4 Reasons Why The Cavaliers Will Get Swept
Let's be honest, if there's a Finals game to withhold judgement on, it's the first one. Ya know what, I'll take that one further -- the least meaningful game of a Finals series is Game 1 when LeBron James is playing in it. The guy has only won one of the seven he's ever played in, which was back in 2011 against the Dallas Mavericks (a series that his Miami Heat team eventually lost, mind you). Then consider that the Cavs have been sitting on their asses for a week while the Warriors have been busy finding their groove against a Thunder team that looked hopped-up on amphetamines, and the outcome of Game 1 looks even less determinative of the series. So before I lock and load my piping hot prediction canon, I'd like to point out that Thursday's 15-point Golden State win over the Cleveland was NOT undeniable proof that the Cavaliers' goose is cooked, in and of itself.
What happened in the actual game, however, is. (Durr.)
They're fucked. Here's why...
1) The Cavs aren't long enough
You'd think that holding Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to 20 combined points would be an indication that the Cavaliers' defensive scheme worked, and to an obvious extent, it did. But one of the many strengths of this Warriors' roster is their ability to change out pieces to exploit their opponent's defensive shortcomings, and as we saw on Thursday night, one of those is named Kyrie Irving. Because he's such an indisposable weapon on offense, Tyronn Lue has no choice but to keep him on the floor when Shaun Livingston enters the game (duh), but Irving's lack of size, physicality and length make him a complete mismatch for the 6'7" back-up. Steve Kerr used Livingston exponentially more than he had in the previous series against a much longer, more athletic/versatile Thunder defense that could wheel out a backcourt of André Roberson or Russell Westbrook. Those guys are a combined six inches taller and a full foot longer (meaning wingspan) than Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova. As a result, Livingston gets to drive-and-pop at his favorite spots and there's nothing Cleveland can do about it.
Just have a look at his shot chart...
Shaun Livingston 20 points shot chart 8-10 FGs includes some tough 2s-contested shots inside 3-point line, zero 3FGA pic.twitter.com/4vFSRSvXlV
— Bill Herenda (@billherenda) June 3, 2016
As for Cleveland's stubbiness impacting their offense, Kyrie Irving spent Game 1 passing up threes that had been otherwise uncontested in the previous series against six-foot Kyle Lowry. That meant more dribble penetrations and shots on the move -- but even still, 12 of his 22 field goal attempts were contested. The Cavs' second-best player became a liability. Here's his shot chart to give you an idea of just how effective the Warriors were at forcing Irving into tough shots in traffic...
— StreetHistory (@streethistory) June 3, 2016
2) Andre Iguodala is LeBron James' Kryptonite
Over the last 12 quarters of basketball when LeBron James and Andre Iguodala have shared the same space on an NBA court, LeBron has gone 17 of 47. Sure, he went bonkers in their six previous meetings during last year's Finals, but even then, LeBron shot a unimpressive 37% from the floor, and once again, the Warriors' length/speed combo is the culprit. In the event Cleveland manages to peel the NBA's second-best defender (Draymond Green, ahem) off LeBron, Iguodala has consistently been there to pick up the switch. That's kind of like outrunning a Tyrannosaurus only to come face-to-face with Indominus rex.
Even when he's backing down the smaller Iguodala directly under the basket, it's still a fucking headache for him...
Iggy allows the Warriors to defend LeBron straight-up, sans double teams, which makes easy buckets virtually impossible to come by this series. I don't know if you watched the Cavaliers run through the East like shit through a tin horn, but they had more uncontested buckets than Oracle Arena has yellow t-shirts. Bron will have to suddenly develop a knack for exploiting switches (which has always been one of the weakest parts of his game) if the Cavs are gonna have any chance at winning a game this series.
SPOILER ALERT: He probably won't.
3) The Cavs are too slow
One of the main reasons the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to contain the Warriors' molten lava offense in the Western Conference Finals was that virtually every lineup they have is fast, top to bottom. This is very much not the case with the Cavaliers. So when screens are set and missed shots lead to Golden State fast breaks, the Cavs panic because switches are more difficult and Richard f-ing Jefferson is 500 years too old to get back to make a play on defense. What's worse, the Cavs were struggling to communicate on switches all night, which, if you're gonna be the "slower-but-smarter veteran team", is not a good sign. It's almost as if LeBron's on-court coaching role has interfered with the flow of information between his teammates. It's weird how social dynamics work like that.
Running through the Eastern Conference with this roster was one thing, but when it comes to beating the prototypical NBA super-team, the Cavaliers look like an outdated model for winning a championship -- and that's not even factoring in Kyrie Irving's poor pick-and-roll defense against the pick-and-rolliest point guard in the NBA. They are slow. They look better suited in the early 2000s than they do in 2016, and it showed on both ends of the floor. Cleveland couldn't get anything going in isolation because they simply are not quick enough to get around defenders, nor could they rotate on defense when the ball started swinging around the perimeter. But if you're going into a series against Golden State with a dramatically slower squad, you'd better bring a bruising interior presence. The Cavs aren't doing that either, which brings us to reason #4...
4) Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love ≠ Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka
Ok, so a couple things here. In the box score, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love looked super effective (12 boards and 10 points). In reality, they're not exactly the guys you want to be relying on against the Golden State Warriors.
Here's some video evidence to support that claim:
Now here's what that same scenario looked like when Thunder big Steven Adams had the unfortunate task of covering the best player in the sport:
Obviously, these are cherry picked examples (Thompson is way more athletic than that clip made him look), but the fact remains that Tristan Thompson struggles keep up with the breakneck pace dictated by GSW's NBA Jam-styled offense, and Kevin Love is (still) awful at defending pick-and-rolls. That's on defense. Now for their impact (or lackthereof) when the Cavs have the ball.
Getting the Andrew Bogut in early foul trouble was huge in the Thunder's three wins last series -- something that's especially hard to do considering referees seem to swallow their whistles while the Warriors play defense (or set screens). With Bogut on the court Thursday night, Thompson essentially became a one-trick pony, snagging rebounds while struggling to manage any sort of non-alley-oop offense (and even those became difficult with Bogut lurking around). Point being, Tristan Thompson's inability to get solid position in the post -- he seemingly never can get himself open around the basket -- combined with his awful free-throw shooting make it really hard for the Cavs to gameplan around prematurely sending Bogut to the bench. Consider this: in the three games the Thunder won in the WCF, Bogut accumulated 13 personal fouls and scored just eight total points. In Game 1 of the actual Finals, Bogut had two personal fouls and scored 10 points in 15 minutes. The Cavaliers simply cannot beat this team if they're going to let the Warriors' slowest rotation wreak havoc before Steve Kerr trots out his "Death Lineup."
As for Love, his lack of speed turns him in a spot-up shooter against the swarming Warriors' defense, which makes it even more difficult to draw fouls on Bogut.
Obviously, adjustments will be made and the Cavaliers should shoot the ball better in Game 2 -- and they did beat them twice in three game last year -- but Cleveland's two bigs (and just about everything else) appear incompatible with the strategy that nearly toppled Golden State last week. It seems as though these teams' two previous meetings this season went the way they did for good reason, and there's no indication the next three games should be any different. Now imagine what will happen when Steph and Klay get hot. The Cavs won't even sniff a win all series.
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