Good News, Bad News for Cleveland
Thursday night, the much-anticipated “Rematch” tipped off in Oakland. The Golden State Warriors took Game 1 of the NBA Finals at home, providing a glimpse of what this series might have in store as we look towards Game 2 on Sunday.
If you’re the Warriors, everything is on schedule. The entire team showed up, and besides a brief lapse in focus towards the end of the third quarter when the Cavaliers took a one-point lead, they were the better side all night long (especially the bench). And even though Steph Curry and Klay Thompson had historically bad nights, Golden State still won the game handily. How? By sharing the ball (+12 in assists, seven players in double figures) and playing focused defense (running clean switches, pressuring the ball and forcing 15 turnovers from Cleveland). What we saw Thursday night was a deep and talented basketball team taking advantage of their opponent’s mistakes while simultaneously limiting their own. A 21–4 run that spanned the final minutes of the third quarter and the opening few of the fourth proved to be the final push Golden State needed to seal the win, but they held the edge for most of the night as well.
At the same time, the Cavaliers deserve some of the blame. They made it too easy for the Warriors in moments and too hard for themselves in others. Their defense was riddled with mental mistakes and poor communication, turning their backs on cutting defenders and messing up help on Curry/Thompson screens- things you don’t want to do against one of the best passing teams in the NBA. On offense, the constant switching by Golden State lulled Cleveland into tempting mismatches that resulted in too many post-ups, iso’s and missed layups. The outcome was a rhythmless night for the entire Cavs team, and so when you consider how rare it is for Steph and Klay to vanish like they did Thursday night, that’s certainly a missed opportunity by the road team.
However, Game 1 was far from a death sentence for Cleveland. So as we look ahead to Game 2, what’s the prognosis for the Cavaliers? Like any team that faces falling down 0–2 on the road, there’s good news and bad news.
The Bad News
- We knew this going in, but the Cavaliers don’t match up well with the Warriors, especially their bench units. The length and versatility of Green, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes, Livingston and Barbosa is a lot to handle, and it puts the Cavs in a tough position. Play your starters more minutes and risk wearing them down, or roll the dice with slower Channing Frye (33-yrs old) or Richard Jefferson (35). On Thursday, only eight Cavs players played more than 10 minutes. In other words, their starting five of James / Love / Irving / Smith / Thompson played 80% of all minutes. Not only does that strategy hinder guys like Dellavedova, Frye and Jefferson from getting into a rhythm, it exaggerates the fresh legs of the Warriors reserves. Lue and the Cleveland coaching staff will need to get creative with their lineups if they want to avoid letting the game slip away when James is on the bench.
- Who among Cleveland’s supporting cast can provide offensive support when things stall? The lineup of Dellavedova / Smith / Shumpert / Thompson / Kyrie was what allowed the Warriors to bust it open in the third and fourth quarters. They looked awful. Before Love and LeBron were back out on the court, the Cavs’ offense was burdened by the fact that Irving was the only guy out there who could create his own offense, but it was exacerbated further by the fact the other Cavs hardly contributed in ball movement or hustle. Somebody on the Cavaliers will need to step up when two of the Big 3 are resting, but if Smith isn’t shooting and Thompson isn’t grabbing every offensive board, who will put up points against these Warriors?
- This last point is a given: don’t bet on Steph Curry and Klay Thompson being this silent again. They were off Thursday night, but they luckily didn’t have to force much either. The Cavs did a good job making it relatively tough for Curry and Thompson, denying them passes and easy spot-ups from screens, but great defense didn’t stop the two sharp shooters from going off against the Thunder. It’s no different with Cleveland.
The Good News
- Cold shooting and mental mistakes happen, but luckily for the Cavs they don’t (necessarily) last forever. The Cavaliers shot a combined 38.1 FG% and went 7/21 from three, and while credit is due for the Warriors’ defense, the Cavs missed a number of crucial gimmes and failed to connect on plays they normally convert. Despite the stretches of stagnant offense in Game 1, we know the Cavaliers can beat great defensive teams. Remember what they did to the Hawks in the second round? Don’t let one cold shooting night after seven days’ rest fool you.
- The Cavaliers’ role players were uncharacteristically out of whack, but they should bounce back quick. Take JR Smith, for example. Smith, in 36 minutes, had three points on 1/3 shooting, one rebound, one assist, one block, one TO and five fouls. After diving for a loose ball early in the game, JR suffered floor burn on the palm of his shooting hand and never looked the same for the rest of the contest. Especially late, the Cavaliers desperately needed the spacing and points from an even average Smith, who’s pacing 11.4 ppg in the 2016 playoffs. The upside to JR’s phantom Game 1 is the fact you know he’ll come out guns blazing in Game 2. That’s just who he is. Even if his shots don’t fall, the Cavs need him active on offense to help space the floor. And that goes for the rest of the Cavs’ role players- they really couldn’t be much worse than they were on Thursday. A bitter pill, but still- the only way to go is up, and that’s good news.
- LeBron James and Kevin Love could have had better games, but they brought the fight with them which is more than half the battle in a playoff series. Even better? Kyrie Irving looked hungry and aggressive for most of the night, and he was able to score and get to the line somewhat easily. It would be cause for worry if one or all of the Cavs’ Big 3 looked lost, but James, Love and Irving showed on Thursday they came to play. Yes, they will need to make adjustments, but there were moments of brilliance in Game 1 from their core guys, which is a good sign for Cleveland going forward.
In short, the good news for Cleveland is that their biggest problems from Game 1 are neither fatal nor permanent. Don’t forget they took the lead 68–67 with 2:12 minutes left in the third quarter before Golden State made their run. They were collectively flat on Thursday, but a sharper Cavaliers team might not let that game get away from them so easily. On the flip side, remember who they’re playing. The Golden State Warriors are the best team in basketball and were able to win big despite their two stars combining for their lowest point total in two years.
What do you think will happen in Game 2? Will Cleveland land a counterpunch, or will Golden State protect home court again? Download Sporting Vote, the #1 social app for sports news & opinions, and join the conversation. appstore.com/sportingvote