When: Wednesday, June 7
Time: 6 p.m. PST
After a commanding opening to the Finals featuring two dominant wins, the Warriors know they are about to face their toughest test of the postseason. It’s a new team this time around, and we have everyone healthy (welcome back, Steve Kerr!), and one big new addition that may tip the balance in our favor.
What’s going wrong for the Cavs?
As we discussed when the series started, these teams are relatively close offensively, but it is the difference on the defensive end that has defined the series. The Cavs have run into one of the NBA’s best defenses and the impact is showing — a Cavs’ offense that dominated throughout the season now looks mundane. As per the always-excellent Zach Lowe of ESPN, the Cavs went from posting the second-best ever offensive rating (Warriors are #1) to posting an abysmal “97.4 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would have ranked dead stinking last in the regular season.”
Cue sad trumpet sound: Wah, waaaaaaaahhh.
James had this to say about how this year just feels different:
“They're a different team,” James said of the current edition of the Warriors. “You guys asked me, ‘What was the difference?’ And I told you. They’re a different team.”
A different team that is trouncing through the first two games, in spite of James’ best efforts.
There’s a part of me that relishes the surliness in James’ postgame interviews after Game 2 because of what it means. Of course, James doesn’t like to lose, but it’s not hard to imagine how big the cliff in front of him must seem right now. Yet another comeback after being so soundly beat to open the series? Again?
It took a few critical injuries, and NBA intervention (suspension of Draymond Green), for the Cavs to pull this out last year. But that’s all I’m going to say about last year, because this is a new round in the battle between these two teams. A battle that looks to be teetering in the balance once again, and James knows it will be on him to drive the turnaround — if it’s going to come.
The Cavs’ stars
Even the most complicated contraption can be broken down by one key piece not performing, and such is the case with Kyrie Irving and the Cavs’ chances from here. There’s just no conceivable way the Cavs can win four out of the next five games if Irving continues to be as unproductive as he has been.
Out of the four big stars in this series, Irving’s absence is notable if for no other reason than his visibility throughout the playoffs. His heroics against the Celtics while on a hobbled ankle were impressive. Now? After two games, he’s got a grand total of 43 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists. Not bad ... for a role player!
All joking aside, the Warriors’ ability to contain Irving so far has been huge.
I can’t remember who it was, but when we, at Golden State of Mind, were talking about this earlier, someone responded to say that this isn’t so much about prioritizing Irving over James as it is a simple recognition of attacking a weakness. While Irving is a devastating offensive player, he mostly thrives in isolation as a primary scorer. With the Warriors doubling hard, it has put the burden on Irving to break the pressure with his playmaking, an area that is not his forte — and it shows. He’s been out of sorts all series, and his scoring is way down from his average.
James’ has been doing his best, but as Russell Westbrook could tell him, averaging a triple-double can only get you so far.
Also, his nine turnovers show the effect of his increased playmaking. Oh, and lest we forget: James is also being counted on as the primary defender against Durant — all while logging heavy minutes. It’s reasonable to ask if the Cavs are asking too much of him. It makes sense that they do, since he’s carried them so often in the past ... but still:
LeBron's 4th quarter in Game 1: 1-for-4, 2 points— Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones) June 5, 2017
LeBron's 4th quarter in Game 2: 1-for-1, 2 points
The Warriors’ stars
The deadly duo of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant has officially announced its intentions to the league. Our Andrew Flohr said it about as well as can be said in his recent article:
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.
Throw in some feisty Draymond Green defense to go along with his continuing absurd three-point shooting percentage, a bit of Klay Thompson, and the occasional appearance of Andre Iguodala, and it’s pretty apparent why people whine that this team is unfair. The sheer breadth and depth of talent on this team at the top end is ludicrous.
The return of the Cavs’ conundrum
Outside of a nice showing by Kevin Love, the Cavs’ supporting cast has been completely absent so far in the Finals. Kyle Korver is shooting less than 17% from deep, J.R. Smith is shooting about the same on total field-goal attempts, and Tristan Thompson has been out rebounded by Stephen Curry.
The Cavs have tough choices to make on the wings. With a bunch of one-way players to choose from, head coach Tyronn Lue has struggled to find a combination of players that works. His defensive lineups can’t score enough to keep up, and his offensive lineups get annihilated on the defensive end.
Lue, for what it’s worth, has said he’s planning to stick with the current game plan:
Basic Cavs/Ty Lue message at practice today: Won't change lineup, won't change pace, won't make big adjustments, just play a little better.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) June 6, 2017
So ... are we going to blow this again?
There is no comparison when you look at what adding Durant to this roster has done for the team. Remember the James’ quote about the team being different this year?
Per @ESPNStatsInfo: Durant's 71 pts in 2 gms have already eclipsed the 65 that Harrison Barnes scored in the 7 Finals gms combined last year— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) June 5, 2017
Sure, this is a LeBron-led team we are talking about. And, as we learned last year, it’s never wise to count those teams out of any series. But, still ... it does feel different this time around, doesn’t it?
No, the Warriors aren’t going to let the Cavs back in this series. To be more specific, hell to the naw.
Warriors by two!