With Game 2 of the NBA Finals just a few hours away, we take a brief look at what’s at stake, and what Golden State and Cleveland will look to do in round two of their clash:
Game 1 was a heavyweight fight for the first half, with Cleveland and Golden State trading rounds and LeBron James doing his best impression of his performance last year in doing just about everything he could to keep pace with the Warriors. But then the wheels came off the wagon, and Golden State pulled away to a lead that it would never relinquish to take Game 1 by double figures.
It never really felt like the Cavaliers were close following the second quarter, even though they made a late push to make things competitive in the closing minutes.
For Cleveland, things just didn’t ever gel after a first half that saw them crank up a defense and intensity that they’ve yet to show in this season’s playoffs. It was one of the few positives for Cleveland to take in to game 1, as their length and athleticism confused and rattled Golden State. They honed in on Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, forcing the ‘Splash Brothers’ into their worst game so far in the postseason. Game 2 will be all about continuing that momentum, but with less of a do-or-die approach to the two shooters.
At times in Game 1, the Cavaliers seemed almost too set on making someone other than Klay and Curry beat them. All through the third quarter, the Warriors were getting easy looks as Thompson and Curry ran into double and triple teams. Shaun Livingston and the Golden State bench capitalized, and even Draymond Green was provided opportunities to find his shot. Stopping Thompson and Curry is important, but maybe a focus more on containment and less of death by a thousand cuts would be a better approach. The Warriors’ bench has won games for them in the past, so allowing them to beat you isn’t going to work either.
But more so than the defensive intensity, the play of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will decide this series. Irving and Love disappeared in Game 1, with both being totally absent on either end in any meaningful way. It was the LeBron James show in the opener, and with the other team having three certified superstars, playing with only one isn’t exactly conducive to winning – even if that star is LeBron James.
Irving was absolutely horrible on defense, even going so far as to be the Warriors focus on offense to attack him with whomever he was guarding. Love also did little to provide any rim support, allowing Green and Ezeli to get anything they wanted inside. Love at least provided some offensive punch, but nothing close to what is needed. If he’s the Chris Bosh of this Cleveland ‘Big Three’, they’re going to need much more out of him to have a chance tonight.
For Irving, his offense is going to have to at least wash out his subpar defense. And in Game 1, he scored 26, but took 22 shots to get there. Irving was far from efficient on offense, and leaving such a hole on both sides of the floor is inexcusable for a championship level team. This felt like a massive blown opportunity for Irving and the Cavs, with Curry having such a bad game and him responding with one of his worst as well. He’s going to have to improve drastically tonight.
On the defending champs’ side, the Warriors just simply need to let the team play in the ways that they have up until now. The Warriors have found countless ways to win in this postseason, and weathering the storm of both Curry and Thompson having bad games and managing a win is something that probably isn’t going to happen again.
Transition and pressure basketball is again going to be key, and the Warriors are going to need Draymond Green playing like he did in game 1 and probably a little better if more of a fight is given from Love tonight.
But the most important thing for the Warriors is just to keep trying what works. Steve Kerr has found the sweet spot between letting Thompson and Curry let it fly and using every man in his rotation that has made this team tough almost every minute it’s on the floor. Using the bench is a must for Golden State, and it’s stringing Cleveland up defensively.
Both teams are going to need big performances from their bench, and especially from the Cavs, who seem to be in a do or die situation already tonight.
I do think the Warriors are tough, but for some reason I can’t convince myself that a LeBron James team is going to go down 2-0. On the other hand, I can’t seem to find a way the Cavaliers have figured out their glaring matchup problems in just three days. Cleveland plays them tougher tonight, but Oracle Arena is not a place where you figure yourself out.
My Prediction: Golden State 98-92.
Going down 2-0 to the defending champs on the way back to Cleveland is not how LeBron and company can expect to take this series.
Let’s see if the King has something a little better up his sleeve tonight.