Conor O’Mahony looks at how the Cavs won game three and the adjustments GSW must make.
Cavs Defence On Steph Curry
Watching Curry play in game 3 of the finals through the first three quarters, a thought began to form in my mind. Curry was playing like LeBron did in the 2011 NBA Finals vs the Dirk Nowitski-led Dallas Mavericks.
Like LeBron in 2011, he was completely out of sync on offence. His tentativeness meant he did not even try and split pick and rolls and get into the lane where he could drop floaters, feed the rolling big man or find the open guy in the corner. Instead of getting into the lane he looked to move the ball early, often finding Draymond Green in the post, a player playing with zero confidence right now.
Steve Kerr has built this offence on unselfishness, and a by-product of this is smart cutting, screening and ensuring everyone touches the ball; in other words the brand of basketball we all love to see. This has brought them untold success, the greatest regular season in the franchises history, and right to the cusp of winning their first championship in 40 years.
As such, one cannot criticise Curry and Kerr for being slow to come around to the idea that what has got them here might not be enough to finish the job. That offence is beautiful, but they must come to the realisation that there is a time and a place for everything,
Give David Blatt and this Cavs team credit, they have recognised how The Warriors play a “pace and space” game and have made adjustments to counteract this. They are defending Curry the right way, stringing him out on pick and rolls by ensuring Mathew Dellavedova is air tight on him coming around those screens, and also sending weakside help.
One solution here is to remove the big man setting the screen from the equation altogether. The screener for The Warriors is usually either Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut or Harrison Barnes, all three of whom are having woeful series on the offensive end.
The Cavs’ big men, either Tristan Thompson or Timofey Mozgov, are able to immediately help off the Warriors struggling big men and converge on Curry, forcing him to beat his defender and the helper.
By removing the screener, Curry just has to beat Mathew Dellevedova. As well as Delly played in game 3, Curry has enough in his arsenal to torch him in a one-on-one situation. Obviously this means that Curry will have to run more isolation plays, something he is not naturally disposed to do.
But when your post players are offering you so little, and Andre Iguodala can’t hit a shot to save his life, you have to stand up and say, ‘I’m the best player on my team and the MVP of the league, get on my back and I’ll get us points’.
The LeBron James Conundrum
I criticised LeBron heavily in the wake of the team’s game 1 loss, scolding him for taking too many isolations shots, and not including his team-mates in the offence. I stand by that, James went too far with the iso’s in that game, to the detriment of the team.
However, the goalposts have moved since then, Kyrie Irving the Cavs’ number 2 option has been ruled out for the series, leaving a huge scoring void behind him. LeBron has had to fill that void, by any means necessary.
The isolations have become more savvy, he is moving the ball from side to side along the perimeter and using the pick and roll to get a favourable switch, and then attacking. On many of the pick and rolls he is finding the rolling big man, Mozgov or Thompson for the easy deuce. That is simply making the most of what the team has, and playing intelligent basketball.
For The Warriors, the burning question is who do you give the assignment of defending James too? LeBron began game 3 like a man who was just fired out of a canon, going to the rack again and again. Harrison Barnes got torched on dribble drive penetration due to LeBron’s superior foot speed, and in the post due to his physical dominance. In essence, Barnes is helpless to do anything about LeBron getting easy shots and that is a terrible match-up for the Warriors.
The obvious answer is Andre Iguodala. Iggy is a strong guy and LeBron cannot simply back him down all the way into the key. When subbed into the game early in game 3 he immediately made a difference by getting into LeBron’s body and forcing him to shoot tough, contested jumpers.
He has been the only Warrior who has been able to give him any semblance of trouble in the past. LeBron still got hot in the 2nd half when he started hitting the jumper. LeBron hittiing the perimeter shot means death, regardless of who is guarding him. Iggy did an admirable job against a guy playing at an all time elite level.
So give Iggy the majority of the minutes of LeBron right? Wrong. He is one of only a few Warriors players who have the ability to push the ball up the floor.
The Warriors have been completely taken out of their game by The Cavs, averaging only 93 possessions a game. In the last two games they have failed to crack 60 points in three quarters, something which they had succeeded in doing in each of their previous 98 games (regular season and play-offs.) For the Dubs to win, they need to be playing up tempo, seven seconds or less type basketball.
Putting Iggy on LeBron full-time would be insanely draining on his body, likely leaving him with nothing to give on offence. Start with Green on him, he has the physical strength not to be bullied on the block and can keep him off the glass. Green is a player who revels in being handed a challenge, so start with that and if it’s not working, sub in Iggy
Warriors may just need to stay the course, they are missing open shots that they normally make. They are in all these games, but are not hitting enough shots.
Green needs to improve if they are to go on to win this series. He is passing up 3s he usually takes. It seems from the outside like he is in his own head.
Warriors assistant Ron Adams is on record as saying that Green should be shooting 3s, but late in the clock. Green also needs to push the ball up the court more after corralling the rebound. The Warriors are not winning this series without a huge improvement from him.
I am expecting to see more of David Lee for the Warriors tonight in Game 4, and I am going to pick them to win tonight. Expect Kerr to have his team out and running, and looking to push after every rebound.
Conor O’Mahony, Pundit Arena
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