The Golden State Warriors took the first game of the NBA Finals in dominating fashion, but it’s not the time to overreact just yet.
Both fanbases can benefit from staying rational. It was clear that both teams were rusty, even though, on the surface, the Warriors looked like they could do no wrong. The truth is, outside of Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, no one had an enormous impact on offense. Combined, the two former MVPs shot 25-of-48 and accounted for 66 points. Draymond Green went 3-of-12; Klay Thompson was 3-of-16. Overall, Golden State shot 42.5 percent from the floor but was lucky enough to get up 106 shots. They had 31 assists on their 45 makes, and the Cavaliers have a handful of uncredited dimes.
Cleveland looked shook. I don’t know if it was rust, but they committed 20 turnovers which gave the Warriors 21 points. You can’t give that team easy buckets. It’s just not possible to do that and win. LeBron James played a spectacular game, but he helped shoot Cleveland in the foot with eight giveaways himself. The same goes for Kyrie Irving, who had four. Cleveland tried to play fast, and it didn’t work. While they can run up-and-down, they don’t have the personnel to do it for extended stretches. The easiest way to limit the giveaways is to play in the halfcourt and exploit matchups, specifically the switches on pick-and-roll.
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If Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee or David West are on the floor, James or Irving needs to call for a screen, get that switch and attack. They can also do employ that strategy on Green or Durant and hope they get in foul trouble, but I don’t know how likely that is.
I expect Cleveland to come around offensively. None of the Big Three shot lights-out: James went 9-of-20, Kevin Love was 4-of-13 and Irving was 10-of-22. They’ll be better, and that’ll get Tristan Thompson involved. In my preview, I wrote about how big of a key he is, and the Warriors did a phenomenal job keeping him off the glass. The NBA’s most ferocious rebounder only had four in 22 minutes, and he missed all three of his field goal attempts. Oddly enough, the Cavaliers still had an edge on the backboards because James had 15 and Love had quietest 21-rebound game in league history. (Also odd, Channing Frye didn’t play at all.)
Where my concern lies is on defense. Now, this is why it’s huge not to overreact. It’s just one game. The Cavaliers needed time to adjust to this juggernaut offense. Should they continue to play this poorly, then it’s time to overreact. Their defense has improved, but it’s nowhere near elite, and Cleveland still had more breakdowns than you’d like for a championship team. It all started with the transition. I elected to keep “defense” out of that sentence because it didn’t even resemble that. Honestly, it was a trainwreck watching Durant throw down uncontested dunks like he was in 2K’s practice mode. Golden State got 27 fast break points, and a lot of them were because the Cavs wanted to take away the three without stopping the ball. I’m not too sure why, but that’s an adjustment that needs to get made.
What’ll also help them on that end is making shots and not turning the ball over. And I apologize for sounding like a broken record. If the Warriors are forced to take the ball out of bounds, the transition opportunities are gone. That’s easier said than done, but Cleveland has enough firepower to go shot-for-shot with the Warriors, it’s just going to take them tweaking their offense. More ball movement is going to be necessary with isolations sprinkled in. The pick-and-roll can also substitute for the isolation, but passing is paramount. It keeps the defense rotating and doesn’t allow any chances to take plays off — if LeBron brings the ball up court and holds it for 17 seconds without doing anything, four Warriors can take a possession off.
Cleveland has a nice-sized list of things they need to work on. Golden State doesn’t. In fact, the Warriors only issue was the number of easy shots they missed. In the first half alone, they botched something like 15 layups. That’s a lot — if they make seven of them, it’s an extra 14 points, and this game is over at the intermission. They need to make easy shots. Additionally, I don’t know how much they can rely on Curry and Durant alone. With the way the rest of the team played, Cleveland could very well focus all of their energy on those two and force everyone else to beat them. However, if Green or Thompson come around, that strategy is going to have huge repercussions.
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The Warriors looked flawless on defense, and them looking anything, but that doesn’t worry me in the slightest. It’ll come to Mike Brown making the right decisions concerning matchups and personnel, but everyone from Curry to Patrick McCaw has no issue with playing aggressive defense.
We have a lot of series left. After last season, anything is possible. A lot is made of sample size when evaluating NBA teams and their players, and one game isn’t indicative of the entire series; if that were the case, James would be 1-6 in his previous Finals. The Cavaliers have to do more to put themselves in a position to win. Luckily, it’s nothing too over the top. Controlling the pace, limiting turnovers and making shots are the biggest things, but Durant and Curry aren’t going to roll over and let that happen.
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