The most anticipated finals series in history. The rematch. We were expecting fireworks. And that’s exactly what we got. Funny thing about fireworks — they’re overrated, usually disappointing. Once the initial burst of excitement fades, there isn’t really much of anything going on.
After a relatively tight first quarter in Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals, the Warriors hit the accelerator and the competitive portion of the game came to a swift end. The victory was achieved with very little contention, and that should be of particular concern for the Cavaliers, as the Warriors didn’t put anything close their best foot forward.
That’s quite alarming when you lose by 22 points and are out of the game mid-way through the third quarter. Luckily, the series isn’t decided in one game (we’ve endured too mediocre of a playoffs for this) and with plenty of adjustments to make, we should expect a much tighter affair come Game 2.
The Cavs have to be more disciplined
All hopes pinned on areas Cleveland might be able to shorten the talent gap between the two disintegrated early in the series opener, the Cavs failing to abide by the most fundamental of laws when playing the Warriors — they were careless with the ball (20 turnovers), failed to dominate the glass (15-14 offensive rebounds) and tried to match the Warriors’ blistering pace by out-running them.
A 9-0 turnover difference in the second quarter (the only TO coming on an offensive foul) spearheaded the run that blew the game open. Overall, the +16 turnover differential was the largest in playoff history. The Warriors’ fast-break weaponry is well documented, and Cleveland’s turnover problem unleashed hell on themselves.
This team adding Durant is like bringing an assault rifle to a boxing match. Where the Warriors would usually have a weaker point in their offence, instead they have one of the best five individual scorers in league history. That has been known all year, but has never been more evident than in Game 1. Then again, even Harrison Barnes can make open dunks. Cleveland clearly hadn’t adjusted their strategy to the Durant addition; 38-8-8 should have them on notice.
Chasing shooters in transition led to too many open dunks, Durant headlining with 6 dunks in the first half. That kind of mindless play would burn them against any team, let alone the Warriors.
LeBron had double the amount of turnovers as the entire Warriors team. No surprise that it led to a massive difference in fast-break points, 27-9. Cleveland allowed the most transition points in the league this season (rank 30th) and the Warriors have the most potent fast break in the league. The Cavs aren’t going to reinvent themselves overnight. Instead, they simply have to take care of the ball.
Turn it over, as they did in Game 1, and this series is over. But don’t overreact — this was the fifth time all season the Cavs had 20 turnovers. More than likely, this is an outlier. Most occasions they were off bad possessions, not outstanding defence, meaning the Cavs can tighten the screws without changing too much. The unforced turnovers, whilst a problem, are much easier to fix then simply being overpowered.
On the defensive end, there were two obvious takeaways.
Firstly, the Cavs’ lack of defensive talent was exposed. Irving can’t navigate screens and comprises their structure every time he dies smashing into a pick. Kevin Love has no hope of guarding Durant or Curry on switches, and wasn’t much more successful chasing Draymond Green. Tristan Thompson is talented, but he is shutting down the Warriors’ lesser threat. He’s terrific on switches, but when Curry is feeling it, there isn’t much anyone can do. LeBron is in a similar predicament with Durant.
Then there are the role players. JR can play his role sticking to shooter — he was fantastic doing so in last year’s finals, but when asked to make decisions, he needs to be much, much better. Allowing Durant to have an in-game dunk competition against himself is unacceptable. Stop the basketball. Shumpert is talented and plays active D, but was caught out of position too many times, and offers next to nothing with the ball that threatens the Warriors.
The second, the effort was lacking. Maybe it was rust, maybe they were overwhelmed, but it needs to change. 22-6 on loose ball retention is a nice reflection of this lack of effort, and it filtered through their entire defence — 0 steals is maybe the most disappointing statistic of the game, and it goes without saying, this has to be higher. It was the foundation of defence that turned the game for GS, especially in the 13-0 run to start the third. Their paint defence was terrific — Durant, 4-11, Draymond, 1-7 and Zaza 3-9 contesting shots at the rim.
Both of these concerns are significantly reduced when the Cavs take care of the ball, and conversely are brought to the forefront when they don’t. Even then the Warriors didn’t play that well offensively — 5-22 on jumpers, 13-25 at the rim in the first half is pretty poor, especially when quite a few of the missed rim shots were simple lay-ins. This won’t continue, the Cavaliers need to take the easy shots away because they’ll start going in.
Cleveland have to attack in the pick and roll
Despite what the Cavs’ average offensive game might suggest, Golden State’s P&R defence wasn’t particularly strong. They knew it what was coming, and their early tactic was simple — Curry was showing hard to take away the early angle, then attempting to retreat to his man without giving away the switch. The Warriors know Curry can’t hold up defending James, that it’ll impact his production on both ends of the court whilst leading to easy buckets for James. The change in tactic seemed to push the Cavs away from where they wanted to operate, and after a few dud possessions, abandoned ship.
Funny thing is, the tactic wasn’t all that successful. It led to breakdowns on two different occasions, finishing with easy buckets, notably a wide-open LeBron dunk under the rim. GS do a fantastic job making all of LeBron’s looks hard (or deep threes) and can’t afford to give an inch. So much of their work on James is taking him out of his rhythm, every mistake like this lessens the discomfort.
After spamming that play early, the Cavs seldom went back to the pick&roll for the reminder of the competitive portion, definitely much less than they should. They need to stick by this set – not just with James, and not just at Curry. Anytime Zaza or McGee are in the game, they should be targeted, especially with Irving, who can be devastating in the mid-range, and unstoppable in the lane. This is the Cavs’ best source of offence, and forces the dubs to adjust their normal ‘switch-everything’ scheme. At the very least, it throws something that will Warriors have to defend, which sounds simplistic, but didn’t happen at any stage in Game 1.
*Game 2 of the NBA Finals tips off at 10.00am (AEST), Monday, June 5.