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Monday, June 6, 2016

Cavs Choose Hardest Adventure Going Down 2-0 to Warriors

Posted By on Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 7:02 AM

click to enlarge "Cavs Got Oopsed Upside The Head All Night."
  • "Cavs Got Oopsed Upside The Head All Night."
The Cavaliers didn’t just soil the sheets last night at the Oracle Center, they sharted reveille. Scrutinizing the outcome like one would a Rorschach test is probably more revelatory about you than the Cavs, who seemed pretty familiar for 96 games before pulling a D.B. Cooper the last two.

It’s one of the more surprising facts you discover as you grow older – people’s private lives and peccadilloes are far stranger than you would ever have imagined or given them credit for. Similarly, the first two Finals games in Golden State produced a dramatic sense of – just how well do we know these guys, and what’s this gimp costume doing in their closet?

Any time Stephen A. Smith starts to look like Nostradamus, there’s a tendency to track the sky for asteroids and pay special attention to seismological data. (Especially while in California.)

The Sports Journalists Bandwagon™ trailing the Golden State Warriors had already begun its transformation from Deadhead Pilgrimage into Burning Man before the playoffs. These self-congratulatory movable feasts frequently turn into the Donner Party, so we weren’t too concerned; we were kind of excited, like when Martin Shkreli thought he’d step to Ghostface Killah.

But Shkreli’s still smirking like a hedge fund Stephen Curry, and last night Draymond Green turned into Mean Joe Greene, throwing his stinky jersey in the face of the grade school Cavs. All around there's a rising stink of desperation like warm colitas or Adam Sandler’s career.

Last year’s Blatt-Coached, Kyrie & Love-Less Cavaliers looked more capable than the team that took the court to start the series this week. They’re strangers to us like the decade-long mate who mistakenly left a phone (see, burner) you’d never seen before in the pocket of some dirty clothes.

Everything you once believed may be a lie. Nothing means anything. You might as well become a lawyer.

What kind of story you want to read into these two pitiful performances is about what you believe, and may or may not resemble the-thing-in-itself. The argument is that since nobody can agree what the thing-in-itself is (see first, reality, then Emmanuel Kant), we should assume it’s as formless as Schrodinger’s Cat, a projection that we call into being merely by looking for it.

So in the tradition of Choose Your Adventure, we’ve got several temperatures of takes, so you don’t have to go to some strange bloviator for your special fix.

The Lukewarm Take: It’s Just Two Games, aka Coach’s Blarney

Last year, the series was knotted at two apiece going into Game 5 in Golden State. Hold court, just as the Raptors did against the Cavaliers, and they return to Oakland even. Win all your home games and then it’s an anything goes Game 7. Sure, there are only three teams that have come back to win the NBA Finals after going down 2-0. Out of 31.

“It’s 2-0, so we did our job,” said Steve Kerr. “We won our two home games and yeah, there is obviously a long way to go, so we’re not celebrating.”

Before the Wade-led Heat overcame the Mavericks in 2005-2006, there were only two, and if the Cavaliers did so, then there would be only four. The chances of the Warriors advancing to the Finals were down to 3% at one point. So long as the wheel is still spinning, anything is possible.

We personally remember VIVIDLY watching the National and New Pornographers play a killer show at the Cat’s Cradle while the Red Sox were getting whipped like Kunta Kinte by the Yankees 19-8. It was over. They were down 3-0. Nobody had ever come back from that, least of the Boston Red Sox who hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years.

But as John Blutarsky famously intoned in Animal House: “What's this lying around Shit? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”

We’re surrounded by things that have never occurred before. Meanwhile the unimaginative media is going to try to sell you the exact same thing it sold you last year. They’re creative like that. There’s never been anyone like Muhammad Ali. Or Prince. Even the most snake-bitten person gets a lucky break now and then.

Who’s to say this isn’t the day the sun finally, improbably, shines on Cleveland’s ass? But that’s the operant word – improbable. The Cavs are fighting the odds. That’s the way it goes when nothing is given.

click to enlarge "Draymond's Iron Elbow? Meet J.R. Smith's jaw."
  • "Draymond's Iron Elbow? Meet J.R. Smith's jaw."
The Refs made sure of that allowing a couple brutal elbows without batting a lash. Having Scott Foster out there (who the Thunder objected to) in addition to Tony Brothers adds a ball and chain to an already difficult task. If the NBA does its job right, the Cavs will have a couple refs leaning their way the next two games. Hell, maybe the NBA will even take the kid gloves off with regards to Draymond Green’s cage-match physicality and notorious moving screens. (Right, and maybe we’ll see world peace.)

