What a weirdly casual game. It's the FINALS, and yet at no point during Game 1 did I feel as tense as I felt every single second of the last five games of the Thunder series Games 3 on, or in every game of the entire 2015 Finals. After spending almost all of the last five Thunder games behind by many points with swarming OKC defense and every rebound a street fight, this game was just not in the same league. And that's okay with me. I don't think my nerves could have taken more OKC level drama tonight. It definitely felt like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had an emotional letdown, after having to be so transcendent against the Thunder for games in a row with doom hanging over every game.
The tensest moment tonight of course was when the Cavs took advantage of some very low intensity Warriors play in the third quarter and took the lead. Until the fateful hand of Matthew Dellavedova struck the family jewels of the Iguodala clan. By the way, what were Jeff van Gundy and Mark Jackson on about saying Andre deserved a technical? I think a guy gets a two second grace period when there is testy testes agony.
Anyway, there often isn't a lot to the sport narrative that X fired up the team and they played better. But in this case, pre-Nutcracker the W's looked, quite frankly, bored and entitled and clung to a 3 point lead. Right afterwards, they blew the game open and weren't seriously threatened after. Here's how it happened.
00:26.7. Iguodala 3pt Shot: Made (8 PTS) Assist: Livingston (1 AST). [GSW 74-68]
This is an absolutely gorgeous play. This is a fake Triple Loop play.
For some context, here is a real Triple Loop play. Watch Curry loop along the baseline and get three screens along the way. Also watch Houston defend it in a textbook way by having the defender of the last screen jump out to switch on to Curry. (The play goes on to have Curry hit Klay for a corner three off the Hammer action.)
Okay, got it? You defend this Triple Loop by switching the last defender to the looping Curry, right? Here is the play from last night. Watch Curry take the three screens and the third screen defender Kyrie Irving switch to Curry...
Whoops, the third screener was Andre Iguodala who gives Kyrie a pat on the back and takes off to the opposite wing instead of being the third screen. Kyrie dutifully switches to Curry, and Curry's original defender, Iman Shumpert needs to call out the switch and figure out where his new man Andre is. He is completely fooled and expects Andre to be setting the third screen. He does a cartoon turnaround, then as he approaches, he decides perhaps the Cavs want Andre to shoot the three after all, and he doesn't really contest. Andre punishes the Cavs with the sweet three.
(More details on the Triple Loop: One Play: 2 Spurs Recipes + Curry = Klay 3.)
00:09.9. Irving Step Back Jump shot: Missed / Curry Rebound (Off:1 Def:3)
I can't help throwing in a couple more plays during this bench run. As a Warriors fan, I would like the CLE play calling and rotations to be poor. I would love a cakewalk. But sometimes, it really offends my basketball sensibilities.
Here is the play right after the last play. It's still a 6 point game, and the Cavs need a good possession. Instead you get this.
Okay fans, if you had to rank the Warriors on the floor from easiest to hardest for Kyrie to go isolation on, who would you pick? My order: Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green. Maybe your order differs a little, but they should NOT be going out of the way to pick on Draymond. But the Cavs go out of their way to get Barnes off Kyrie and Draymond on him. Then Kyrie channels his inner Russell Westbrook and clanks a tough shot.
11:44. Iguodala Turnaround Jump Shot: Made (10 PTS) Assist: Livingston (2 AST) [GSW 76-68] / Irving Step Back Jump shot: Missed
We'll skip the first part of this play which is Andre hitting a jump shot right in Kyrie's face. Eight point lead, so you really need a good crisp possession before the game gets away. Instead, you get a bad prescreen-the-screener action (compare Explain One Play: Draymond Green wins the game) which gets Kyrie AGAIN isolating on purpose on Draymond. And this ensues:
Come on, Leandro Barbosa is on the floor, you HAVE to punish him at all times. Have his man screen and switch onto him. Poor choice of shot and it takes too long to set up. It gives time for the Dubs to load up their defense against Kyrie's drive. Look at the Warriors defense with every defender a step away from the paint. You can even see Shaun correcting Harrison's positioning so that he gets inside of Tristan Thompson to box him out (very nice job, HB... you had a good game today!).
11:11. Barbosa Pullup Jump shot: Made (9 PTS) Assist: Green (6 AST) [GSW 78-68]
Right off the rebound from the last play, the W's push ahead in early offense and this happens.
I call Leandro Barbosa the God of Chaos. With him on the court, weird plays happen, things get helter-skelter, his speed makes unusual events follow. Sometimes it's chaotic good, sometimes it's chaotic evil. Tonight, it was all chaotic good.
Here he runs down the wing in early offense. J.R. Smith is supposed to be guarding him but he lopes along at half-speed until he figures it out too late. Barbosa sheds J.R. with a pump fake, and then -- you can't have an LB play without some oddity -- instead of taking the corner 3, he gets a give and go to the wing for a long two, which I guess he prefers. Chaos. It works anyway.
And now it's a ten point lead and the Cavs don't ever really threaten again.
What the heck happened to the Cavs strategies?
Why didn't they play Channing Frye more? It's true that the W's were attacking his defense by driving at him and shooting over him. But he was actually the only Cav in the positive in non-garbage time, with a +4.
Why didn't Lebron screen more in pick and roll? He tried once and got an illegal screen. Then there were a couple more screens he set, but he immediately posted up afterwards. Good good. Just like Dwight Howard didn't want to be the world's best roll man, it's great that Lebron doesn't want to either.
You figure they will play better in Game 2. But so will Curry and Klay. In fact one oddity of the W's playcalling is the relative lack of high pick and rolls with Curry picking on Love and Frye. It felt like the W's wanted to explore other attacks, and then the bench went nuts so they didn't really have to go back to old reliable.
Guard your groins and see you for Game 2 on Sunday.