The NBA Finals are finally upon us. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are ready to duel it out for the 4th straight time! Raise your hand if you just yawned… To be honest, most people are bored of seeing the Warriors and the Cavs battle it year after year. And even more, people expect the Warriors to sweep the Cavs easily. Don’t count out LeBron James.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate what the best player in the NBA has done so far. The King has carried one of the worst teams in history through the playoffs and to the finals. I personally do not think this Cavs team is as bad as it seems, however they have been underperforming severely. This has forced LeBron to shoulder a heavy load and carry this team night after night. He has responded with flying colors, averaging a ridiculous 34.0 PPG, 9.2 RPG, and 8.8 APG on an equally insane 54.2%.
LeBron is really good…but you already knew that.
The Warriors beat the Cavs 4-1 in last year’s finals in a dominating effort. A team with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love could not beat the Warriors. So it’s crazy to think the Cavs even have a chance, right?
So what would change now? First off, the Cavs are much better defensively then they were last year. “What. No. That can’t be right.” I know. These Cavs were historically bad on defense all year long, but hear me out.
In the 2017 finals, the Cavs gave up a ridiculous 121.6 OPPG. It’s a little hard to win when you’re simply giving buckets out for charity. All year long the Cavs have been bleeding points out, giving up 109.9 OPPG. That’s the 5th most in the NBA. An awful effort on defense.
So what makes this year different? The Cavs seemed to finally figure out their defensive woes in the playoffs. The Cavs are giving up a mere 99.9 OPPG. This ranks 2nd amongst all teams in the playoffs. The Cavs are finally playing with purpose and effort on defense. They are playing hard-nosed D while LeBron carries them on offense. After the trade palooza the Cavs went on, you expected defensive technicians like George Hill to step up and improve the Cavs defense. What was not expected was players like Kevin Love and Kyle Korver stepping up on defense. The Cavs have been rocking all throughout the playoffs behind the surprisingly strong defense.
Obviously, it will take more than defense to beat the Warriors. The Cavs will need to play almost perfectly to win the series. So what can they do to win?
The key to the puzzle will start with LeBron James. LeBron will need to continue to put up the staggering numbers he has been putting up all playoff long. The Warriors play fantastic help defense, great at doubling and rotating to cover up any passing lanes. To counter this, the Cavs will need to take a page from the Rockets’ book. They must do their best to switch Durant off of LeBron as the primary defender. Switching someone like Curry onto LeBron will leave the Warriors without a prayer. The Warriors will have learned from their mistakes and will not leave Curry out there 1 on 1. They will attempt to double LeBron on these situations. LeBron must be smart. The difference between this year and the 2015 playoffs is the Cavs will have players capable of hitting open shots. If the Warriors try to double-team LeBron, he must make them pay with his insane playmaking ability.
As nice as it was to see LeBron put up 35.8 PPG in the ‘15 playoffs, the reality is that was never going to work. LeBron went 1 on 1 every single play averaging a putrid 39.8% FG, in addition, those 35.8 PPG was on 32.7 FGA. This is horrible efficiency for a guy who shoots 50% FG+ most seasons. The Cavs will be going up against an outstanding Warriors squad who will take advantage of every turnover and missed shot. They will push the ball in transition and get easy baskets. Therefore, Cavs cannot afford any sloppy mistakes, they must be in control of the ball.
Keeping the Warriors out of transition completely will be an almost impossible task. The Cavs will need to be in control of the pace. They cannot rush the pace and push the ball in transition every play, but they also cannot slow the pace down and never push it in transition. They must find the right balance. The Cavs must take their time in the half court using as much of the clock as possible and find the best shot. They will have to get back in transition defense quickly so that the Warriors do not get into too much of a flow. Despite this, the Cavs will also need to go for offensive rebounds opportunistically, otherwise, the Warriors will take off in transition as soon as the Cavs put up a shot. This will keep the Warriors off balance and control the pace.
The Cavs will also need to be in control of the pace when the ball is in their hands. They will need to take their time and bring the ball up slowly. Once again, they will need to push the ball in transition opportunistically. When the opportunity presents itself, the Cavs must take advantage and score the ball in transition. Getting baskets in transition is always a great way to get easy points. However, the Cavs cannot try to force the ball in transition when they do not have an advantage, this will play right into what the Warriors’ game plan is.
