Cleveland Cav’s coach Tyronn Lue planned to beat the Golden State Warriors by pushing hard against the pedal. Before the NBA Finals started, he said he wanted to beat the Warriors at their own game, “We will push the pace against them. We’re not going to change just because we’re playing Golden State.” All that however came undone as the Warriors literally outran and totally outclassed the bigger, badder, brawnier Cavs. Invincible in the east, the Cavs were pitiful in their two failed forays in the west.
Which leads us to the question: how indeed do you solve a problem like the Warriors?
They’re fast and furious, they’re pesky and persistent, they’re sharp and cage-savvy, and there’s a swarm of them out there. Yup, it looks like they have no end of talents coming off that star-studded bench. In fact, they even have all-stars on the bench! And they have an outstanding bench strategist in 2015-16 Coach of the Year, Steve Kerr. Plus, they also have a brilliant spare tactician in Mike Brown who ably subbed for the ailing Kerr recently. Where does all this avalanche of talent come from?
The Warriors are way ahead of the pack in cage IQ. Their small-ball approach is exciting and quite intriguing, making the Goliaths on the hardcourt less relevant and the Davids more in demand. Their fast pace on both ends of the court is the main atrocity the Cavs have to address.
But then, speed is not the end-all, be-all of this newest darling team of the NBA. Even if the Cavs are able to stop the quick transition offense, the Warriors then go to step 2 of a 4-step perpetual motion offensive. They then spread out the Cavs’ defense with their super-sharp snipers, moving the ball around magically to find the open man.
If the Warriors’ 3-ball attack from afar is denied, then the interior is left exposed, and this opens up for step 3: the drive-and-draw. If the defense is quick to collapse in time, then step 4 follows: the ball goes out once again to an open shooter.
The Warriors’ offense is almost unstoppable, with everyone quick and versatile enough to take advantage of the slightest opportunity created in the 4-step process. How do you stop that then?
First, contrary to what Coach Ty wants to do, the Cavs will have to stop the Dubs from running. Consider this:
2015 Finals Series: Cavaliers vs Warriors
Game 1 100 108
Game 2 95 93
Game 3 96 91
Game 4 82 103
Game 5 91 104
Game 6 97 105
2016 Finals Series Cavaliers vs Warriors
Game 1 89 104
Game 2 77 110
Game 3 120 90
Game 4 97 108
Game 5 112 97
Game 6 115 101
Game 7 93 89
2017 Finals Series Cavaliers vs Warriors
Game 1 91 113
Game 2 113 132
In all games where the Dubs scored 101 or below, the Dubs lost. Everytime they scored beyond 101, they won. The figures tell us that if the Cavs are successful in keeping the scores low, they have a fighting chance to beat the Dubs. If the Cavs elect to run with the Dubs and try to make it a shooting contest, Dubs will simply destroy them. The magic figure then is 100. If the Dubs score less than a hundred, then the Cavs win.
The key here will be the Cavs defense. They will have to be quick, to deny the offensive transition. They will have to be quick, to deny the open 3-point shots. They will have to be even quicker, to collapse the defense and deny the driving lanes. And they will have to be even quicker, to reassert control of the perimeter once the ball reverts outside.
On the offense, the Cavs will have to find a way to dictate the tempo of the game, not be lured into a foot race which is what the Dubs want. The Cavs will need to up their offense a notch in order to stop the Dubs’ vaunted offensive transition.
Lebron will have to make it a grind-it-to-the-ground possession game; where he goes one-on-one against the Dubs, then hit the open man when the double team comes in. He’ll have to be quick in spotting where the double team will be coming from.
Lebron and Kyrie will have to get the Dubs in foul trouble to somehow upset their rotation. Getting the Dubs in early foul trouble will be a key factor here. It will be an ugly game, but it’s the only way the Cavs will make this series competitive.
Game 3 is do-or-die time for the Cavs. They will need to win this one. If they don’t, it will be all over but the shouting.