As Andre Iguodala asked after the game, “What do you do?”
What can Tyronn Lue do? After a 113-91 loss in Game 1, Lue said (somewhat sarcastically, from what I could tell) that the Warriors are the “best team I’ve ever seen.” But from the looks of Game 1, this could very well be true. The two most dazzling scorers in the league joined forces in the Hamptons last July, and together with their teammates the Warriors play better defense than any other team in the NBA.
So, what does Lue do? Does he ask LeBron James (who contributed 28 points and 15 rebounds, along with 7 turnovers and nothing of note defensively) to swing his effort more toward the defensive side of his internal basketball scale? Would it even matter if he did? It’s not like James can stop Durant one-on-one anyway, and James’ offense was the most reliable option for the Cavs, who finished with over 20 points fewer than they had averaged in the playoffs heading into the NBA Finals.
Does Lue shift the team’s transition defense away from the wings and maybe more toward, I don’t know, Durant as he glides down the middle of the court like a knife through jello? Giving the Warriors more open threes rarely works out too well, though.
What does Lue do to pull off another crazy upset? It took some shenanigans last year, and Golden State is at full strength this time, plus they’re stronger now, and hungrier after a year of 3-1 jokes, awful takes on Durant’s decision to head out west, and at least a couple of instances when the Cavs had a little extra fun at Golden State’s expense (like LeBron’s Halloween party).
Does Lue go small and just shelve Tristan Thompson, who was so vital to last year’s championship? That doesn’t seem like a grand plan, since the Warriors play fairly well with Draymond Green at center.
There aren’t any obvious answers, because the outcome of this series seems inevitable when one considers the importance of defense and the Warriors’ talent upgrades since last season.
“We talked about it before we come into this series,” Lue said. “Our best defense is going to be our offense, taking care of the basketball, not a lot of turnovers.”
What Lue said sounds backwards if you’ve been watching the Warriors religiously for the last five seasons. If the Warriors defend, their offense flows naturally and powerfully. The Cavs don’t have any real defense Lue can discuss, so their offense — perhaps a little overhyped after a steady diet of Eastern Conference postseason action — is all they have.
But how do you defend a great defense? How do you combat the Warriors’ long-limbed attack? The Cavs got Green in foul trouble early, but that didn’t stop him from making fantastic stop after fantastic stop around the basket once he reentered the game with two personals. Cleveland’s go-to response when things get tough is to play iso ball, which means their best two players have no choice but to nail their shots … otherwise Durant will keep sprinting, unbothered, on his way to easy, swooping dunks.
What do you do?
We all know it’s out there, and there’s no use pretending it isn’t on the minds of every Warriors player, just like 73 was last year.
Counterpoint: Golden State won Games 1 and 2 of the 2016 NBA Finals by a combined 48 points.
But this is different, because the Warriors roster is different (I won’t slander Harrison Barnes, he’s gone through enough at this point). Nothing — not even slowing the pace and mucking things up with overly handsy tactics — can stop these Warriors (besides horrible injury luck, of course).
If you’re someone who spent the year kvetching about the Warriors online, well, you probably aren’t reading BASG. But if you for some reason you’ve been crushing Golden State because you hate Durant or super teams or basketball wizardry, and you found yourself reading this site anyway, just know that their current dominance is partly about you.
Most teams in Golden State’s stratosphere would stop to relax and enjoy themselves a bit before finishing the job, but the Warriors are too motivated by outside forces (and a core that knows how fragile great seasons can be) to let themselves slip. They know what happened when they gave James and Kyrie Irving a lifeline last year around this time.
— Full quote from Iguodala:
“I think that’s part of the reason why people enjoy watching us play. You see so much unselfishness. You see the beauty in the passes. It can scare teams at times. It’s kind of like, ‘What do you do?’ Are we giving them threes or are we giving them layups?”
— The Warriors only committed four turnovers, which is ridiculous … but they probably had closer to their standard number of giveaways if you count all those missed layups.
— JaVale McGee had four points, five rebounds, one block and one pretty aggressive (and almost successful) block attempt on James in just 5:32. Didn’t even play in the second half. The McGee first half appetizer is a delicious dish the Warriors serve, but they seem to be pretty careful about overindulging.
— Durant (38 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists without a single turnover) was incredible. When LeBron James was asked what stood out after losing 113-91 in Game 1, his response included two letters: K.D.
— Stephen Curry was almost equally great, with 28 points, 10 assists, and the highest +/- of anyone on the floor. Anyone who has watched this trilogy unfold could see where Curry was going with so many of his offensive choices today. He made a 30-footer over James and shook him off the dribble on another long jumper, and both plays seemed like counterpunches a year after James blocked his layup attempts and followed those rejections with incredulous glares. He relished any opportunity to target Kevin Love with his dribble too, after his failure to beat Love on the perimeter was one of a few nightmarish moments for Curry at the end of Game 7.
— Supposedly Zaza Pachulia was going to be close to unplayable in this series, but it was Tristan Thompson who put up zero points and four rebounds while Pachulia went 4-for-5 and had at least a couple easy layups he decided not to take.
— Klay Thompson’s offense probably won’t come back this postseason. A 13-game sample size is probably large enough to make that assessment. But his defense, especially early on against Irving and Love, was more than enough. Actually, I take that back. I think we’ll get one good shooting spell from Thompson before this series ends (in four or five games, most likely).
— Was Iguodala actually hurt during the playoffs, or just playing possum a little like LeBron during the regular season? (It’s probably the nine-day layoff that helped him get back to being the high-flying, 3-making guy we got used to seeing in March.) His first quarter dunk was the “great sign” the Warriors were looking for heading into tonight, although the three Curry hit over James may have been an even better sign.
— Unplayable guys for Cleveland: Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson (unless James Michael McAdoo is guarding him), Kyle Korver (unless he’s hitting threes) … let’s just say the entire Cleveland bench is pretty terrible unless they’re hitting threes.
— The first quarter was intoxicating. So many dunks. The Warriors’ defense didn’t seem all that great — they allowed 30, the Cavs went 4-for-7 on their threes, and James had eight free throw attempts in the quarter. But Cleveland was 4-for-11 in the paint in the first quarter and 15-for-39 overall, and after their initial burst the entire Cavs roster looked tired from the second quarter on. Even LeBron.
— As I wrote after the Warriors swept the Western Conference Finals, “Unless Cavs have something magical in store, Warriors should roll in Finals.” There was no magic for Cleveland in Game 1. Just a blowout loss in Oakland and the growing realization that with Durant aboard, it’s going to be a lot more difficult (perhaps impossible) to build the kind of mental edge required to pull off an upset for the ages.
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