All you need is a little love.
Kevin Love needs to be a big cog if the Cavs plan to win this series. To be honest, since coming to Cleveland, Love has not played up to par with how he played in Minnesota. He seems to have forgotten how to use his elite post game. Love lost all aggression when he landed in Cleveland, never showing that same scoring prowess he did in Minnesota. Despite all that, Love will be one of the most important keys if the Cavs plan to win.
The Cavs swept the Raptors in a dominating effort in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Not to take anything away from superstar LeBron James, but that sweep would not have happened without Kevin Love’s performance in that series. Love put up 20.5 PPG and 11.5 RPG on a sincere 47.5% FG. The numbers are not what jumps out me however, it is the game tape.
Love was brought into Cleveland to do exactly this. To make opponents pay for mismatches. The Raptors switch DeMar DeRozan onto Love to create a severe mismatch, and Love goes straight to work. He uses his beautiful post spin and goes to the reverse layup leaving DeRozan in the dust. Love did this with regularity in Minnesota but struggled with it in Cleveland. He finally seems to have figured out how to be aggressive against the Raptors.
In Minnesota, Love did not just win against mismatches, he took other big men straight to the basket. Here you see Love hand the ball off to Korver and cuts straight to the low post area. He receives the ball and makes a sweet pump fake against elite defender Serge Ibaka, then takes a dribble and steps through for the easy dunk. Love has the skill set to go up against anyone.
Here you see the effect when Love is dominating in the post. In this play, Love has a serious mismatch against smaller guard C.J. Miles. Pascal Siakam loses track of LeBron because of how Love how has been dominating the post all game. LeBron sees that and makes a hard cut to the basket, Love makes a great bounce pass to LeBron for an easy basket. It’s incredible to think anyone would lose track of the best player in the world. The effect Kevin Love has this series goes beyond scoring, it benefits the whole team.
Love had more than just an impact on offense, he played incredible defense all series. Here you see professional scorer DeMar DeRozan get all the way to the basket for a layup and Love stuffs him right at the basket. This leads to an easy transition basket for the Cavs. Love was never known for his defense, but he played great defense all series long.
The Warriors have very few weaknesses that can be exploited. Never employing legitimate big men, the Warriors struggle against size. Teams have beaten the Warriors by slowing down the pace and wearing down the Warriors with an old-school post game. The size of the Warriors has hurt them at times. The Warriors have been beaten by bigger teams that simply out rebound them on the glass.
Luckily for the Cavs, they have both of these things. The post presence of Kevin Love will help slow down the pace and take advantage of the smaller Warriors. The rebounding prowess of Love will also help the Cavs get easy baskets. Everyone remembers Tristan Thompson’s coming-out party. He averaged an insane 13.0 RPG against the Warriors in the 2015 NBA finals. Thompson will need to show that same fire he did on the boards that year to help the Cavs to victory.
The Achilles heel of the Warriors is turnovers. I have seen teams with fantastic perimeter defenders force the Warriors into bad passes and create turnovers to get easy baskets in transition. The way the Warriors play, the off-ball movement, and constant passing, often leads to a lot of turnovers. They have the 5th most turnovers in the league. If the Cavs can manage to get the Warriors to make mistakes and turn the ball over, they will find themselves at a major advantage.
The Cavs have a tough road ahead of them to win the finals. Make no mistake, LeBron James is on a mission. It will take more than LeBron to win a finals however, all the pieces will need to fit in. First and foremost, Kevin Love will need to get healthy to assist LeBron to victory. Love will be a crucial piece in every facet of this series, as I do not believe the Cavs can win without a healthy Love.
The Cavs have been playing fantastic defense all playoffs long and will need to continue that trend while LeBron operates the offense. They will need to control the pace and not push the pace every play, that would play right into Warriors’ hands. The Cavs need to take advantage of rebounds and turnovers, where they have the distinct advantage over the Warriors.
Most important than all, LeBron needs to be LeBron. If he wants to be the GOAT, he will need to show it. LeBron will need to take advantage of every mismatch and simply dominate on offense. While everyone has already written off the Cavs this year, I believe the Cavs will surprise everyone. It is awfully tough for me to decide the final standings, but I believe LeBron is ready to take on the task and win his 4th ring. I’m almost split on this, but I say Cavs in 7.