Posted on June 3, 2017, by Travis Pulver
The Cleveland Cavaliers have beaten the Golden State Warriors before. You wouldn’t have guessed it by how Game One of the NBA Finals played out Thursday night, but they have. Remember last year’s NBA Finals? But that version of the Warriors didn’t have Kevin Durant, but the one they played on Christmas Day did (a 109-108 Cavs win).
Yes, the Warriors destroyed the Cavs the next time they played, but the point is that the Cavs have beaten the Warriors. If they can do it once, they can absolutely do it again.
The question is how.
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You can’t just say the Cavs just need to do whatever worked for that Christmas Day win—but they kind of do. Golden State tends to keep a lot of games close for three-quarters of play and then catches their opponents sleeping and blows up for one-quarter. That one-quarter is sometimes the first of the game, at times it is the last, or maybe the second or third. But they do the bulk of their damage in one-quarter.
During that Christmas Day game, the Cavaliers kept it close in the first (27-25), second (55-52), and third quarters (87-80). Normally, you would expect the Warriors to blow up in the fourth and take the win, but they didn’t. The Cavs outscored them 29-21 and walked away with the win.
Okay—so keep it close and then put ‘em away. Sounds like a good strategy–right? But how in the world do you do it? What was it that worked on Christmas Day for the Cavs?
Or was it more of what didn’t work for the Warriors?
As a team, Golden State shot 48.1 percent from the floor; not bad, but not great either. But from three-point range—their bread and butter—they were a dismal 9-30 (30 percent). Kevin Durant hit only two of his eight attempts, and Seth Curry hit only two of his seven.
Durant still scored 36 points (thanks in part to going 12-12 from the free throw line), but Curry only scored 15 (4-11 from the floor; 5-6 from three-point range).
Golden State also had 19 turnovers on the day while Cleveland only had 12.
So—from taking a look back at Christmas Day, can we come up with a winning game plan for the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Yes–yes, we can, and It sounds like Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue is all over it. He wants his guys to be more physical.
“I think, just make them feel us,” Cavs forward Kevin Love told the media Friday (ESPN). “That’s something that I imagine Ty probably talked about [with the media] and we can definitely do a better job of.”
The upside to playing a more physical style is clear. Get in a player’s face and contest more shots and he’ll likely make fewer of them. It seemed to work at the end of the Christmas Day game when Kevin Durant tried and failed to get off a last-second shot.
But the downside is clear, too. You risk getting players in foul trouble, and if whoever they foul has a good day at the line, the Cavs will still lose.
So, what they need to do is figure out how to play a more physical style of basketball without fouling and sending Durant and Curry to the foul line all night long. If they can disrupt the offensive flow for the Warriors, maybe they can keep Durant and Curry from heating up.
This is easier said than done of course. If the Cavaliers are going to do it, they will definitely need a better game from one of their more physical players, Tristan Thompson. He was held scoreless in Game One and pulled down only four rebounds (three offensive) and chipped in two assists.
“He’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the league, so they’re doing a good job of making sure they get two guys on him, two guys hitting his body to keep him off the glass,” Lue said. “When you play good defense and Tristan is getting offensive rebounds, that demoralizes your defense. … We got to continue to keep playing. It was one game. And he’ll get more the next game.”
Thompson wasn’t the only one that had an off night in Game One. The Warriors simply had too many weapons. The mediocre defense the Cavs put up simply couldn’t handle them all. Yes, trying to take away the three was the right idea, but maybe they need to look more towards taking away a player than a shot.
Kevin Durant will get his points no matter what; he is capable of doing too much for Cleveland to stop him completely. But he needs help; he can’t win the game alone.
Klay Thompson is stopping himself right now. But Steph Curry—when he failed to hit shots Christmas Day, the Cavs were able to pull out a win. When he was playing at less than 100 percent in last year’s Finals, the Cavs won.
The solution appears to be clear. Stop Steph and you stop the Warriors—and win the NBA Finals.