I’ve seen a lot of pundits predict that this would be an easy series for the Warriors. And of course, after the Kyrie injury, all the pundits doubled down. And even after the evidence of last night, and two straight games on the Warriors’ home floor in which the Cavs appeared to control the action from the opening tip right up to the 2:00 mark in the 4th quarter, the pundits were all repeating that the Warriors had nothing to worry about, they just had a bad game.
I don’t know, I think that what I’m seeing with my eyes is real. And my eyes are telling me that the crippled Cleveland Cavaliers are not the crippled Memphis Grizzlies or the crippled Houston Rockets.
The Warriors haven’t faced a team like this Cavs team all season long. I think this series is for real, and if the Cavs don’t suffer yet another serious injury, I think it could go the distance.
I have no idea who has the edge.
One of the things I’ve heard the most from fans and talking heads on my drive time, is that Stephen Curry and the Warriors “just missed shots.” Another thing I heard was that Matthew Dellavodova’s defense of Curry wasn’t really that good.
Both of these are myths. Absolute nonsense. And I’ll give you a few reasons why:
Dellie: I just got done watching the game a second time, and I’m here to tell you that Dellie’s defense on Curry was spectacular. Incredible.
He’s white. He’s chunky. His feet aren’t that fast. He doesn’t look like an athlete. I get the reasons why no one wants to credit Dellie with being a good defender. But Dellie, like Klay Thompson, is a living testament to the fact that an extraordinarily high basketball IQ, coupled with an intense competitive desire, can more than compensate for mediocre athleticism on the defensive end.
If you never take your eyes off of Dellie when the Warriors have the ball, as I didn’t the second time I watched Game 2, this is what you will see:
Ball denial: an incredible ability to predict Curry’s every movement, while knowing exactly where the ball is at every moment. And an uncanny ability to never get back-doored, or fooled on Curry’s jukes. He is literally in Curry’s shirt all game long, keeping the ball out of Curry’s hands, and wearing Curry down even before he can get his mitts on the ball.
Getting over screens: The Warriors should give Harrison Barnes the Clockwork Orange treatment with Dellie tape. Dellie sees the screen before it’s set, and frequently succeeds in jumping it, getting over it even before Curry does.
Face-guarding: I don’t know how he does it, but Dellie doesn’t let Curry’s dribbling exhibitions shake him. By the time the quickest release in the world is locked and loaded, Dellie is right there, back in Curry’s shirt.
Perseverance and Focus: Never takes a play off, never loses focus, never gives up on a play.
Give the kid some credit. He’s in Curry’s shirt. Big time.
The Cav’s Defense: I’m going to point out three facts about the Cavs defense that should be completely obvious to everyone right now.
1) The Cavs are bigger than the Warriors. Mozgov is bigger than Bogut, and dwarfs Festus. Tristan Thompson has three inches on Draymond. You could fit two Harrison Barnes, and ten Harrison Barnes hearts, inside LeBron and his heart. And Dellie is both bigger and stronger than Curry. The only position where the Warriors have a size advantage is with Klay Thompson.
And the Cavs are bullying the Warriors with their size. It’s no accident that the Warriors body and ball movement has slowed. That their offense is getting stuck in mud.
2) The Cavs are more athletic than the Warriors. This gap is even wider than the last. Starting with LeBron, of course, the most athletic 6-8 260 lb man in history. Did you see him just blow by Draymond on the wing? That may be why Kerr is choosing to guard him with the much smaller Iggy.
Both Iman Shumpert and JR Smith are quicker and more athletic than Barnes and Klay. The Cavs have a very real speed advantage on the wings.
Tristan Thompson might be every bit as athletic as Draymond Green. Do you see him picking up Curry all the way out at the three point line? Do you see Curry settling for step-back threes against him? That should tell you something.
And Mozgov is far more athletic than Bogut, as has been made clear.
So the Cavs are both bigger and more athletic than the Warriors? What does that add up to?
It adds up to this:
3) The Warriors have never faced a defense like the Cavs’ all season long. Well, maybe one other: the healthy Spurs defense that waxed them in San Antonio.
The Cavs came into this series as the playoff team with the best defensive efficiency. Yes, better than the Warriors’ own vaunted defense. And that was playing with a one-legged Kyrie Irving much of the time. Their defense with Kyrie off the court is simply off the charts.
The Cavs are big, and long, and fast, and athletic. They are blitzing the crap out of Stephen Curry, as I predicted they would. And the Warriors’ role players have been unable to make them pay for it. Because the Cavs are big, and long, and fast, and athletic.
Don’t expect this to simply go away.
Shot-Making: Yes, the Warriors are also missing open threes. Curry has missed several shots he normally makes. Draymond and Barnes are clanking wide-open shots at an alarming rate.
And yes, these games have been very close, and a couple more made threes would have spelled victory for the Warriors. Right?
And so, when some of these threes start dropping, as we know they will, the Warriors will simply run away from the Cavs, right? QED, bitch.
Whose shooters have been more open in this series? I saw the Warriors resort to double and triple teams against LeBron in the last game. Did LeBron create any wide open threes for his teammates? And is it possible that the Cavs have been missing their wide-open threes at the same time as the Warriors?
I’ve seen the Cavs miss a lot of wide open threes. Dellie, in particular, has been ice-cold, at 1-6 so far this series. And he’s a pretty decent three point shooter. As are JR and Shumpert.
