The media storyline of this Cavaliers win over the Warriors: Curry and Klay bad shooting nights, LeBron unstoppable.
My storyline: Steve Kerr made it so.
I exaggerate a bit of course. LeBron and the Cavs were clearly pointing towards this game, the Warriors were in the Cavs’ house, in the middle of a long mid-winter East Coast road trip, and Curry had kind of a big day yesterday, delivering a speech, hanging with Mr. President, and getting quality lap time with the First Dog. (I just now realized that Bo might be named after his owner, BO.) A lot of reasons not to see the Warriors’ best effort.
I just think that Kerr made it tougher on them than it had to be.
Good Kerr: Lacob’s Cube continues to spin for Coach Kerr, an excellent sign of a restless intelligence and dynamic strategist. Last game, Kerr adjusted his rotation to bring David Lee in earlier, allowing him some time on the floor with Curry. In this game, we actually got to see, for the first time all season, the Lee and Green frontline that was so effective in past seasons. Unfortunately, Kerr played them in the wrong system to maximize their talents — more on this later.
Kerr went to true smallball to end the third quarter, with Green remaining in to play center, and Lee remaining on the bench. An interesting choice, given Lee’s effectiveness in the first half. I didn’t mind it, though, particularly given that the Warriors were down double digits at the time, and looking mired to their ankles in mud. I’m sure Kerr wanted to speed the game up, and open the floor for Curry and Klay, and basically give his team an electric jolt with a smallball cattle-prod.
And it did set up an extended run with Lee at center in the fourth quarter, which I loved.
Exhibit A — LeBron: Let’s start with the defense on LeBron. I’m not going to rag on Harry Barnes, LeBron gave it to everyone in this game, including Draymond, and none more than Iggy. (I don’t expect Iggy to be able to guard LeBron completely without help, but is there any reason why he shouldn’t be able to keep him in front of him in perimeter isolations? I was truly disturbed by this performance. Iggy’s making $12 million per to play defense, right?)
No, I’m not going to rag on Barnes here — he literally has no prayer. I just think that if the Warriors happen to meet the Cavs in the finals, Kerr is going to have to find a way to get Draymond Green on LeBron right from the start, and right to the end. All game, every game. Green can’t stop LeBron, no one can. But he can at least slow him. And he can darn sure make him feel him. That was one big reason why the Warriors beat the World Champion Heat in Miami twice in two years, and it’s the only way the Warriors beat this year’s Cavaliers in the finals, should we be lucky enough to see that.
Which would require, of course, a lineup change.
And how, pray tell, has David Lee played Kevin Love over the course of their careers? Thanks for asking: Dead even. Look it up. Which is saying something, given that Love was featured on the TWolves, while Lee has never been more than a second banana.
Will Kerr make a change? Probably not. But that Cube keeps on a’rollin. And funny things happen in playoff series.
Exhibit B — Pick and Roll: This is a pet peeve, so apologies because I’m gonna rant. We got to see a lot of Curry – Lee pick and roll in the first half, and Hallelujah! for that. Just imagine if Coach Kerr KNEW HOW TO SPACE IT.
3:50 1Q: Curry – Lee PNR, Lee finishes a tough, contested shot over MO SPEIGHTS’ MAN waiting in the lane.
3:00 1Q: Curry – Lee PNR, Lee destroys Kevin Love, but MO SPEIGHTS’ MAN forces him to pass out to the wing.
Shortly thereafter, Irving and Thompson destroyed Speights on PNR, because Kevin Love had Lee pulled out to the three point line. The way it’s supposed to be done.
Space the floor, Steve Kerr. Space the floor. Popovich does it. Budenholzer does it. Blatt does it. Every great coach does it. What is your problem?
Use Mo Speights to space the floor. It’s not rocket science. What is the problem?
The kicker for me came in the fourth quarter, on the only Curry – Lee pick and roll of the second half (more on this later), when Lee got challenged in the lane by DRAYMOND GREEN’S MAN.
