of the paint circle? Just like with Love, clearing a side doesn’t seem to help the Cavs ball movement or people movement issues, but exacerbate them against a quick hands team like the Warriors.
The Warriors were daring anyone else to beat them. For a moment the Cavs challenged as Mozgov got six quick points early in the first, and J.R. Smith was 4 of 5 for 9 points, as the Warriors chased Smith off the three-point line but gave him the midrange stuff and drives, which he converted.

At halftime Love and Irving were a combined 2-12, while LeBron had 10 on 5-12 with three turnovers. Only Anderson Varejao (and the aforementioned J.R. Swish) matched the intensity the Warriors brought. Varejao had two first half buckets and had the only positive +/- on the Cavs at half (+1) in just over five minutes of play.

“They came in and just kicked our ass we have to call it plain what it was,” said Irving after the game. “We didn’t do the things we wanted to tonight. They took us out of a lot of our stuff but a lot of things that we can definitely fix and do better. It’s just a learning experience.”

Ultimately, the offense wasn’t the problem. Though there was a substantial amount of one-on-one play, for the most part the Cavaliers got decent first-half looks, going 19-41 (46%) with 9 assist and 7 turnovers.

The problem was allowing the Warriors to go 26-40 (65%) including 10-17 from beyond the boundary (59%). Curry had 21 at half on 8-10 shooting including 4-5 from deep. They assisted 18 of their 26 first-half hoops.

The Cavaliers would’ve had better luck stopping the Warriors if they’d bonked them on the head with a hexagonal red sign.

Refs, Fouls & Physicality

Irving claimed after the game that the physicality didn’t bother the Cavs, but that seems a half-truth at best. Perhaps the pure physicality of the Warriors play didn’t upset the Cavs, but the fact that the refs weren’t calling it sure did.

On several occasions the Warriors slapped at the hands of ballhandlers, enjoying more loose balls and not having the pay the cost for the fouls that came with them. (Love's hand was wrapped after the game from one such encounter.)

On one pick play, Steph wound up on LeBron, and was grabbing his forearm, preventing him from rolling to the basket. When LeBron disentangled himself and pulled his arm free/pushed Steph’s arm away, Steph fell and James drew an offensive foul.
“It’s just like in school,” James analogized after the game. “I didn’t tell the joke, but I laughed, so I got caught.”

Later, when LeBron finally drew a foul (his only free throws of the game) it came with a technical for bitching to the refs about it.

The team’s frustration bubbled over in the behavior of J.R. Smith who was ejected from the game for going into a Harrison Barnes pick with his shoulder down like Green were a blocking sled.
“He got very frustrated tonight with what was happening,” said Blatt. “[His ejection] does concern me. That’s not a situation he can allow himself to get into… What I do know with him is he is very competitive. He wants to do well; he wants to succeed, and at times his emotions get the better of him. That’s something I have to reconcile with him and together we have to figure out how to channel that in the right way even in the tough times like that.”

We're perhaps more sympathetic to Smith's actions than most. He wanted to be sure the Warriors felt him, when they'd not felt the Cavaliers all night. They've been having issues for a while getting foul calls on offense and we've reached the point where we'd like to see Blatt get some technicals (he has one on the season) as a way of demanding more respect from the refs. They certainly haven't been doing the Cavs many favors of late.

Final Analysis

A game like this is good for the complacency of Cavs talk radio. Suddenly there are trades to propose, coaches to fire, and don’t forget that favorite standby, complaining about the disappearance of Kevin Love (1-5 fg, 3 pts, 6 rebs, 2 ast, 1 blk) or the inadequate shoot-first skills of Kyrie Irving (3-11 fg, 8 pts, 3 ast).

There’s not enough time to talk about all the Love-bashing that goes on. He’s a defensive liability but he’s so good at the thing he does that teams will scheme to take it away. Like the high school quarterback, the Cavs typically have plenty of scoring options so they tend to be a bit fickle about getting him the ball in the post, and most teams want to frustrate him getting it because they know the Cavs will then go away from it, and they no longer will have to defend that.

We ask, who’s fault would that be? Blatt, ballhandlers Kyrie/LeBron, or Love? We’ll go buffet and take from all three. However we’re only mildly concerned.

This is a team that still needs to build chemistry and toughness together. There’s a reason while platoons go through basic training together. Shared hardship encourages shared sacrifice, but those bonds just aren’t there yet with this current squad.

“We got a long way to go. Tonight was an example of how far we got to go to get to a championship level,” James said. “I say this all the time: We are a young basketball team. We had some success last year but as far as experience we don’t have much together. We’ve got to continue to put it together.”

While it’s still early, and the Cavs were 19-20 at the same time last year, not 28-11 atop the Eastern Conference, that doesn’t mean there’s no cause for alarm. The way the Warriors and Spurs have beaten them suggests that though perhaps the third best team in the NBA, there aren’t anywhere close to playing at a high enough level. This after a great 5-1 road trip. So it’s a work in progress. Again or still.

But the way in which Green dominated the Cavs causes some deep concerns. It really looks like it will be difficult to keep Love on the floor when the Warriors go small because they will exploit him. Perhaps they can hide Love on Bogut, but as skilled as the Warriors are, we fear they will find Love wherever he’s hidden.

How the Cavaliers address this is an open question, but it’s worth remembering that this is the reason why Draymond Green is an allstar – because very few teams or players can slow him down, let alone stop him. Between his passing, court vision and size, he poses great issues that the Cavaliers would have trouble addressing. Good, quick defensive bigs don’t exactly grow on trees, and they’d be taking time from the guy you just paid over $100 million.

Should be a few sleepless nights in store for GM Griffin. He’ll be able to sympathize with the diehard fans.

The Cavs will be in Brooklyn to face the Nets on Wednesday. We’ll be watching along with you while posting analysis, snark and videos. You can follow us @CRS_1ne. You can read our postgame analysis on Thursday morning here on the Scene blog.
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