1) The Cavaliers’ offense is unimaginative and predictable
If you watched Game 3 between Cleveland and Atlanta, you witnessed Cleveland’s stagnant offense sputter and allow the Hawks to storm back into the game. Nearly every Cavaliers possession in the fourth quarter and overtime involved LeBron James holding the ball at the top of the arc or on the wing while his teammates stood around and stared.
Not only were LeBron’s teammates standing and watching, but so were the Hawks’ defenders. They were waiting for LeBron to make his move so that they could rotate accordingly and force him into a tough shot. Still, LeBron’s physical gifts allowed him to inefficiently score 37 points on 37 shots, which will not be good enough in the next round.
LeBron seemed indecisive – he would hold the ball for several seconds before making his move. What followed was usually a low percentage shot altered by a herd of defenders.
That kind of offensive strategy will not produce results against the Warriors. Golden State will not be at as severe a physical a disadvantage as Atlanta, or even be at a disadvantage at all,when it comes to stopping LeBron.
LeBron has also been an uncharacteristically poor jump shooter in this year’s playoffs, hitting just 12 of his 68 threes. The ability to back off LeBron even a half step because of his errant shooting gives defenders a much-needed extra split second of reaction time when trying to defend him off the dribble. The predictability of LeBron driving to the basket also minimizes the effectiveness of those drives significantly.
The Warriors are likely going to throw a combination of Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green, who was named to the NBA’s First Team All-Defense, at LeBron. Their speed and size will neutralize his explosiveness and power to some degree, but even if LeBron drives by his defender, Andrew Bogut will be there to meet him at the rim.
LeBron cannot rely solely on his natural athletic talents if he wants the Cavs to have a chance against Golden State. He’ll have to rely on his supporting cast, however depleted and inefficient it might be, and create some motion on offense to get some easier looks than the ones he had to force against Atlanta.
2) The Warriors have several matchup advantages
Especially With Kevin Love out for the playoffs and Irving playing on one leg, the Warriors are a far deeper team than the Cavaliers and as a result, Golden State will have advantages in the majority of matchups.
Hardly anyone has been able to figure out how to defend Stephen Curry and his lightning quick release this season, so I don’t see how a hobbled Kyrie Irving has any shot at successfully checking him. Matthew Dellavedova, who plays defense with dedication and passion, will see time trying to deny Curry, but he lacks the athleticism to handle the job on his own.
The Curry-Green pick and roll is deadly because of Green’s shooting ability and knack for attacking the basket. If both defenders hound Curry, he can loft it over the top to Green who can then attack from straight on with a four on three advantage. Defensive miscommunication on this action can also lead to a Curry or Green three, which they have knocked down with tremendous efficiency.
Thompson is constantly moving and running off screens, which makes defending him the job of all five guys. With his ability to shoot and attack the rim, Thompson will create matchup problems if a bigger player has to switch onto him.
During his time with the Knicks, I noticed that J.R. Smith is potentially the worst off-ball defender in the league. He often becomes flat-footed and loses sight of his man, which is simply unacceptable against the Warriors. If Smith falls asleep on defense for even a second, the Dubs will score before he knows what happened. There has to be a man attached to Curry and Thompson at all times, and my guess is that Smith will doze off too often.
Tristan Thompson has been a menace on the offensive glass in these playoffs and especially against the Hawks. He is ferocious in his pursuit of misses and goes up strong when he corrals an offensive board, but Green and Bogut will curtail his effectiveness by putting their big bodies on him while the ball is in the air.
LeBron will be the only Cavalier who has the upper hand in his matchup and that does not bode well for Cleveland.
3) The Warriors play at “Roaracle” Arena
Inside Oracle Arena in Oakland, you can feel the momentum building as the Warriors begin one of their trademark runs. Logic is suspended. I’ve never been there, mind you, but you can sense it even through the TV.
During those times, Curry starts hitting shots that would be ill-advised for any other player to take. And as he releases each one, the crowd holds its collective breath and people begin rising to their feet in anticipation. Then they erupt.
The momentum becomes contagious. It spreads to Thompson, Green, Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa – every Warrior. It’s a buzz in the building that gives each player the confidence to step into his shot without an ounce of doubt that it’s going in.
It’s why the Warriors won 39 of their 41 home games during the regular season. The game can swing in their favor in the blink of an eye.
The away team starts rushing its shots and turning the ball over as its confidence gets drained. Doubt creeps into the players’ minds. That’s when you know things are going to get a helluva lot worse for the Warriors’ victim before they get any better.
Quicken Loans Arena – The Q – will also be rocking come Game 3, but the atmosphere in Cleveland just is not the same as at the building affectionately dubbed Roaracle.
4) The better team will prevail
LeBron’s current team in Cleveland is not up to the challenge of climbing the NBA’s tallest mountain – at least not yet. The Cavaliers are simply not ready to take on a 67-win powerhouse that tore apart their opponents in the Western Conference playoffs en route to the Finals.
LeBron was able to manhandle the Hawks on his own because the Hawks were crippled and devoid of enough talent to outplay the Cavs, but you could see his frustration and exhaustion at times.
Against the Warriors, LeBron will crumble under the weight of his teammates’ inadequacies and Golden State’s excellence.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, each LeBron turnover may have led to a fast break led by Jeff Teague with a middling success rate. In the Finals, each miscue will end in a dagger three by Curry or Thompson before LeBron even has a chance to start complaining to the refs.
Think about LeBron’s supporting cast from Game 3 of the Hawks series when Irving was out.
Smith launches step back threes with horrifying frequency and his luck on those will run out. Shumpert is an erratic shooter if you’re being polite. Thompson has no ability to create his own shot or consistently make free throws. Timofey Mozgov, Dellavedova, and James Jones only get the shots that LeBron creates for them.
Whatever Irving can give his team after nine days of rest still won’t be enough to tip the scale.
The Warriors are a superior team. They are far more talented and well coached than any team the Cavs have faced in these playoffs.
LeBron may be the best player on the planet, but even he can’t put the Cavs on his back and run through the NBA’s best team.
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