But make no mistake. The Cavaliers didn’t lose that game because of the referees. They were just another item on a long list. But the Raptors looked just as bad and critics had them just as buried. Ah, remember when Coach Tyronn Lue had won 10 playoff games in a row and was primed for sainthood? Now some would have him looking for a job.

Of course, since that 10-game streak, the Cavs have lost four of five on the road. The competition’s gotten tougher, but the Cavaliers haven’t risen to the challenge. Yet. History is only destiny for those constantly looking backwards. Those with seats facing forward are better situated to see how things turn. But even with your head up, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

The Cavaliers have played some great basketball this postseason, but they haven’t found the right mindset quite yet.

“They want it more than we do right now, that’s about it. The way they’ve been playing, offensively, defensively, they’re beating us on every side. We just have to figure it out,” said J.R. Smith. “They just played harder, more physical. Whenever we make a run they stay the course, and whenever they make a run we get erratic a little bit. They’re just a better team right now.”

The Warriors have been good at home for a while. They’ll have a tougher time in Cleveland, and another thing to keep an eye on – only one day between Games 3 and 4, leaving little time to make adjustments if the Cavaliers can put Golden State on its heels. It’s still relevant that of the last seven teams to face-off in consecutive Finals, all but one won the rubber match. (The only team to fail twice was the Jazz versus the Bulls.)

Hot Take: Cavaliers Being Outplayed In Every Facet, How will that change?

At this point, believing the Cavaliers are capable of beating the Warriors is closer to Blind Faith than Ginger Baker. They’ve lost their last seven games to the Warriors, even though the Cavaliers have gotten healthier every time they’ve played (prior to Harrison Barnes driving his elbow like a McLaren P1 over the speed bump that is Kevin Love’s head).

Now with Love facing concussion protocols, he may not even play. Richard Jefferson stepped in well, and proved significantly less of a defensive liability. However it’s hard to be sure since the Warriors found egress in other directions so easily, they needn’t try to exploit R.J. Love was getting exploited in the pick-and-roll at times, especially during the stretch in the second when the Warriors turned into a gas fire at a munitions plant. Everyone was going off.
click to enlarge kevin_love_dfg_ply.png
What few might have realized is that Love’s played pretty passable defense. No longer is there any room to question his effort. Indeed, until the Warriors sapped the Cavs will during an unstoppable 20-2 run, the Cavs effort was good and they’d battled to a 28-22 lead with two gone in the second.

Over the next five minutes, it was like Blazing Saddles’ beans night campfire extravaganza, the Cavaliers went 1-8 and committed four turnovers. The Warriors were 8-11 with 7 assists, three triples and just one turnover. Green had nine of the 20 points, and Klay Thompson had five. Curry wasn’t even on the floor for two of those minutes (nor in the runaway in the third, after picking up his fourth foul), another reason for serious doubt in the Cavs’ capabilities.

The run began with the Cavs up six, as LeBron notes, with one of his seven turnovers. “I turned the ball over, Draymond got it and was able to hit I think Livingston for a dunk. And then we had another turnover and Klay hit a three and that kind of slowed us,” James said. “Even though we were still getting back in the game, it slowed us down from that point on.”

It’d be nice if humbling the Cavs had some potential to make them play better, but even when they played well in the first quarter, it was the defense, not the offense. They shot 35% from the field, 22% from 3, they were outrebounded by 12, 46-34 (though some of that is sheer volume of misses), and 18 turnovers for 26 points. On Thursday that was 17 turnovers for 25 points.

Where Coach Tyronn Lue talked about not bringing the ball in low where it can be swiped away, that didn’t seem to matter as LeBron tended to bring the ball in high, but the Warriors slapped at the ball incessantly without seeming to get any fouls called. LeBron went to the line just twice making four free throws. He had seven turnovers to go with nine assists, four steals, a block and 19 points on 17 shots.

