If you told me after the Western Conference Finals that the NBA 2015 Finals Series would have a closer semblance to the pace of games from the 1970’s or 1980’s I would have thought you were crazy. Yet, that’s exactly what we’ve been dealt especially since Kyrie Irving fractured his kneecap. Granted, without Irving, Kevin Love, and on paper a less talented team the Cavaliers have essentially been forced into simply walking the ball up court every position to kill the pace.
If you’re a Cavaliers or LeBron James fan, odds are you don’t care as long as Cleveland are winning. For the rest of us NBA lovers though this pace has felt like being thrown into a hot tub time machine. LeBron James has been masterful and untimely injuries not being discussed (Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green‘s back) are also playing a factor.
But, I remind you Houston and Memphis are very good teams which Golden State dispensed of fairly easily. The Grizzlies actually held a 2-1 series lead just like Cleveland prior to Stephen Curry figuring things out.
The reality is Golden State has played well defensively, it’s simply their offense and perhaps more notably the lack of desperation that’s missing. Entering tonight’s game the latter won’t be an issue as a loss would essentially end the series. Conversely, a win by Golden State would shift the momentum back to the Warriors who hold the advantage of a Game 7 in Oracle Arena should the series go the distance. Further, while James has been masterful how realistic is it to expect him to register triple-doubles, shoot 35 shots, play over 40 minutes and manage the game for another 3 games?
Acknowledging how well Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova have played they’re all logging huge minutes. So, if Golden State can tie the series tonight the momentum and advantages strongly favors the Warriors who hold home court.
Cleveland has gone predominantly with 7 players and utilized an 8th for under ten minutes. Over the course of 6 or 7 games that will take a toll. Case in point, in Game 3 Iman Shumpert took a hard hit on a legal screen set by Draymond Green which seemed to re-aggravate the shoulder injury that held him out earlier this season. Dellavedova had to go to the hospital afterward to receive I.V. fluids due to exhaustion and cramping. Suffice to say if Golden State tie the series to force 6 games (at a minimum) it’s bound to start favoring the Warriors depth.
To that end here are the 5 things Golden State need to do this evening to force the tie:
Pace: It seems redundant to say this, but it’s the main factor holding back the Warriors. It’s not as simple as saying move the ball faster though. For GSW to speed up the pace they’ll need to do two things. First they have to start picking up LeBron James defensively as he brings the ball up court to force him into exerting more energy. In the past two games they’ve virtually allowed him to walk it up uncontested; Game 4 that has to change. Second, offensively the Warriors need to do a couple of things to quicken the pace. Stephen Curry needs to be much more aggressive in his attack and mix drives to the bucket. The ball and players must also start moving. They’re seemingly been lulled into a state of shooting perimeter shots instead of utilizing their potent offense. Of course if they can manage to keep Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov off their offensive glass that will also help them to get the ball up the court quicker.
More Minutes For David Lee: Whether Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green really are hurt or not isn’t the point. When Lee came into the game it was as if Curry woke up as the two ran repeated pick and rolls and were able to mix up the offense enough to throw off Cleveland, get Curry more open looks and most importantly produce an offense which resembled the Warrior team we saw all season.
Warriors Need To Play With Desperation: At the end of Game 3, the Warriors looked like themselves essentially for the first time in the series. Perhaps I underestimated the adjustments required by teams reaching their first finals, but if we’re honest the Warriors haven’t had a typical offensive game yet. Credit Cleveland’s defense for part of that, but the real onus falls on the Warriors shoulders as they haven’t dictated the pace or looked like themselves offensively (even in the game they won) until late in the fourth quarter of Game 3.
Finally we saw Steph Curry pick up his head and shoulders and even get into a bit of jawing match with James. Finally he seemed to be invested and was demonstratively showing it in his body language and his reactions to the opponent. Look for Curry to establish the Warriors early by being more aggressive right from the tip. I’m sure he’s heard enough about Dellavedova to last him a lifetime these past few days, so I expect him to come out with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove.
Ignore the Zebras: While the Warriors aren’t used to not getting calls or zebra’s rewarding another team over them Curry and Green have allowed the calls to effect their game play and it’s time they just put their heads down and play. The truth is the officiating has been brutal and while I tend to believe LeBron James is getting a friendlier whistle (he literally tackled Curry at the end of Game 4) the only way to change it is to be more aggressive.
In Game 3, Draymond Green was the ONLY Warrior starter who got to the line and the team had just 12 free throws in total (David Lee had 5 of them) while LeBron had 12 all on his own. Bottom line if you look back to how San Antonio played versus Miami the last two seasons Tony Parker forced the zebra’s hands by attacking the paint (repeatedly). If Curry does that eventually the zebra’s will reward him. And, if they don’t it doesn’t matter, this is the finals and they need to TAKE the win regardless of the whistle.
Play To Your Strengths: Personally, I don’t think Golden State need to change their defensive strategy on James to constantly double team him. Rather, they need to continue to employ a host of bodies on LeBron to wear him down. The other adjustment Kerr needs to employ is to occasionally double team James, and shut down his passing lanes. If they combine that with picking James up full court and/or make it difficult for him to be the inbound recipient it will serve to get the ball in other Cavalier’s hands as well as make James expend more energy. I reiterate: The Warriors were the number one defense all season for a reason.
They’ve developed the habits, now they just need to play more aggressively on offense. Andre Iguodala has been arguably the best Warrior on the court, so I expect to see more of him in Game 4. I pondered if Kerr would replace Barnes with Iggy, but it seems unlikely as that move would likely play with Barnes confidence.
If I were Kerr I’d insert Iggy in the starting 5 for a couple of reasons:
- As mentioned he’s been the best Warrior in the series
- Iggy has been the best one on one defender of LeBron
- He’s known as being the calming force on the team. Whenever they need to get back in a game or quell emotions Kerr send in Iguodala, so starting him would provide that extra confidence the team needs.
- They aren’t getting much out of Barnes to this point and Iggy is a capable ball handler who can provide another option to distribute the ball, push the pace and ideally increase their fast break opportunities.
- And, if LeBron has to start against Iggy he’ll have a more taxing load throughout the game (plus it might stall him getting off to a fast start offensively).
— Tamberlyn's Tip-Off (@TTOTambz) June 11, 2015
The Warriors haven’t lost 3 games in a row all season, and I don’t expect them to start now.
This is the fun part of a series, one team wins and the pundits jump all over the winning team’s story slant, then the other team wins and it switches to the other side. Coming into tonight, the media emphasis has all been how LeBron winning the series will make him the best player ever and Dellavedova is single handedly beating the Warriors.
(when) the Warriors tie the series tonight, the story will immediately shift back to how the Warriors are so much deeper, have home court, have the MVP and can’t possibly lose with all these odds in their favor.
And suddenly players on Cleveland who’ve been overachieving will start feeling all their aches and pains. And, all the die hard Cleveland fans who’ve been waiting for a championship forever will start to worry the Warriors could actually be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy on Cleveland’s court which would only add salt to the wound.
Bottom line: whoever wins Game 4, I believe will win the series and since my pick was Golden State at series start I’m sticking with that pick. Besides I’m dying for a game with some pace and excitement and a Warrior win would likely deliver that.
And, I’ll also feel better saying the Houston Rockets lost to the eventual Larry O’Brien Trophy winners!
Remember to check out Space City Scoop daily for all things Houston Rockets. You can also find me on twitter @TTOTambz or on my facebook page Tamberlyn’s Tip-Off.
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