words by Jayden Taylor
The Cleveland Cavaliers have come in to the season with vengeance in mind. Last year’s result was certainly a key motivating factor that helped propel LeBron and the Cavaliers to another NBA Finals visit – LeBron’s sixth straight, a feat last achieved in the 1960’s during the Boston Celtics dynasty. Aided by an easier eastern conference, they’ve won 12 out of 14 games including back to back sweeps against the Pistons and the Hawks. But Golden State is real good as well, they are the greatest regular season team of all time after all. This year’s run was a revelation, squashing last year’s claims of being “lucky” to get to the finals having all opposing starting point guards either injured or coming off an injury. This year was the biggest challenge for the Warriors so far, carrying the pressure of being the defending champs and winning 73 games. They also showed us something about them we’ve never seen as they dug deep and survived by the skin of their teeth, beating Oklahoma after being on the brink of collapse, 3-1 down. Coming off 73 regular season wins, they are the favourites despite Cleveland’s domination in the eastern conference. Here’s how they can beat Cleveland again.
The battle of the benches
Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Marreesse Speights and Festus Ezeli are going to need to outperform Cleveland’s secondary team. Offensive spurts are going to be needed when the ‘Big three’ are resting. If Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and the other roles players get hot like they can, Speights is going to have to produce buckets in short spurts to provide an answer. Iggy is, again, a major key as they will need him to play big with LeBron as his defensive assignment because Draymond Green CAN NOT GUARD LEBRON. It just doesn’t work as he gets burnt off the dribble at a dangerously high frequency. So can Iggy reproduce what he did last year on LBJ? Livingston will have his hands full on the defensive end as he’s going to have to play excellent on Kyrie Irving, one of the most explosive scorers in the game today. Getting stops is essential as Golden State can’t just afford to live by the gun and die by the gun by trying shoot their way back in the game like they did against OKC. That means key bench players keeping leads for short spurts or minimising deficits in key periods in the game.
Attack Cleveland’s bigs from the perimeter
Kevin Love, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson etc are average, at best, defenders. And if Cleveland decides to not switch screens then there’s a clear flaw in the blueprint. A myriad of guard to guard and guard to big screens in the Golden State offensive scheme allows two of the best shooters of all time to get effective spot ups and key switches from the perimeter, which means Cleveland will struggle to keep up with Golden state. As aforementioned, Lebron should guard Draymond but if he doesn’t then this leaves Golden State to utilise their small ball line up- this is the perfect opportunity to attack Love, Thompson or Frye off the screen with isolations off the switch, reminiscent of Curry’s isolations on Kanter and Adams.
There’s no denying that the Cavaliers frontcourt are a liability when it comes to perimeter defence. One player in particular, Kevin Love, who will be playing heavy minutes will be a target to attack on offense a Golden State are going to use his lack in athletic ability and defensive presence to their advantage. Love will be exploited and Golden State will use his matchup to set a screen for Curry to force a switch. It’s important for Golden State to exploit this weakness in many ways by either posting up on Kevin Love if a switch does not come to fruition or on the switch which Klay, Draymond or Steph will have a field day.
Golden State needs to do less than they already did to beat Cleveland than Cleveland needs to do differently to beat Golden State. Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozen found numerous ways to attack the bigs and get to the basket. At the very least, if Golden State can get to the hoop they’ll get more free throw opportunities and they’re devastatingly good free throw shooters.
A dominant defensive presence
Toronto found some success against Cleveland with an eye-opening defensive effort from Bismack Biyombo. Bogut is more thn capable and Draymond Green is well-rounded enough to have a significant interior presence. The warriors need to protect their paint as Lebron and Kyrie will inevitably get to the paint a lot and that will mean cuts to the basket from Iman, JR, Delly etc. Comparatively, Festus Ezeli could be an X-factor for Golden State with his rebounding presence which could match or even upend Cleveland’s Thompson and Love. He is also a premier help defender and once his abilities on the defensive end is established, this will affect Cleveland’s game plan and Golden State will have an advantage. Bogut could also be a decider. He came through with some clutch performances in games 5 and 6 against OKC when their small ball death squad was neutralised. He’s a recognised shot-blocker and dominating the boards will frustrate LeBron and Kevin Love.
A frustrated Lebron James
Lebron James is going to get his. No matter what you do. He’s that good.be A statline of around around 25, 7 and 7 would be normal for him. But he can get frustrated, although not as often as he used to. He’s most likely going to receive defensive coverage from the roulette of Klay, Draymond and last year’s finals MVP, Andre Igoudala. LeBron is a refined, yet very physical player and playing physical defence is an answer. Should Golden State try physically defend LeBron, it would be a logical tactical approach to foul Lebron James in the paint. He’s a strong finisher in the paint, but his free throw shooting has been decreasing and inconsistent. This opens an opportunity for him to get frustrated and when he is, he’s not at 100% focused and Cleveland is not at full strength. Kyrie and Kevin Love can’t beat Golden State unless Lebron plays his best, and call it dirty tactics but Golden State should do whatever they can to [mentally] aggravate Lebron James and Andre Iguodala is the man to get that started.
Overall, Golden State are heavily betted favourites, doing what they do alone gives them an incredible shot at the back to back and these little things will further improve their chances to make history. However, Cleveland are no pushovers and they’ll be even be more loaded and ready than they ever were last year in the finals.