What happens when the Cavs return home, to their own beds, to welcoming fans, and familiar rims? Any chance that improves their shooting?
Here’s something else to chew on. Tristan Thompson is currently shooting .111 in this series. From 5 feet. And it’s not just Bogut and Green. He has been missing wide open bunnies at the rim, and appears to have a serious case of Finals yips.
He’s not this bad. This is a player who shot .545 this season. Any chance he gets better at home?
If you are one of those who is saying that all the Warriors need to do is make a few shots, you are deluding yourself. It’s not that simple, not in this series.
So what really has to happen for the Warriors to beat the Cavs? Here’s my list:
Superstar Klay: With the Cavs playing their best defender, Iman Shumpert, on Curry as much as possible, and fully committed to a Curry blitz, the Warriors have to recognize that this is Klay’s series. Klay himself has realized it. He’s been phenomenal.
Klay against JR Smith has proven to be a total mismatch. Even if JR weren’t mentally unsuited to keeping track of Klay’s every move, and following him over every screen, Klay is just too long for him. He’s been shooting right over him.
And what’s worked even better is when Klay manages to get Dellie switched onto him. Dellie is not even in Klay’s line of sight. Klay is lighting him up.
The Warriors have been working this. They need to work it even more. And to do it, Curry has to be willing to take a step back.
Is Curry willing to do this? He has in the past. Particularly last season, against the Clippers all-out blitz.
But this season is different. This season Curry is the MVP. And if you ask me, in the last few games one of the most unselfish players in the league has been playing a bit selfishly. He’s been pushing it, trying to live up to the hype of his match-up with King James, chasing his global brand.
One-one in the series, home-court advantage gone, headed to deepest, darkest Cleveland for the next two games, it’s time to get serious. It’s time for Stephen Curry to climb back into his own skin.
And get his teammates the ball.
The Tempo War: I’ve seen comments that the first two games have been played at the Cavs’ pace. That the Warriors need to up the tempo, get out and run, ignite Curry in the open court.
You think Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry don’t know that?
It’s not that easy. Because the Warriors cannot run if they don’t have the ball. And they can’t get the ball if they can’t rebound.
The Cavs have been destroying the smaller Warriors on the boards. Murdering them. And when I say this, I’m talking chiefly about the bigs. Bogut and Green have been completely overmatched by Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. And LeBron against Barnes is child’s play.
This has required the Warriors guards to collapse into the paint on every shot, to help their bigs out on the boards. And that means bye bye, leakouts. And bye bye, fast break.
In the last game, Curry had 6 rebounds, Klay 5, Iggy 6. And the Warriors were still outrebounded by 10.
Can this be turned around? I’m not sure. Are you?
The X-Factor: I called Draymond Green a key to this series in my preview. And while he was much better in the last game than in the first, he hasn’t come close to giving the Warriors a dominating performance.
Far from it. He’s getting worked on the boards. He’s been unable to do anything against Mozgov but foul. And he can’t hit an outside shot.
This shooting slump he’s in actually stretches back to the Grizzlies series. He’s 5-34 on threes in his last 9 games. That’s no way to break the Curry blitz.
Is fatigue catching up to Draymond Green? Whatever it is, he needs to snap out of it in one of the next two games. I’m not sure the Warriors can beat the Cavs unless the X-Factor comes up big.
Can he, against King James, Tristan Thompson and the Mozgosaurus? I’m not sure. Are you?
Pick and Roll: Watching the last game, my mind wandered back to something that Jeff van Gundy said two years ago, when broadcasting the Warriors second round match with the San Antonio Spurs:
The difference between these two teams is that one has players who can finish a pick and roll, and the other doesn’t.
Remember that? And doesn’t that describe exactly what is going on in this series? Curry is getting the crap blitzed out of him, and the Warriors can’t get a damn thing out of it. Because the Warriors can’t finish a pick and roll.
They aren’t even trying. How many times has Bogut rolled to the hoop? How can he even get there, when he’s setting picks at the three point line against the Cavs extended defense? Festus Ezeli can finish a pick and roll. But has Kerr even given him one chance? Draymond Green has been a favored high pick and roll player in the small lineup this season. But against this giant Cavs team, how much time can Kerr give the small lineup?
It will come as no surprise to regular readers that it crossed my mind that there is a player buried on the Warriors bench who could both help the Warriors rebound, and help break the Curry blitz on the other end. A player who did exactly that in last season’s playoffs against the vaunted Clippers front line, and helped extend that series to seven games, without Bogut, without Ezeli, without Jermaine O’Neal. While playing on one leg.
There is a player on the Warriors bench who, with Draymond Green as his wing man, beat the World Champion Heat’s Curry blitz with crunch time pick and roll. In Miami. Twice, in two seasons. Any similarities between that Heat team and the Cavs’ crunch-time lineup?
The forgotten All-Star. The man whose name must not be spoken.
Is it possible that the Warriors need him? Would Steve Kerr go to him, even if they did? I don’t know.
The Wagering: I somehow managed to bank my Game 2 under bet, even though the game once again went to overtime. But that will be my last under bet of this series. The line has plummeted from 204 in the first game, to 202 in the last game, all the way down to 194 in Game 3.
That’s it for me. The true nature of this series is now obvious to everyone. There is zero edge at this price.
And I don’t bet without edge.