Okay let me be straight here, the NBA Finals caught everyone by surprise. The 104-89 win for Golden State Warriors wasn’t too surprising knowing this after all is the only entity with the most regular season wins in the NBA. That result can’t be a surprise, not when the Warriors dug themselves out of a preposterous 1-3 pit against an insanely talented Oklahoma city Thunder team which represented nothing like last season’s miraculous 1-3 series comeback win by Houston Rockets over Los Angeles Clippers.
Another surprising outcome was the abject production from the Splash Brothers-Steph Curry and Klay Thompson- who combined for 20 measly points but had reserve Point Guard Shaun Livingston amass a career post season high 20 points. The rest of the Warriors picked up the slack from Curry and Thompson’s miserable night to obliterate Cleveland despite Cavaliers big three coming up with decent numbers.
Kyrie Irving topped the scoring chart with 26 points, LeBron James almost registered a triple double after scoring 23 points and Kevin Love got a double-double scoring 17 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. How Warriors bench tore up such a stat sheet is quite perplexing. What isn’t perplexing though is, Cleveland sucked by not being bold but being bold is the only way out of this labyrinth.
Zeroing in on the main subject, Love and Irving are mediocre defenders and that’s saying it lightly. Both players are standout offensive players who can unlock defenses with an array of deft touches driving to the paint or shooting from deep. On the down side both consistently go missing on the less glamorous end of the court. In the regular season this doesn’t hurt because there will definitely be second chances in an 82 game schedule where those bad traits can be smothered over.
However, in the post season especially the finals, time slows down giving backroom staff enough time to breakdown opposing teams down to a tee. What that means for Cleveland is, both Love and Kyrie will be exposed against a well balanced team. In effect, things stay the same as they were in last season’s final where anything Cleveland did was up to LeBron and when things go in that direction, Golden State will always win.
The jury is still out there on Tyronne Lue if he can do a better job than David Blatt who got fired midway through the season. Game One’s lopsided loss gives him the perfect opportunity to level and overturn the deficit like Blatt did in last season’s finals. Unlike Blatt, who saw Golden State win three more games to win its’ first NBA title in 40 years, Lue can do better than him by doing the one thing Blatt failed to do in last years finals; utilize a very good bench and then some.
In Timofey Mozgov, Channing Fye, Mo Williams, Dahntay Jones, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, Matthew Dellavedova and James Jones, Lue has a much deeper bench than Blatt had last season. Each member offers something different which needs to be harnessed against a team doing exactly that. Dahntay is a renowned perimeter defender same as Dellavedova, Williams and Jones can score, Shumpert and Jefferson are generations apart from shooting three pointers and defending wing players. Mozgov is an old school bone crusher below the rim whereas Frye thrives as the modern day big man who shuttles far away from the basket to connect on jumpers and three pointers.
Takeaways from the first game point to one simple fact; Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving’s defensive ineptitude killed the Cavaliers. To solve this problem, Lue must make the bold decision to start both from the bench and surround them with top defenders like Dellavedova and Shumpert. Having a small ball lineup featuring Irving at Point Guard, Dellavedova at Shooting Guard, Shumpert at Small Forward, Dahntay Jones at Power Forward and Love at Center should cover lapses on either end.
Love and Irving handling scoring duties (which they did when LeBron rested yet caused Cleveland’s deficit to rise from three when LeBron exited the game close to the end of the third quarter, to 14 when he checked back in the game early in the fourth quarter) will not come at the expense of the defense as others will be more focused on doing it. Playing LeBron James alongside Frye, Thompson (Tristan), Mo Williams and J. R. Smith in the starting lineup gives Lue lots of offensive options without compromising the defense too much. James is not the All-Defense first team member any more but his defense is still very good and Tristan and Smith can hold their own against just about any other player in the league.
Williams and Frye will be needed on offense more as LeBron’s otherworldly ability to draw multiple defenders will open up spaces for them to score. Steve Kerr earned his strips by being bold to usher an All Star, Olympic and World Champion in Andre Iguodala to the bench. Lue must adjust quickly to the Warriors multi faceted deep team because believe it or not, Cleveland’s long wait for a title hinges on it.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah