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Cleveland’s failure to adjust plays right into Golden State’s hands

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When will the Cavaliers learn they cannot run with the Warriors?

2017 NBA Finals - Game Two Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

OAKLAND, Calif. — For the second straight year, the Golden State Warriors hold a 2-0 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals after a 132-113 win last Sunday evening.

Steve Kerr returned to the Warriors’ bench and his position as head coach for the first time since April 19th. Even better, Kerr says he feels healthy enough to coach the remainder of the series. He received a raucous standing ovation from a packed Oracle crowd during pregame introductions, even receiving dap from LeBron James prior to tip-off.

“I’m glad the fans gave him the ovation he deserved,” said Klay Thompson, of Kerr. “Steve’s a fighter and for him to be out there when he has a built-in excuse not to because of the incredible pain he’s under, it’s amazing. It motivates us to win for him.”

Thompson finished with 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting — his most efficient night of from the field this postseason. Thompson seems to enjoy having the calm demeanor of Kerr back on the sidelines, as he turned in his most complete game of the postseason by snagging a playoff-high seven rebounds and continuing to play phenomenal defense on Kyrie Irving and company.

This spells trouble for Cleveland, who has yet to figure out a way to even remotely contain Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said after Game 1 that the team’s best defense would be its offense. Rather than trying to slow down Golden State’s high-powered offense in Game 2, Cleveland decided to double-down and stick to their run-and-gun style of play. The only problem with that methodology is that you can’t outrun the Golden State Warriors.

Lue is simply asking LeBron James to do too much on the court. While Bron has been able to put the entire team on his back and will them to victory in years past, he has never been asked to do so while playing at such a break-neck pace. LeBron looked flat-out tired by the end of the third quarter in Game 2.

The main reason for this is Kevin Durant.

The KD factor

Durant makes LeBron work just as hard on the defensive end of the floor as he does on offense. Not only does LeBron have to carry the scoring load on offense and create for a majority of his teammates (who primarily camp out around the three-point line), he is then asked to guard one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history.

No player has had a bigger impact on this series than Durant. He has alleviated pressure from Curry and Thompson as the Warriors’ primary scorers. This has allowed Thompson to expend more energy on the defensive end and let Curry pick and choose his spots to let it fly. The 1-2 combo of Durant-Curry may be the most potent duo in NBA history.

Curry and KD combined are like a championship prize fighter. Durant has been the answer to any run put on by the Cavs this series. Whether it be a mid-range jumper, layup or dunk, Durant’s scoring has been the constant jab, wearing the opponent down. This lets Curry strike when the Cavs are vulnerable. He is the right-hand haymaker to Durant’s jab, with the innate ability to land demoralizing three-pointers that make opponents feel helpless.

How do you combat this duo?

The Cavs have tried to go small against the Warriors, which Kerr countered by playing Durant at center — an absolute matchup nightmare for any team. Cleveland seems committed to maintaining the fast-paced tempo with which they have played all season. As LeBron said after Game 1, their style of play has gotten them this far, so why change it now?

Cleveland did not make any real adjustments heading into Game 2, but the team did play with an abundance of energy on the defensive end which forced Golden State into 19 turnovers. The Warriors were fortunate to overcome these turnovers with sheer talent.

“But heading to Cleveland, we’re going to have to be a lot smarter,” said Steve Kerr, after Game 2. “We play that same game in Cleveland, there’s no way we win.”

Surely, the Cavs will play better at home as role players have a tendency to shoot better in their own building. Cleveland shot 8-for-29 (27.6%) from three-point range in Game 2. However, Cleveland’s “live by the three, die by the three” approach plays into the Warriors’ hands as well.

No other team in the NBA protects the three-point line better than Golden State, which is holding opponents to 32% shooting from distance this postseason. Long misses are dangerous against a team such as the Warriors because the defense feeds right into the offense. These long misses turn into long rebounds, which help to jump-start the Warriors in the fast break.

Slowing the pace down and going big would not seem to work in Cleveland’s favor either. Golden State has neutralized Tristan Thompson through the first two games of the Finals, and the Cavs likely want no part of a lineup that features Durant playing at center. Plus, walking the ball up the court would only give Golden State’s stout defense plenty of time to set up.

Conclusion

It appears as though the Cavs are content with their current strategy in place, which is to keep running with the Warriors. However, Cleveland might have bought into fools’ gold this season with its over-commitment to offense. A team whose defensive strategy is to run-and-gun with a team that bolsters as many offensive weapons as the Warriors sounds like a team digging its own grave.