Movie sequels are usually horrible. Don’t take my words for it, just watch The Hangover 3, Transformers 17 (?) or the infamous Dumb and Dumber Too. The problem is that sequels try too hard to capture their predecessors’ magic but in the process end up being predictable. We know Paul Flinch will end up with Stiffler’s mom in American Pie. The first time around this bit was entertaining but by Reunion it felt pathetic. We anticipate large set pieces to end an Avengers movie but however perfect the special effects are, no Avengers sequel will capture my attention like the first did my freshman year of college.
Sport sequels are not dissimilar. The Classico has rarely been entertaining in the last seven years. We’ve seen this game more than 40 times in the last 8 years, we know what’s going to happen: Real sticks deep, Barcelona passes to death, Pepe gets a red card, Messi and/or Ronaldo scores. Sometime however, a series finds a way to re-invent itself and improve upon past work by introducing a new actor or a new story line: see the Nolan Batman movies. Last night Kevin Durant, the only important player that did not play in the finals last year, was Christian Bale, the new actor Cavs-Warriors III needed to be even more interesting and give it a fresh start for basketball nerds like myself.
Basketball is a very predictable sport. The nature of a 7 game series makes outcomes deterministic; that is unlike in football: the favorite almost always wins. It’s never wise to make any strong conclusions after game 1 of the NBA finals but there were some interesting tactical and philosophical differences that are worth discussing.
1 – Defense Matters and the Cavs have no answer for Kevin Durant
Make no mistake on defense, the Cavs are mediocre (ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency during the regular season) and the Warriors are elite (Ranked 2nd in defensive efficiency during the regular season). Lebron is still an elite defender when he tries, Tristan Thompson and JR Smith are both physical and active players but Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving remain below average defenders. The difference in personnel was exemplified in the opening minutes of the game. The Cavs got Kevin Love switched on Klay Thompson but Love, who’s been feasting all postseason on Eastern Conference defenses, just couldn’t get a shot up; Klay was all over him.
The Dub’s defensive intensity was simply remarkable. They forced twenty turnovers and looked comfortable switching on any screens not involving Curry. It also helps that they have 5 players who can do a functional job guarding Lebron: Iggy, Klay, KD, Draymond and Livingston. The most glaring defensive issue in the game though was how poor the Cavs game plan was. It was very obvious that they wanted to keep Curry and Klay off the 3 point line on fast breaks.
They willingly accepted layups/dunk penetration to protect the 3 point line.
This approach would have been fine last year when Curry was the primary ball handler on fast breaks and Klay was the shooter. Steph is a very respectable at driving to the basket but we all remember the multiple blocks Lebron had on him last year. This year KD, a seven footer who happens to be the best offensive player in the league, is the primary ball handler and if he has the lane, he will gladly take an easy dunk anytime the Cavs dare him.
2 – Richard Jefferson is not a solution for KD and the Cavs bench is washed
Even in his New Jersey Nets prime, Richard Jefferson was never a consequential player. At age 36, Jefferson has no business being on the court, let alone guarding KD during meaningful minutes in the third quarter. To be fair the Cavs don’t have an answer for KD unless Lebron guards him for 40+ minutes and from what we’ve last night and during the regular season, even he can’t hang with KD consistently. For the first time in my life time, Lebron looked tired in a playoff game. The reason is fairly simple: this year he can’t play free safety defending Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green; He’ll have to work hard on KD. Playing defense wears you out, if you don’t believe me, ask Steph Curry.
Richard Jefferson though is just a symptom of the Cavs bench disease. Their four main players (Jefferson, Fry, D Will and Korver) coming off the bench are 34+ years old defensive liabilities that barely contribute on offense against good defensive teams. Kyle Korver the best of the four is an absolute net negative because he can’t guard anyone on the court. He couldn’t even guard Jerebko last week against Boston, what will he do against Draymond or Steph on a switch? Channing Fry didn’t play a minute last night because of similar defensive issues. Deron Williams on the other hand shot 0 for 4 with 3 turnover in 18 minutes. When you compare those four to the steady and excellent Shaun Livingston, the surprising Javale Mcgee and Ian Clark and the 2015 finals MVP Andre Iguodala, there’s simply no match when Lebron and Kyries take a couple minutes to rest. We saw this in the beginning of the fourth quarter. If they are to have a chance in this series, the Cavs should tighten the rotation with 7 players, and let Lebron and Kyrie them carry them for 44 minutes a night.
4 – The Cavs should slow it down
Over the course of the season, the Cavs slowly transformed themselves into a new team: part iso-oriented with Kyrie and Lebron, part jump shooting. The issue with this strategy is that you can’t beat Golden State playing an up and down game, not with those defenders, not with this poor transition defense, not when the Dubs are defending like they did last night. The best way to beat the Dubs is use an approach the Spurs and the Pistons used in the early 2000s. Make the game ugly, milk the clock, minimize the amount of possession and let your iso-ball heroes save you. It was this exact approach the Cavs used in game 7 last year when they limited the Warriors to 89 points with the shot from Kyrie coming from an isolation play. It was also the same approach they used in 2015 NBA finals when they were riding Lebron’s back for 6 games.
On thursday the Warriors were able to put up 106 shots, 20 more than Cleveland. The Cavs are lucky Draymond and Klay shot for a combined 6 for 28 last night. On a normal night, this would have been a fourty point game.
4 – The Dubs have no answer for Kyrie
Kyrie wasn’t excellent last night but he was still pretty damned good. Even with outstanding defense from Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, Kyrie still found a way to have some fantastic finishes. The Warriors will need to figure out a better scheme to prevent those penetrations, especially when they play at Cleveland.
5 – The Dubs Can Play Better
Klay and Draymond shot 6 for 28. Steph missed 3 open layeups, Zaza was hesitant going to the basket. This is to say that the Warriors can be even better than they were last night on the offensive end. Kevin Durant thinks likewise.
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