How the Cavaliers Might Scrape Together a Win in the Finals


Still, free of charge, here is a suggestion box of things Cleveland might try to turn this series around.

CUT THE MISTAKES The Warriors’ offense tends to overshadow their equally amazing defense. During the regular season, they led the N.B.A. in defensive field-goal percentage, defensive 3-point field-goal percentage, steals and blocked shots. Throughout the playoffs, they have continued to use their defense to fuel their offense — by pummeling their opponents in transition.

In Game 1 of the finals, the Warriors forced the Cavaliers into committing 20 turnovers. The Warriors generated 21 points off those miscues. They won the game by 22 points.

“They’re the best in the league at turning your mistakes into makes,” Greg Anthony, a studio analyst for NBA TV, said in a telephone interview.

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Golden State’s Draymond Green took aim during Game 2, with the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love defending.

Credit
Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

The Cavaliers took better care of the basketball in Game 2, but the margin for error against the Warriors is slim. On Tuesday, James recalled in vivid detail the point in Game 2 when it all fell apart for the Cavaliers — a third-quarter sequence in which he committed an ill-advised foul and then threw a bad pass. The Warriors expanded their lead from 4 points to 10.

“Just can’t make bad plays against a team that’s that great,” James said.

SLOW IT DOWN Mike Fratello, a former Cavaliers coach, has watched the Warriors run wild in the first two games. He said he would try to slow them down by having the Cavaliers be more judicious.

“When you know the other team runs and scores way more than you do, at a high, up-tempo pace, do you keep doing it, or do you make adjustments?” he asked. “Maybe you should be using 20 to 22, 23 seconds every possession. If you don’t have a two-on-one or three-on-one fast-break opportunity, run some clock. Pass the ball five or six times and make the Warriors defend for longer stretches.”

For his part, James said the Cavaliers would resist changing their style of play on offense — or at least that was what he was saying for public consumption.

“That’s not our game,” he said. “We don’t play slowdown basketball.”

But neither do the Warriors, and that is the issue.

GET TOUGH EARLY This is a suggestion that comes without a shred of actual strategic advice, but it would behoove the Cavaliers to avoid giving up a ton of points in the first 12 minutes of the game. In Game 1, the Warriors scored 35 points in the first quarter. In Game 2, they rang up 40. Phew! Golden State made clear that it wanted to play fast, and Cleveland let it happen.

“I think the first quarter is really important,” Anthony said, adding that the Cavaliers had to send a message at the start that the Warriors could not score at will. Otherwise, he said, they would be “allowing Golden State to have even more confidence.”

TRISTAN? KYRIE? YOU THERE? Through the first two games, James is averaging 28.5 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists, while shooting 55.3 percent from the field. He has been loose with the ball at times — eight turnovers in Game 1 — but he is not the Cavaliers’ problem. Nor is Kevin Love, who is averaging 21 points and 14 rebounds.

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From left, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Richard Jefferson, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith on the bench in the second half of Game 2.

Credit
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

It is their other teammates who have come up short — in part, perhaps, because they are having trouble coping with the Warriors’ pressure.

“It’s really hard to find the next guy for Cleveland that you can say has played well,” said Fratello, who is now an analyst for NBA TV.

Kyrie Irving, a major presence in last year’s finals, is not scaring anyone. J. R. Smith has scored a total of 3 points. Deron Williams has missed all nine of his field-goal attempts. Tristan Thompson, the Cleveland big man whom Anthony described as a “complete nonfactor” in the finals, has grabbed all of eight rebounds in 44 combined minutes.

Forget about the Warriors. This is not a winning formula for the Cavaliers against a lot of teams.

MEMORY HELPS In Game 3 of the finals a year ago — June 8, to be exact — the Cavaliers, down by two games to none, won by 30 points.

Of course, they did lose Game 4 at home to the Warriors and might have been eliminated back in Oakland in Game 5 were it not for the fact that Golden State’s Draymond Green had to serve a one-game suspension for a flagrant foul.

That opened a door, and the Cavaliers took advantage and won the next three games and the championship. Last year’s Cavaliers team is basically this year’s Cavaliers team, so the players have not forgotten how they were able to rally.

“That’s where being an experienced team does help,” Anthony said. “If this were an inexperienced team that hadn’t had a lot of postseason success, then I’d probably be in agreement that this series is basically over for Cleveland. Because psychologically, as an inexperienced team, you wouldn’t have anything to draw upon to tell you otherwise.”

And the Cavaliers can also draw on James, who has been to seven straight finals, won some, lost some, and thus seems ready to deal with whatever fate has in store.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he said, adding that he spoke for himself. But now the Cavaliers have to speak as a group.

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