Steve Kerr said after the game that not only he, but the entire Warriors bench thought that Iman Shumpert’s shot at the end of regulation was going in. It was right on line, and maybe an inch short. One wonders whether Shumpert might have made that shot if he had trimmed maybe an inch off of his signature high-top fade before the game. And that, sports fans, is the most ridiculous lede that will be written about tonight’s game.
Not that that missed shot was the play of the game. Far from it. But it was perhaps an apt symbol of just how evenly contested this game was.
Steve Kerr: I think Kerr coached a brilliant game, and in fact just may have stolen this game from David Blatt in overtime. But he was great throughout.
Did you notice how much high pick and roll the Warriors ran with Curry? I don’t believe they’ve had a comparable game all season long. I think the idea was clearly to punish Kyrie Irving. And that just may have worked. And abuse JR Smith, whenever he picked up Curry. And that worked like a charm.
Or it could have been that Kerr didn’t like how the Hawks, who run similar stuff to the Warriors, fared against the Cavs defense. Whatever the reason, this was an extremely bold and surprising adjustment to start a series. And very savvy.
The out of bounds plays, always a Kerr strength, were simply outstanding in this game. Extraordinary, and worth rewinding the tape for.
Did a great job punishing matchups. Did you notice how much more often they went to Klay when Irving was guarding him?
Stayed with single coverage on LeBron, stayed close to home against his three point shooters, and just decided to eat what LeBron was able to give them. This is a strategy that can look horrible all game long, only to pay dividends at the end of the game when exhaustion sets in, and the role players are not confident enough to step up. That’s what happened, isn’t it?
But the greatest highlight for me was the move that just may have swung the game in overtime: When Kerr removed Ezeli to go to the Dray at center lineup, and thus sprung a small-ball trap on David Blatt. And Blatt, much to my amazement, fell into it head first. He left an exhausted Mozgov in the game, and the Warriors suddenly began to run all over the Cavs. Beat them down court for several open shots that were missed, before Curry finally slipped the dagger in by drawing fouls in early offense. Warriors up four, Oracle in bedlam, Blatt finally got the memo and got Mozgov out.
Too late. Kerr gotcha.
Blatt: I was actually very impressed by his coaching up until his slip in overtime. He made several interesting decisions in this game.
The Cavs played at a very deliberate tempo, perhaps the slowest I’ve ever seen them play. Probably a great strategy against the Warriors. Probably a great strategy when you have the bigger front line. Probably a great strategy when Kyrie Irving is playing on one ligament. And probably a great strategy when you are extremely shorthanded.
Irving started on Curry, and did a surprisingly good job on him. Was this a good strategy? It might have been, if Irving wasn’t playing through injury. Now you have to question it. As well as the number of minutes Irving was played.
Shumpert started on Curry in the second half, which was no doubt planned before the game. I liked this switch.
The defense on Curry was frequently more of a switch than a blitz, reminding me of the Popovich defense: Pick up Curry above the three point line, and ice him in one direction or the other, preventing the walk-up three. Chase him over the top of the pick, preventing the step-back. Force him into two point land, and prevent the drive with your big man. The Warriors tried to punish this with some pick and roll, but I think the Cavs were satisfied with the result.
Isolation basketball: The Cavs isolated LeBron much more in this game than I remember them doing in earlier series. This will be critiqued, no doubt. But I wonder if it wasn’t a savvy move because of Blatt’s overall strategy against the Warriors. The Cavs wanted to take the air out of the ball, and LeBron’s isolations allowed them to run the clock all the way down.
Did you also notice how the Cavs usually iso’d LeBron on the wing, rather than up top like the Rockets did with Harden? And moved all four of his teammates to the other side of the court? That prevented the Warriors from employing the box and one that they used to keep Harden from driving. A great move, that required a superb game from Andre Iguodala to stymie.
That overtime, though. It’s completely mysterious to me that Blatt didn’t welcome the opportunity to match-up small with the Warriors in overtime. And he made another crucial error, in my opinion, in inserting James Jones for Mozgov, and not Iman Shumpert. The game-clinching play was when Iggy out-raced the slow-footed Jones for a loose ball at 1:55. Why did Blatt’s best defender ride the pine in overtime? What is wrong with a Thompson, James, Shumpert, Smith, Delladova closing lineup against the Warriors? It’s a mystery. With Irving out, that is the Cavs’ best lineup by far.