“Obviously not much is working, especially offensively… I had a lot of uncharacteristic unforced turnovers which resulted in those guys getting 26 points of turnovers,” James said. “We have to figure out how we can help one another. We have to figure out how we can get more guys involved. 15 assists it’s not winning basketball, especially versus this team.”

The “funny” thing is that the Warriors made more turnovers (21) but the Cavs turned them into less points. Talk about a recipe for disaster.

“We have to take care of the basketball, not t urn the ball over, especially in transition when you have a chance to convert and get easy baskets,” said Lue. “We have to take advantage of that, especially against a team that has a great half court defensive team.”

The issue was that Warriors small lineup, which the Cavs had trouble matching. Lue didn’t sound like he had any more answers than it looked like he had on the court. Maybe in addition to calling and talking to Doc Rivers (as he admitted after Game 1), he can give Phil Jackson a call. After that, maybe Tony Stark?

The postgame features a couple very interesting comments that highlight how different teams matchup up differently.

“OKC with their length and athleticism bothered us in a different way than Cleveland where they have some length but not as much length as OKC,” said Draymond Green.

“Cleveland doesn't have the same length as Oklahoma, so that might be the one thing that OKC really bothered us with. At the same time they're still a better three-point shooting team,” said Klay Thompson. “We've just done such a great job trying to take that part of the game away from them…. Our rim protection and perimeter defenders have been so great. We have so many like-sized guys on the perimeter, we're able to switch and make them beat us one-on-one.”

This is a significant issue. The Cavaliers don’t have the length to bother the long wings of the Warriors. Their wings are also much more physical than the Cavs. Over the last two games their guards have been spending more and more time hitting the boards. It allows them to get out on the break and has challenged the Cavs rebounding “strength” turning it into a draw at best.

Further because they’re athletically versatile enough to switch all the pick-and-roll and screen action, there is little the Cavaliers can do to get guys open, because they aren’t. But the Cavs haven’t (1) demonstrated the ability to make them pay for the mismatches by beating them to the hole with quick decisive moves and (2) willing passing (see, Kyrie) to open up three shooters on the penetration.

The Warriors have noted the Cavs’ preferred passing lanes and are cutting them off, forcing them into different stuff and stalling the ball movement. While the Cavs have tried to beat the Golden State’s smaller lineups by taking them in the post, their small lineups are just much more physical and athletic than the Cavs small lineups. This too is a problem. A big one.

“When they went to the small lineup (see, Death), their small lineup was a lot faster than what ours was. Being faster and longer and athletic gave us some trouble. It gave us some problems,” Lue said. “I thought we came out with the right intentions. We had a chance to make some plays in transition. We turned the ball over, fumbled the ball, didn’t convert when we needed to convert.”

That small lineup was the one that launched the 20-2 run. It actually began with Channing Frye on the floor, and included him completely losing Harrison Barnes on a back cut. But we are with a lot of observers in wondering if Frye couldn’t be a better answer than Tristan Thompson at center. Frye’s only played 11 minutes – less than Mozgov, somehow. He’s the only Cavs with a positive net rating so far.

The other issue is Draymond Green. The Cavs helped off Green giving him open shots, and he sank them. While the Cavs did a good job of cutting off water to the role players who did so well in Game 1, holding Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston to 6-15 through three quarters. But Green’s 28 in three quarters paced the Warriors, nearly equally the 32 from Thompson and Curry.

“I thought we had a great first quarter, but they were still making the tougher layers. I thought they got to tall the 50-50 balls, they were tougher than us and more aggressive,” said Lue. “Holding them to 19 points in the first quarter was really good for us, but I just thought over the course of the night they just continued to make the tougher plays.”

Hottest Take: Let Me Kick’em a Few Times Before You Throw the Dirt On’em

Picking out the highlights from the first two Cavs games is like picking out the best global German moments during the first half of the 20th century. We’re sure it’s possible and we’re equally sure we could find a better way to spend three minutes.

Let’s be frank (and let Frank be whoever s/he wants), the Cavs have demonstrated a nasty penchant to completely and utterly lose their shit without warning or any visible precedence, collapsing like a tote umbrella to inferior teams. Now they’re facing a team that will exploit any opening, and they just aren’t tough enough to maintain their discipline and intensity for 48 minutes. Nobody’s ever asked them to. (Ask being a relative/qualitative term; i.e., we’re pretty sure ex-Coach David Blatt “asked”.)

