Furrowed brows and consternation will turn to joy and happiness after Steve Kerr and staff have a chance to survey the damage of the first two games of the NBA Finals.
First and foremost all the credit in the world needs to go to David Blatt and his staff for devising a game plan that has taken Steph Curry out of his comfort zone. As I wrote before the series started, the only way Cleveland can win this series is to make the game ugly and slow. They have done a masterful job of disrupting the Warriors rhythm by mucking the game up. Here is how they are doing it…..
Cleveland is suffocating Curry once he gets past the time line. This isn’t a soft double-team or a funnel to help side defense. This is a furious trap after the predictable high screen. Once they trap, they are being physical with Steph, pushing him to the sidelines. Steph is not handling this trap well because to be honest, no team has done it better this season than the Cavaliers against the Warriors. If Steph tries to dribble out of it there are three defenders there. The goal is simple, “get the ball out of Curry’s hands and make the other guys beat you.” Curry has been inconsistent in getting the ball to his other play-makers and this has hurt the overall continuity of the offense.
Curry needs to attack and be more decisive in getting rid of the ball after the high screen. Usually the screener is Draymond Green. Green has not handled this situation well at all. His hesitancy on whether to shoot or attack the lane exemplifies that dis-jointedness of the Warriors offense. Draymond is wide open…….WIDE OPEN. He never hesitated during the regular season. He can’t hesitate now. If the Cavaliers are going to trap as hard as they are, you need to confidently knock down the jumper if you are open, or attack the lane. Once you drive the ball to the middle, Cleveland has to help and when that help comes he can become the play-maker he has been all year. Dish it to Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes for the corner three or lob it to Andrew Bogut. What Green can’t do is hold the ball and try to figure it out. Cleveland is willing to give open looks to complementary pieces, the Dubs need to knock them down like they have all year. If the Warriors act decisively and swiftly off the high ball screen, they will have open shots. Cleveland’s defense will be jumping all over the place. Good ball movement will beat good defense every time. But, when you move the ball you must knock down the open shot.
I think Cleveland has played wonderfully in this series. The first two games have gone exactly according to plan for them. I could care less about all the missed shots for LeBron James. He is all the Cavaliers really have offensively. James had 11 assists in Game 2. The Cavaliers had 14 TOTAL assists. He is the best player in the world and is playing like it. The post presence of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson is problematic for the Warriors but certainly not something that is their death-knell. When the Dubs go small the Cavaliers can only stay big for so long before good ball movement will negate the size advantage and Blatt and staff will have to match the Warriors smaller line-up.
Cleveland can win this series if they continue to muck up the game. James continues being James. And if Matthew Dellavedova continues perpetrating his hex upon Steph Curry. I think it’s really simple. Cleveland is riding their super-star and the supporting cast is following his lead.
The Warriors win this series if they revert back to the ball movement that made them an 80-18 team entering these NBA Finals. Make Cleveland pay for the aggressive double-and-triple teams. Attack the lane, make Cleveland commit and move the ball. Remember, the Warriors had similar issues with Memphis but when they figured it out, it was game over. I fully expect film session to be valuable in righting the ship. I also expect David Lee to make appearance. Two of his better games over the last two years have been against Miami last year and Cleveland this year. Lee might be rusty but I think he can help if the offense becomes bogged down.
The Warriors have the best road record in the NBA at 33-15 including the playoffs. This series is not about James and his greatness. This series is about whether the Warriors are truly a championship team and are willing to make the adjustments that will lead to a title.