Seriously, Steve Kerr? You can’t even space the floor on this play when Draymond Green is at the four? The same Draymond Green that lives on the three point line for most of the game?
Baffling. Just baffling.
Exhibit C — The System: Even though Kerr was botching the spacing, I was giddy with happiness in the first half over how he was using David Lee. Always getting him the ball on the move, which is the best way to use this incredibly gifted and mobile big man. Not one single triangle possession. Not one single post-up. I was delirious with joy.
Thinking to myself, if Kerr could just get the spacing right, Lee could give the Cavs 11 points in 5 minutes. Wait — that IS what he gave them. What might happen if Kerr got the spacing right? Well, one thing that might happen is that Lee might drop 40 pick and roll points on the Cavs’ heads, the way Lee once dropped 40 on the Warriors’ heads playing with a scrub point guard by the name of Duhon. Against one of the best pick and roll defenders in the NBA at that time, the young and healthy Andris Biedrins.
I was geared up for more of this in the second half. And even more geared up when I realized that the Lee and Green frontline was being trotted out again in crunch time. So what happened?
Triangle after triangle after triangle.
Seriously Steve Kerr? That’s what you’re going to run with a Lee and Green frontline, and the ability to create the best spacing on the planet? That’s what you’re going to run with one of the best pick and roll combos to ever set foot on the hardwood? Triangle?
Baffling. Utterly baffling.
Exhibit D — Curry and Klay: This actually comes under the heading of system, too.
One of the things I admired about Don Nelson was that he really knew how to get struggling players going. If an opponent was doing something to make one his players uncomfortable, he figured it out, and he adjusted. Fast.
The Cavs were all over Curry and Klay in this game, giving them no air, and running them off the three point line. Kerr’s system was simply not working very well at generating open looks for them. Perhaps it was the speed and length of JR Smith, Shumpert and LeBron on the wings. Perhaps it was that the Warriors’ legs were tired. But it wasn’t working. What could Kerr have done?
I’m repeating myself, but high pick and roll. High pick and roll with a spread floor. Put the ball in Curry’s hands, and force him to make a play. If blitzed he has Lee in the middle of the floor playing 4 on 3. If not blitzed, then CURRY GETS GOING.
Do the same for Klay. He’s pretty adept at running pick and roll himself. Put the ball in his hands and force him to make a play.
Not just Don Nelson, but Greg Popovich, Steve Kerr’s mentor and role model, can tell you there are times to put the system aside, put the ball in your best player’s hands, and run high pick and roll with a spread floor.
Pop calls it Manu Ginobili time.
Steve Kerr has a pretty good player too. And the best pick and roll partner he could ever wish for.
What, exactly, is the problem?
The Warriors can play better.
Curry: Running in mud. Mind on other things.
4 TOs. I think he was shocked that LeBron got to his passes. Doesn’t see him enough.
Green: Ferocious as a wolverine in the low post. Is that where he belongs?
Charles Barkley: “Green’s a little fella. A little fella can only be so tough.”
Chris Webber: “His momma knows he ain’t 6-7.”
Klay: 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks. JR Smith, 4 pts on 1-5.
Not just a pretty face.
Bogut: As predicted, Kerr’s preseason intention to finish games with Bogut is fraying around the edges.
Tough game for him. Time for an injection?
Barnes: I thought he looked decent in this game. One real good defensive possession against LeBron that I remember. But just not a good enough defender to make an impact.
Hit his open shots, and boy were they open. LeBron was in another zip code. They will be even more open in the playoffs, when he’s guarded by point guards.
When he has to put the ball on the floor, though…. This is one of the main reasons why the Warriors haven’t been able to exploit bigger lineups with Barnes at four as of late. He’s gotta be able to take his man off the dribble, and get to the rack.
Uggy: (see above)
Speights: Uggy shot him quite a dirty look after one blown rotation.
I think that was right before he sat down.
Livingston and Barbosa: Have you ever noticed that when Lee sets a high pick for these fellas, he never gets the ball as he rolls open down the lane?
I have — and yes, that’s a true sign of obsession.