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Preview: 2017 NBA Finals Game 2, Warriors host the Cavaliers

After Golden State exposed Cleveland’s permeable defense in Game 1, how will the Cavs respond? Expect a more physical game tonight and perhaps a little more emphasis on interior defense from Cleveland.

NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green and Kevin Durant aim to set the NBA Finals high-five record.
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

What: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors, Game 2 of the NBA Finals

Series Status: Warriors lead the series 1-0

Where: Oracle Arena — Oakland, CA

When: Sunday, June 4th, 5PM PST


After the shellacking the Warriors put on the Cavs in the second half of game 1, everyone is expecting Cleveland to try something, anything, different in Game 2. It sure looked as though Golden State was the better prepared team on Thursday, while Cleveland looked as though its playbook hadn’t changed since 2016.

Same old playbook for Cleveland

Were the Cavs unaware that the Warriors made some critical changes to their roster since 2016? Someone should have pointed out to Cleveland that Kevin Durant replaced Harrison Barnes in Golden State’s lineup. It was a pretty big deal this season.

Durant scored on a whopping six dunks in the first half alone in Game 1 on the way to scoring 38 points in the game. That’s crazy. How did Durant get that open?

The Cavs were so worried about Golden State’s three-point shooters that they neglected to guard anyone, particularly Durant, driving to the basket. JR Smith took that strategy to an ill-advised extreme. The Cavs can’t expect to win with such poor communication and execution on defense.

Looking back to 2016, Harrison Barnes shot poorly in the Finals and struggled on drives to the basket. So the Cavs justifiably left Barnes open and focused on defending everyone else.

Perhaps the Cavs simply stuck with the strategy that worked for them last year and hoped it would still work with Durant in the lineup, but the way it played out in Game 1 was disastrous. They need a better answer for Durant, which, of course, is no easy feat.

The Cavs also seemed unprepared for the effective work of the Warriors’ new set of centers, who limited Tristan Thompson from collecting rebounds at the rate he did in the past. Thompson played a majority of the minutes in games Cleveland won in the Finals last year, tallying double-digit rebounds in three of the four Cleveland wins. But in Game 1 this year, Thompson was limited to four rebounds in 22 minutes.

Yes, some of this drop off in Thompson’s performance is likely the Kardashian curse, but credit is also due to Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee being strong and nimble enough to box out Thompson. With Thompson pulled from the game after being neutralized by the Warriors’ new centers, the Warriors enjoyed playing faster, smaller lineups.

If Thompson isn’t pulling down rebounds, that means LeBron James has to stay near the rim on defense to get rebounds instead of running the other way to start fast breaks. We’ve seen what James does on fast breaks – he’s devastating.

To ignite those breaks, can the Cavs find a way to make Thompson more effective on the glass? It’s too late to deal with the Kardashian curse; they’ll need to find a strategy to deal with the Warriors’ new centers.

The Splash Brothers’ defense is causing Cleveland problems

So some of Cleveland’s game planning appeared to be outdated from last year, but there were other decisions that backfired as well.

For one, challenging Klay Thompson on defense is a terrible idea. On the Cavaliers’ first possession in Game 1, Kevin Love went at Thompson one-on-one, assuming that he had an advantage over Thompson, and got absolutely nothing from it. Airball.

Thompson proceeded to shut down whoever he guarded for the remainder of the game. The Mercury News compiled a list of Klay Thompson’s defensive brilliance here.

The Cavs will either need to do a better job of screening to get players free from Thompson or just avoid going at the man. And if Thompson is going to bottle up Kyrie, that puts an even greater onus on LeBron James to score.

But in order for James to step up his scoring, the Cavs also need to find an effective counter for the new way Curry handles Cleveland’s pick and roll. Our own Eric Apricot’s description of Curry’s technique is really solid, explaining how the Warriors contain James long enough to avoid leaving Curry alone to defend James, which is exactly what the Cavs intend to do with the pick and roll.

Ron Adams, the Warriors’ Assistant Coach and defense guru, did his homework during the offseason, folks. Apricot wisely suggests that the outcome of the series could hinge on Cleveland’s response to Ron Adams’ genius. We’ll see tonight if Tyronn Lue read about the potential counters to this technique in Apricot’s article.

How should the Warriors prepare for Game 2?

Enough about the Cavs and everything they need to sort out. How about the Warriors?

The good news is that the Warriors didn’t play a great game in Game 1 and still won by 22 points. The bad news is, Cleveland didn’t play well either and we should expect them to push the Warriors harder tonight.

The first improvement we should see from Warriors is more confidence coming out of the gate tonight. The first quarter was a struggle as Pachulia was reluctant to attempt layups and other Warriors simply missed them. If the Cavs continue to leave the paint open, the Warriors should improve their shooting percentage close to the basket.

And speaking of improving shooting percentages, Klay Thompson is due to break out of this shooting funk. He made just 3 of 16 shots on Thursday and the Warriors still won in a blowout! If he gets back to normal, that’s a great sign for the Warriors. No strategy needed here – just hope that Klay gets back to being Klay.

At the same time, if we expect that Thompson will get back to his normal shooting percentage, we should also expect that the Warriors will slide back to their normal number of turnovers. The Warriors tied the NBA Finals record for fewest turnovers (four) in Game 1. They’ll win every game in a landslide if they only turn the ball over four times each game. Unfortunately, we can’t count on that happening.

Cleveland attributed the low number of Golden State turnovers to a lack of physical play from the Cavs. As a result, Cleveland is going to risk picking up more fouls tonight with the hope of disrupting Golden State’s offense with more physical contact.

Ideally, the Warriors will use the Cavs’ aggression against them by either drawing more fouls or by making more back cuts to the rim for layups. This could work to Klay Thompson’s advantage, in particular. And once he gets some easy buckets on layups, he may get his outside shooting game revving.

The best facilitator on those cuts to the basket is Draymond Green. With that in mind, it will be important for him to avoid foul trouble like he had in the first quarter of Game 1. Something tells me that the game would have been out of hand a bit earlier had Green played his normal allotment of minutes in that first quarter.

Will Kerr return?

We’ve seen rumors that Head Coach Steve Kerr could return to the bench tonight for the Warriors. It’ll be great to see that Coach has recovered whenever he makes it back, but let’s also appreciate that he and his staff prepared the team for this series throughout the season instead of waiting until the playoffs to “turn a switch.” Let that be a lesson to the Cavs, who seem to have a lot of homework to do ahead of each game in this series.


Will the Cavs find a way to hold Durant to under 30 points tonight?

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