As a result, they’re having difficulty with the concept.

“Defensively we’ve been good at times and then at times we just looked like, okay, we’re a step slow. We messed up on the coverage. We don’t get back or we’re just one step behind where we should be,” says LeBron. “We should be closer to our man. When you’re behind these guys they make you pay every time.”

LeBron knows whence he speaks.

“We can’t have as many mental lapses,” James said. “More on the physical, it’s a lot of mental as well. These guys put you in so many mental positions where you have to figure it out, and they make you pay for it when you don’t.”

This calls attention to something else troubling. It looks at times on defense that they are thinking more than playing. That’s why they’re a step slow. Rather than rushing to the ball and acting more instinctually, the team seemed to be preoccupied at times just losing track.

Like the team, Tristan Thompson’s returned to Riddler status. He’s a force on the boards…. but he can’t shoot well enough to score, so the Cavs are always back into inefficient halfcourt sets. Those sets are even worse because whenever Thompson’s in there, his man drops into the middle of the lane.
It’s a sort of zone defense that the Cavs – with some difficulty – finally turned into points, but the situation begs the question? How much is it worth it? He’s the team’s best defensive player, so his loss is felt on defense particularly, but his offensive limitations seem to weigh especially hard on the Cavs, who haven’t been able to take advantage and seem to spend most sets against the Warriors with Thompson on the floor playing 4 on 5. That’s critically tough against a team as defensively solid as the Warriors.

We felt like Kyrie was doing a better job on both ends of the court early, but when LeBron started to take over in the second and third quarters, he started to lose the thread at both ends. Right now those two co-exist mostly like a divorced couple still living together because they can’t afford to sell the house or move.

There was more movement off the ball, but the passes were late or non-existent. The post game of Love and James just seemed to eat time and limit the team’s shooting rhythm. This is the tradeoff and the difficulty of always pushing the ball up. It’s weird people think Lue wants to run – he just wants to get into the offense quickly so they can run a couple actions and everyone can touch the ball and feel involved.

Well nobody’s touching the ball, the offense is running like a Pinto, and the team’s making twice as many turnovers as they did against the Raptors. What’s not to love?

“You have to show that you’re extremely mentally tough. The game isn’t always going to go your way. We’re not going to always make shots, so we just have to grind and figure it out,” said J.R. Smith.

Or Not.

Final Analysis

The Cavaliers got beaten so badly in so many facets of the game, there’s really not much to talk about or analyze. The ability of the Warriors to switch pick-and-rolls and pin-down screens has limited the space for three-point shooters. Their speed getting back to shooters has taken away the three-ball and the Cavaliers don’t have guys who can effectively attack the close-out besides Richard Jefferson.

The fact that the Warriors out-physicaled and outhustled the Cavs made them look like the complacent one, and Golden State like the hungry underdog. Sometimes it’s like the Cavs don’t realize the difficulty of the task and are constantly looking at each other like, “This ain’t Atlanta, amirite?”

We felt confident we’d see the Cavaliers play the whole game like they did the first quarter, but Kerr changed his rotations to match the Cavs Frye lineup with a Draymond-led small ball lineup and Lue has not found an answer. That’s worrisome, because he sounded as flummoxed as anyone.

We are shaken by the kind of performances we’ve seen, but at the same time, you dance with the girl you married. This team has played big at times and shown great character and poise. We just haven’t seen any of that lately, but there’s no reason it can’t happen. Oracle is a tough place to play and the Warriors are an even more cohesive team after another year and a record-breaking season. The Cavaliers were well-below the challenge.

We’d like to think the Warriors might enter overconfident, but we don’t think that’s going to happen judging from what we’ve seen so far. If the Cavs want it, they’ll need to take it. They haven’t looked hungry enough or tough enough to take it from Urkel, and right now, Golden State looks like Power Rangers.

We’ll be at the Q on Wednesday for Game 3, posting live video, analysis and snark. You can follow along on Twitter @CRS_1ne and you can read our postgame analysis here in the Scene & Heard section Thursday morning.

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