One other notable failure: Not having his team ready to foul Bogut and Iggy in the paint.
Andre Iguodala: I take back every bad thing I ever said about Iggy. Everything.
That I didn’t ever remember him coming up big in a playoff game. Has he ever come up bigger?
That he is afraid to take the ball to the hole, for fear of getting fouled. How many fearless, aggressive, straight-line dunks in this game?
That he is a streaky, unreliable shooter. This is the proverbial one game sample size, but what was notable was the confidence. Iggy went up with no hesitation, and literally hunted his shot, which is something we almost never see. For much of the game, he appeared to be the most confident Warrior on the court.
That he couldn’t guard LeBron James. The difference between this game and the February game in Cleveland is off the map. Maybe he just wasn’t at the top of his form for that low-stakes mid-winter road game.
Iggy’s defense on LeBron was extraordinary. Didn’t get overpowered – much. But more importantly, didn’t let LeBron get around him. And on several key possessions, like the last of regulation, actually got LeBron moving backwards.
Iggy guarding LeBron reminded me of a rodeo cowboy riding a bull. And on this night, the cowboy didn’t get thrown.
Can he guard him like this throughout the series? I’m not sure. I’m sure LeBron won’t be happy watching tape of himself settling for fall-away jumpers. But I also think Blatt might come up with an adjustment. (One that comes to mind is posting LeBron up much closer to the basket, on the low box. Not sure Iggy has an answer for that. Another might be playing more pick and roll, to get LeBron switched onto another defender. Jeff van Gundy suggested using Curry’s man, a rather obvious thought that didn’t occur to Blatt in this game.)
Iggy was the player of the game, from the moment he came in and settled his teammates down, to the final seconds of regulation and overtime, when his defense stood tall.
Curry: Obviously came up big offensively, often working on his own. But was most impressive in the way he handled the Cavs’ defense of the high screen. Picked apart the blitz with aplomb, ran the pick and roll almost flawlessly, after playing very little in this style, against this defense, this season.
Klay: Determined to get to the line. That’s what I like to see. 8-8.
Draymond: Really struggled against Tristan Thompson and Mozgov in this game. At the half, he had 0 rebounds to Thompson’s 7. The final tally was 6 to 15.
He also struggled with foul trouble, and his emotions.
But as the game wore on, the Cavs got weaker and he got stronger. And in the end, the Warriors actually wound up winning the battle of the boards.
Playoff Barnes: He didn’t get Kyrie, but he did get completely ignored. And he stepped up and hit his open threes when it counted.
He was helpless against LeBron, of course, but his defense against the Cavs’ smalls was surprisingly good.
Perhaps not the game his fans were looking for, but overall a solid effort.
Bogut: This is by far his toughest matchup of the playoffs, because of the size of Mozgov, Thompson’s quickness and activity in the paint, and how much attention he has to pay to LeBron.
Not a great game, and I’m not sure we can expect him to get better as the series wears on.
Mo Buckets: I should have known better than to predict Mo wouldn’t play much in this series. The Warriors second unit desperately needed his offense against the uber-tough Cavs defense.
Can you imagine this being your first game back after a several week layoff? Mo’s performance was off the charts.
Only 9 minutes, but I wonder now whether that won’t expand as he starts to get his conditioning back.
The Wagering: My under 204 bet bit the dust as soon as the game went to overtime. But I think it was a good call, nevertheless, with the total at 196 at the end of regulation.
I will continue to bet the under if the total remains the same. And with Kyrie Irving out, I think the bet becomes even more obvious.
The Series: Obviously it’s a blow for the Cavs that Kyrie went down. Not for any one game, necessarily — there are defensive compensations for his absence that were evident in the Hawks series. But for the series as a whole. Depth just became a major issue.
The Cavs are basically down to a 7 man rotation now. (I can’t see James Jones getting much more run.) Unless some of those other fossils on their bench can be dusted off, fatigue will be an issue in every game, and more and more as the series goes on.
The Cavs might take encouragement from their performance in this game, but this just may have been their best shot.