Are the Cleveland Cavaliers in trouble?
Everybody that opposes Golden State is in trouble.
The Warriors are resilient. The defending champions have not been contained enough to lose 4 games, as the quest for a repeat continues on. Considering their style, the unlikely powerhouse has found a way to inject a video game strategy, successfully.
Simply put: they know their strengths, shoot open shots instead of committing turnovers, and they contest as many shots as they can. The keyword for the Dubs is trust. Meaning: to make that second extra pass to the open man, rotate like you should on defense, knowing that a teammate has your back.
The Cavaliers aren’t too shabby themselves, but they came into this series as the underdog for a reason. No, it’s not LeBron James. And no, I don’t believe that his record in the NBA Finals should decide his career, so I could care less if you do. If one player can win a title in a team game, then Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing would have the ultimate hardware. What? Those are all Hall of Famers.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are the keys to this series, for both teams. What Oklahoma City was able to do to go up 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals, is that they were able to switch on the screens and they bumped all cutters multiple times with multiple defenders. The Cavs must be physical with the cutters, mainly the Splash Bros.
Plus, why not double team the guard on a screen, we’ve seen them struggle with turnovers against length. A turnover at the top or the wing usually leads to a layup, dunk, or free throws on the other end. Since the Warriors are great on defense and they hustle back to minimize the easy fast break points, you have to find another way to get easy baskets. Some of those ways are points off turnovers and second chance points.
Kevin Durant wasn’t clutch in the majority of those 4th quarters, and Russell Westbrook had an off night in game 7. The Thunder didn’t turn over the ball much when they were winning, and they wiped the glass to capitalize on second chance points.
James is going to post near triple-double stats in this series. Remember last year? Without Irving and Love, James put up historical NBA Finals numbers and should have won Finals MVP. Oh, no? Jerry West, the logo of the league, a front office genius of the Lakers, Grizzlies, and now Warriors, was once a Lakers’ guard. The point? In a losing effort he won Finals MVP and is the only player to do so in league history. James should have been the second.
The Cavaliers entered this rematch with the top-rated offense in the postseason, even over the Dubs. You can say that they practically sleepwalked through the East. As for Golden State, however, their only challenging series came against OKC. So the numbers are as justified as they can be. Plus, this was the favorite matchup to see in June and here we are in back-to-back years.
As irritating as it may be for non-Warriors supporters to watch Shaun Livingston and Mo Speights score in bunches at Oracle Arena, that’s just how it goes the majority of the time when elite teams play at home. The Warriors got half the points from the Splash Brothers as they usually score, but their bench dropped an astronomical 45 points in game 1’s convincing victory.
The Cavs have to be better in every way. Their shooting has to be better for one. Also, the other guys are going to have to take and make their open looks. They’ve done it all season long, and they will continue to get good looks since the Warriors will send a double team at James and Love in the post. Irving has to play like an All-Star in this series. He has to show that he has the stamina to play great on both ends, defend an elite guard, while staying aggressive and looking to create with the ball. Westbrook did the best job of that up to this point.
I know that in the previous series, Westbrook would screen on the ball to get Curry to switch onto a bigger player like Durant. The Cavs can attempt to attack him in a similar way, but I would build off of that and add a twist to that strategy, whether it’s Irving or J.R. Smith being guarded by Curry.
I would have them setting back screens away from the ball, moving from the block to set the screen at the mid-range elbow or wing area. Curry’s help defender will have to hedge, at the very least, to take away a clean 3-point look if a Cavs guard were to screen and then pop out. That’s actually the last option from the back screen, though. The goal is to throw a lob into the paint to a bigger player for a close shot, layup, or dunk. The next step in the process is to have the player post up. Golden State would give up the basket, or be forced to double, which would lead to a skip pass for an open shot on the weak side.
The man with the ball at the top should be James. He is the best passer on the floor, patient, and sees the play before it happens. He can attack the middle while this movement is going on. If Irving is setting this back screen for Love, we should see a dozen clean looks from this simple play.
1. Love should get an open layup or a dunk.
2. Love should also get the ball in the post for a hook or fade away.
3. Love anticipates the double team to make a quick pass to say, Tristan Thompson, who will have a layup or a dunk after setting up in the short corner.
4. Love will have a cross-court pass opportunity to Smith on the other wing.
5. Love can hit James for the open 3, or slashing from the top to the rim.
6. Irving will have either an open 3 or a pull-up opportunity.
7. Irving will also have the step on whoever switches out to attack the paint for a floater, or Curry if he tries to fight through.
8. If the weak-side defender steps up on Irving’s drive, he can then drop it off to Thompson underneath.
9. Irving can drive and kick it out to the other wing.
10. Irving can run a pick & roll with James.
11. James can use the movement as a distraction to the help defense and attack his man to the middle of the key.
12. James can attack and when the help steps up Thompson should be on the receiving end of a lob.
To create even more movement on offense, as opposed to the stagnant isolations, Cleveland can be running this on the other side at the same time. If that were the case, I would definitely have James at point because he is taller and has better vision than a smaller player like Irving. And of course, one man can’t stop the King 1 on 1 while his help is occupied with screens.
If they take OKC and Billy Donovan’s blueprint and expand on it on both ends, they won’t necessarily have to watch the Dubs celebrate again.