Playing the Golden State Warriors means making tough choices. Last night Tyronn Lue and the Cavs decided to leave Draymond Green open coming off of pick and rolls. It didn’t work out so well. Green played like an MVP, scoring 28 points on 11-for-20 shooting, including five 3s to go along with seven rebounds and five assists. Green led all scorers in the Warriors 110-77 win. We’ve been waiting for this kind of performance from Draymond for awhile now, and Cleveland basically rolled him the ball and said, “go for it.”
Kevin Love exited the game in the third quarter due to showing concussion like symptoms after taking an elbow to the head from Harrison Barnes late in the first half. Love was not having a particularly good night up to that point, his 2-for-7 shooting and lackluster defense was big part of Golden State’s big, second quarter run which swung the game from the Cavs having a six point lead to the Warriors going up by as much as 15 before the half. Love will be looked at by the league and a decision about his playing status will be made later today.
It’s not just Love that continues to struggle in this series, Kyrie Irving had another subpar game Sunday, shooting just 5-for-14, and generally looking lost against the Warriors defense. How many times in these Finals do you think LeBron must have thought about having Love traded in the offseason, a hundred? A thousand? How valuable would having another dependable wing that could play D and hit threes be for this Cleveland roster, especially given the way the league is moving. I’m not saying that Andrew Wiggins is definitely that guy, but he’s much closer to that guy than Kevin Love is. I’m not saying this series would be any different if you took out Kevin Love for almost any player in the NBA (except maybe Kawhi), I’m just wondering how the King is feeling right now about his decision to come back to Cleveland.
It is easy to forget just how dominate Golden State has been all year. The Thunder made this team look human because they had a roster full of seven footers who could cramp the Warriors open court style. The Cavaliers have been trying to combat the champs small ball style by playing small themselves, the problem being they do not have a team filled with utility players like the Warriors do. When Cleveland tries to switch every screen Golden State throws at them, their players eventually get lost in the shuffle, creating wide open threes for the deadliest shooting team the league has ever seen. This is not a recipe for success. The Warriors hit 15 of the 33 threes they attempted in game two, compared to just five threes for the Cavs. If you are going to play small against the Warriors you have to be able to maintain defensive integrity along the perimeter or you are going to get killed by the three ball. This is a lesson Cleveland is learning the hard way.
The right way for the Cavs to play this series is to drag out possessions on offense, pound the offensive glass, and try to keep the ball away from Steph, Klay and Dray as much as possible. This is the strategy that got Cleveland wins last year in the Finals, and as much as Tyronn Lue wants to play with pace and space, it’s what they are going to have to revert to if they want to stand any chance of a comeback this year. Cleveland does not really have the option of going big against the Warriors, Channing Frye may be a seven footer put he is not nearly quick enough to be effective defensively, and Timofey Mozgov has not seen the court a whole lot this year, to ask him to play starter minutes this far into the Finals seems kind of crazy.
This series is obviously not over yet, and there’s a very good chance that the Cavs could find a way to win both games at home. Role players tend to be a lot better at home than on the road, and the Cavs are going to need their bench to step up in a huge way if they want to even sniff a win from here on out. You can make an argument that Richard Jefferson was the best player on the court for Cleveland last night, his 12 points on six shots, with five rebounds, a block and a steal were incredible, but the rest of the Cavs bench scored just 18 points compared to the Warriors 33. If those numbers don’t get flipped when the series moves to Cleveland then we can all start making our summer plans now.
The Cavs are a team that tried to retrofit their roster and play style to match the champions. Against the weaker Eastern Conference teams this paid off in a big way, but now that they are walloped by their muse it’s time for some real soul searching. There is a reason why Draymond Green can play center even though he is barely 6-7”. The Warriors go small because their guards are all tall dudes with huge wingspans and incredible basketball IQ’s. Draymond Green is one of the smartest players in the league who has a nose for where the ball is going and can defend any position on the court. Oh yeah, and he can also run the teams offense and hit threes. The champs play small because they have a roster that is built to play that way, the Cavs are merely a decent forgery of a great work of art. It’s time for them to start playing ugly, slow the game down, and pray that LeBron has a couple of All Time great performances left. The Warriors are putting the finishing touches on one of the greatest seasons in the history of the game of basketball, and I’m not sure there is much the Cavaliers can do but stand by like the rest of us and enjoy the show.