Down 0-2 to the Golden State Warriors. Two embarrassing blowout losses. Two wins from being vanquished.
Yes, the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers were in this exact same spot last year. Yes, they responded with a resounded 30-point win, 120-90 at Quicken Loans Arena. News flash! This isn’t 2016, and the 2017 edition of this year’s uber-stacked Warriors has Kevin Durant.
Through two games, the 2014 NBA MVP is averaging a NBA Finals double-double of 35 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists during the first two games, en route to early NBA Finals MVP consideration. He has not only proven to be almost unguardable, but has also simply out-played LeBron James.
James, to his credit became the first player since Magic Johnson to average a triple-double in recording 28.5 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists during the Cavs two losses. Sadly, outside of LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the rest of the team has been a no-show.
If Cleveland hopes to win tonight and extend the Finals going forward, here are my three ways the Cavs make this a 2-1 series.
Slow Down The Pace, Get Production From The Bench: This goes without saying, but you cannot out-Warrior the Warriors in terms of trying to outscore them. If you go back the first two games, and watch the second half, you notice how worn out Cleveland looked? That is because of the frenetic pace Golden State was allowed to dictate. Fueled by their crowd, the Warriors were simply able to wear down an older and clearly-fatigued Cleveland.
What Cleveland needs to do is slow the tempo down, run more half-court sets, use ATO (after time out plays) creatively and most importantly, run the offense through LBJ in the post, so that outside shooters such as Love, Irving, J.R. Smith or whomever has a clean and open look.
The most glaring issue has been the lack of production for the Cavs revamped bench.
Outside of Iman Shumpert, the rest of the bench in Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye has been a non-factor. If Cleveland hopes to make the series 2-1, they need production from them tonight and going forward.
Contest Every Shot, Fight For Every Rebound: For a team that has invested well over $200 million, and prides itself on rebounding and being physical, Cleveland is letting themselves get outworked on the glass by the supposedly-soft Warriors.
It’s a sad thing to blog when Steph Curry gets double-digit rebounds, but it’s even sadder when the 6’3 Curry had more rebounds in Game 2 (ten) then the Cavs $82 million man in Tristan Thompson who has EIGHT total.
Yes, that is not a typo. Google it!
Last year, and throughout the entire post-season Thompson has been a one-man rebound-sucking wrecking crew, so far in the Finals, he’s been a non-factor, and that is one reason why the Warriors have been abusing the Cavs in the paint.
I’m not sure if it’s the so-called Kardashian Kurse or something, but there were multiple instances in where after Golden State missed a shot, they were able to grab the long rebound and eventually convert. What Cleveland needs to do is get back to basics in sealing off, boxing out and imposing their toughness down low.
You cannot afford to give a super-team of assassins such as the Warriors second—or even third chances, because they will make you pay for it.
Get Back To Basics and Play Defense: What has become painfully obvious through the first two games for the Cleveland cavaliers is that this is not last year, and that while they can draw upon the inspiration of beating last year’s 73-win record-setting Warriors squad, Golden State loaded up in bringing in a nearly seven-foot long-armed sniper in Durant.
While they are down 2-0—same as last year—this is 2016 no more, this is 2017, so Cleveland needs to flip the script now.
They need to go back to playing smothering, blitzing defense in closing out on Golden State’s shooters, getting physical, grabbing every rebound and playing as a team.
Team defense means no more embarrassing defensive lapses in Game 1 and 2 that allowed Durant and Klay Thompson to drive to the rim uncontested, or playing passive and expecting Golden State to wilt like last year, because I’m sure by now that they are tired of all the 3-1 memes and joke and look like a team on a mission.
There is a reason why they have won 30 of their last 31 games and are two wins away from going 16-0 in the post-season.
I said this three years ago when I was at Rant Sports, and I will say this again now. The best way to beat Golden State is to crowd them, make things tight, get in their face and be physical. They are beatable and can be beat, it’s up to the cavaliers to actually do it.
If Cleveland hope to ‘defend the land’, they must—and need to follow these three ways and execute, or their reign as NBA champs will be very short-lived.