After two games in the 2017 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors lead the Cleveland Cavaliers 2-0. While these two teams were in the exact same win-loss standing after two games in last year’s finals, we can say with certainty that this is a different Warriors team.
How different? The Dubs are essentially the same 73-win club from last year, but without the vanishing Harrison Barnes and injury-prone Andrew Bogut; instead they upgraded with superstar forward Kevin Durant.
Thus, it’s fairly reasonable to say the Cavs are in trouble – unless they win two straight at home to make it a series. But how? Here are a few ideas on how the Cavs can beat the Warriors.
Outlet passes from Kevin Love
While the 2017 Warriors have good defense, they’re not as effective during the first 6 seconds of the shot clock, where they rank 11th in the NBA in opponents’ effective field goal % during the first 2 seconds of the clock, and 6th during the next 4 seconds.
To exploit this, the Cavs should use Kevin Love’s ability to make outlet passes after every defensive rebound. Fact: in his 60 regular season games this season, Love completed 24 outlet passes that traveled at least 50 feet, and he did it better than any NBA team in 82 games.
The Dubs are particularly vulnerable to these outlet passes because they take a lot of long shots, which mean their perimeter defenders are closer to their opponent’s basket.
Get Draymond Green into foul trouble
Draymond Green is the Warriors’ X-factor. He’s their main ball facilitator, whether in half-court sets or fastbreaks.
He’s also the Dubs’ best defender – he can defend all positions, and read an opponent’s offense and disrupt it. Green does this not by playing help defense; instead, he guards several players simultaneously and enables his team to switch on virtually every screen an opponent makes.
Despite being only 6’6″, Green is GSW’s best shot blocker as well, averaging 2 per game like a really good big man (except he isn’t, strictly speaking).
Without Green, the Warriors are vulnerable. Remember when he was suspended in game 5 of last year’s NBA Finals? Good luck making that happen again this year though.
To make Green less effective, the Cavs will have to get him into foul trouble by attacking him with Kyrie Irving and Lebron James iso plays at the start of the game.
Take note that while Green was in foul trouble (he had 5 fouls) in the last game, the Cavs still lost. It goes to show that this shouldn’t be the only trick up Cleveland’s sleeve – they’ll certainly need to do much more, and carry them out in tandem.
Get the Cavs bench involved
In game 2, Lebron’s supporting cast produced decent numbers. Love scored 27 and grabbed 7 boards. Irving scored 19 (which could be better; more on this later) and dished 7 assists. However, the Cavs bench must step up.
Consider: in game 2, J.R. Smith was scoreless in 14 minutes. Channing Frye had 2 points in 11 minutes. Deron Williams had 0 points and 3 assists in 14 minutes. Kyle Korver, a sharpshooter with a 45.1% career FG3% average, shot only 1/3.
Clearly, the Cavs need better production from its bench if they want to defend their title.
Lebron has to score at least 30
We’re not saying that Lebron’s stat line of 29 points, 11 boards, 14 dimes, 3 steals, and 1 block in game 2 is a poor showing. Far from it – he’s actually averaging a triple double in the finals!
But if the Cavs bench won’t deliver, Lebron must play out of his mind. Fun fact: in 5 of the 6 Cavs wins against the Dubs in the past two NBA finals, Lebron scored at least 30 points.
Lebron may have shot well in game 2 (12/18), but it would be better for him to take at least 30 shots all over the floor including beyond the arc, even if he doesn’t make them 66% of the time. No one can stop Lebron if he asserts himself more.
Yes, this may be a lot to ask Lebron especially with what he’s already doing in defense, but if he can score more his team’s chances of winning increases as well.
Take advantage of GSW stars resting
Durant averages 33.4 minutes in the playoffs, while Stephen Curry averages 34.3. To win, the Cavs have to maximize the 13-14 minutes when these two are on the bench.
During Durant/Curry’s rest, the Cavs can play their bench with Lebron, allowing him to hide while on the floor, and function as a defensive safety net.
Kyrie Irving must step up in the NBA Finals
Irving made his indelible mark in last year’s finals. In the Celtics series, he scored at least 20 and shot over 60% in four straight games against the Celtics’ elite defensive guard Avery Bradley.
While the Warriors have good team D, they don’t have a Bradley to stop Irving, which is why Kyrie must step up and do more even without the ball, as if it were the 2016 finals.
A more active, more prolific Irving opens up the floor for Lebron and the rest of the Cavaliers, and this will make the Warriors work harder on defense.
Take care of the ball on offense
In game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Cavs turned the ball over 20 times. While they were more careful in game 2 with 9 turnovers, Cleveland would have to be better in taking care of the ball on offense. This prevents the Warriors from making impossible-to-guard fast breaks.
At 14-0 in the postseason, the Golden State Warriors seem unbeatable. But remember: the Dubs were actually getting spanked in game 1 of the conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs, at least until Kawhi Leonard got injured in the 3rd quarter.
San Antonio capitalized on GSW’s sloppy passes, took and made shots from downtown, drove into the lane, and defended the Dubs at the 3-point line. If the Cavaliers follow a similar gameplan and still manage to carry out some of the things discussed here, then they just might make this series more interesting.