Wednesday, June 10, 2015

2015 NBA Finals - Games 2 & 3

After 3 unpredictable, exhilarating Finals games, this is what I've learned:

LeBron James is the best player in the world. He approached this season with a different outlook and physique, which may have contributed to some inconsistency early. He took that 2 week break. But this is peak LeBron. The difference between this guy and the pre-Miami LeBron is huge. He controls the game and has remade the entire team in his image. I wrote before the Finals that the Warriors can play any style, and I still believe so. But they cannot play into LeBron's hands so completely.

Matthew Dellavedova, love him or hate him, belongs on this stage. He's played stellar defense on an unguardable player, and he's done it knowing Steph is unguardable. So Dellavedova does his work early, gets into his body before the ball arrives, and just makes Curry work. The diving on the floor stuff is overrated - that's not what makes you tough or gives you heart. But he has turned from a 0 into something, which is more than some Warriors can say. 

But the talk that Dellavedova is shutting down Curry has to stop. His defense has been good - no more. Steph Curry is just missing Steph Curry shots. He started to find range late in Game 3, but this is a guy we've seen take hundreds of tough, contested shots, and make a good percentage of them. A contested 3 from Curry is as good as a wide open three from most anyone else. Curry needs to stay aggressive and active on offense and his shot will come. 

Steve Kerr needs to do a better job getting job getting his guys easy points. The Cavs are dominating the paint because few Warriors are getting there. I know they're a jump-shooting team; so were the 2011 Mavs. But the Mavs won that series against Miami because Miami had no answer to JJ Barea getting into the lane. Klay, Draymond, Harrison, Shaun, Andre, and yes, Steph have to attack and either finish or hit the tough floater. And they have to draw whistles, which will be difficult since the Cavs rim protectors are moving beautifully and getting calls. And sometimes, they may even have to take the long 2. The Warriors have good shooters from the elbows in Klay and Harrison, and need to realize that the Cavs are sitting on the rim and the three. All the late possession ping pong they play with the ball has not made getting to those spots easier. Popovich realized that against the Heat and countered by getting creative with Kawhi. It took him 2 series to figure it out though - Steve Kerr will have to learn fast. 

Tristan Thompson's offensive rebounding numbers make him look better than he is and Timofey Mozgov mysteriously couldn't find the floor late in Game 2, but they have collectively outplayed the Warriors' bigs by a wide margin. They've shrunk the floor of defense and are challenging non-shooters to beat them. The offense has been brutal, but LeBron solves a lot of issues on that end. And it's demoralizing for the Warriors' bigs whenever these guys grab and offensive board or draw a loose ball foul. Tristan's rebounding instincts are a special revelation. 

I don't know how long Kerr can play the Green/Bogut combo. They Cavs have done a great job walling off the paint, sticking to the corners, and trapping Klay. The scheme has been so effective because they've let Draymond play 2 on 1 with Bogut and there just isn't enough spacing. Add that to the fact that Harrison Barnes is lost offensively and the starting lineup may need a wholesale change. Haralabos Voulgaris mentioned a possible Andre/David Lee combo in place of Barnes/Green. I don't know if that's he answer, but Kerr has to find one soon because the Warriors can't keep falling behind. 

Draymond Green needs to slow down. He's rushing nearly everything. Throwing lobs into the front row. Botching floaters. Fouling guys on rebounds. After he beats the defense, whether off the dribble or from a Curry trap, he needs to gather, take a beat, and let the defense come to him. Because with the spacing issues the Warriors have seen, he certainly isn't speeding past people to the rim. He has no shot challenging Mozgov at the rim. But 5-6 feet away? Maybe. 

The Cavs bench is still awful, but guys like James Jones, Mike Miller, and J. R. Smith have given them something. When the possession and point counts fall, a random James Jones three has a bigger impact. But more importantly, outside of J. R. being J. R., they haven't done anything dumb. The Warriors haven't gone on a big run because the Cavs are taking care of the ball and following their scheme. As bad as David Blatt has been this series, you have to give him that. 

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