Words by Jayden Taylor
Unprecedented, legendary, unbeatable. There are endless synonyms attached to the ever-impressive Golden State Warriors’ reign as kings of the NBA. As dominant as they are, for once they looked seamlessly human during their 7-game stunner with Oklahoma City. Like déjà vu, they’re back once again to ruin the dream for Lebron’s Cleveland Cavaliers. But unlike last year, there are flaws in the ‘Golden Blueprint’ and this year could finally be a chance for The King to reclaim his throne bring the title back to Cleveland.
If not steph… go for Klay…:
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the league. Period. I dare you to name another pair who even comes close. However, dare I say, Klay Thompson can be crazy inconsistent- everyone knows what to expect from Steph, but Klay is unconscious making unbelievable shots in one game and then he will go 0-8 for threes in the next. It’s a stretch and could very well be fool’s gold to hope for Klay to go cold enough to have little to no impact on the game, but what are their options? Klay could very well end up guarding Kyrie Irving, who can be just as explosive as Curry, and who’s also a handful for even most of the NBA premier on-ball defenders. If Kyrie attacks Klay and makes him expend a substantial energy on the defensive end, realistically, Klay is going to show more of his inconsistent side. And Kyrie making him work on the defensive end will affect his shooting drastically. That’s one puzzle to the jigsaw however.
Switch everything on top:
One thing Oklahoma City got right in their 7 game war with the Warriors is their defensive scheme. With aggressive switching from their bigs in cohesion with the Thunder guards, they managed to neutralise some plays in Golden State’s devastating attack (notice the word “some” as excellent teams find ways to score). Watching Golden State footage, there’s two ways they will get their buckets primarily from the screen. Primarily is their three point shooting from Klay, Draymond or Curry. Tendencies can be highlighted: GSW score a few baskets every game just from miscommunication leading to the open roll to the basket from the big man (watch for their back door lob to Bogut or the wrap around bounce pass to Festus Ezeli). It makes sense in the short term to hedge Steph Curry once he uses the screen. However, Golden State are burning teams with the this play and placing a versatile big like Thompson or LeBron if Draymond Green sets the screen can make things harder. At least they can contest a deep three from Curry rather than open plays under the basket and we’ve seen Curry is missing more than usual on shots that dropped during the regular seasons.
Lebron VS Draymond:
Lebron has to be big time this year for Cleveland to stand a chance at the title and I believe he will. But understandingly, he has to shut down Golden State’s nucleus. Basketball brains know Draymond fuels Golden State’s attack. Steven Adams did a great job on him but Lebron can do an even greater one. Again, a tendency from Golden State, Draymond Green does two things especially too well: Passing from the post and passing from the top of the key. A Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson could guard him in the post, but Lebron offers greater defensive IQ, stature and it allows for Cleveland to stick their primary rebounders on the big for Golden State and prevent second chance plays. Cleveland’s defenders should dig on Draymond (drop down to force to the baseline) unless it’s Klay or Steph in the corner (Harrison Barnes and Iggy are shooting okay but not blistering from the perimeter. If it is the Splash Brothers, Cleveland can play bull dog defence on the guards and let Lebron try one on one- Cleveland would love for the role players to try beat’em. On the top of the perimeter, Lebron needs to sag down and help the off-ball defenders on Steph and Klay, Coincidentally, if he sags down he could prevent cuts to the basket, Draymond has been poor from three and Lebron is laterally quick enough to prevent Draymond drives. In other words, if Draymond Green is neutralised, the Warriors lose their catalyst. And there is no one better equipped to do so than LeBron.
You can shoot them away:
Cleveland has at-least 6 players regularly shooting over 40% from the 3-point line: Richard Jefferson, Kyrie Irving, Channing Frye, Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert and JR Swish. Cleveland can get really hot, like Death Chilli, hot from the three as seen by their 80 plus threes in the series against Atlanta. They don’t need to make 2o threes a game but, making 15-20 a game is going to allow Cleveland to unleash their beasts in Kyrie Irving and Lebron James in to the paint. Russell Westbrook released relentless attacks to the basket against the Golden State interior and it allowed for drive and kick-outs to the perimeter. Lebron will average 28+ points this series if he can see prolonged periods to attack the paint and his most dangerous skill is his passing so it’ll lead to 6+ assists to go with his points. Every golden State opponent knows how demoralising conceding three point bombs are. But this time, through a different style however, Cleveland is just as capable of making it rain at an unprecedented frequency, giving the Warriors a taste of their own medicine. However, Cleveland should be careful and not fall in love with the 3, and try out-shooting Golden State from three. It never ends well.
It’s only three small things but effectively, Cleveland is already a good team and so are Golden State. Otherwise they wouldn’t be in the finals. However, Golden State for once in their historic season seems vulnerable and these small fixes could be decisive in getting crucial stops needed to win games. Tactics win series not just players.