After a back and forth game 4 and an extremely exciting game 5, the stage is set for either the Cavs or the Warriors to win the title. Let’s break down what each team needs to do in order to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Steph Curry is not hurt, and I refuse to believe anyone that tells me that he is. If he was hurt, he wouldn’t be playing. And if he’s playing, then there are no excuses. Let’s actually take a look at his numbers, instead of just saying “Oh Steph is playing horrible” and leaving it at that. He’s putting up 22pts, 4ast, making 4 3’s a game and shooting 42% from the field. Is it good? Sure. Is it great? No. Is it what he should be putting up after playing like an alien this year and for all the hype he is getting? Absolutely not. He needs to be better. This year, we have experienced the feat of 1 in every 5 games, either Klay or Steph absolutely going bananas and hitting more than 9 3’s in a game. Neither has happened yet in this year’s Finals. Klay got hot in the first half Monday night, at one point making two 3’s in consecutive possessions from just inside the logo, but didn’t really carry it over to the second half. Steph seemed to not be in a rhythm at all. He really hasn’t been in a rhythm this whole series, as the Cavs are trying to be more physical in the way OKC had success with a couple of weeks ago. Do Steph and Klay have to go off for Golden State to win? No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that they need to find a way to get Steph his back-to-back MVP swagger and rhythm back.
Another pivotal key for the Warriors, as we saw in Game 5, is the presence of Draymond Green. I tweeted Monday night that the biggest part of Draymond that they missed was his versatility, and I’d like to expand on that a bit. The most telling statistic that is out there is the plus/minus numbers. The Warriors are +36 with Green and -22 without him, a whopping 58 point difference. The Cavs shoot 44% with him on the court and 48% with him off in this series. Draymond’s impact is game wide, not just on his matchup alone. However, that is not to down play how well Draymond can match up, and gives Steve Kerr so much more flexibility when he is in the lineup. Monday night, Andre Igoudala was the primary defender on LeBron, and the Warriors wanted to make sure that stayed consistent, so they switched less on screens, choosing to go under LeBron’s screens instead. This gave LeBron some windows at open jump shots, which then changed everything, and is something we will talk about more later. With Draymond in, the Warriors are more organized, and can switch more seamlessly on defense, with Draymond being able to check LeBron just as Iggy can. Draymond’s flexibility shifts to the offensive side as well. His ability to be a secondary ball handler lets Steph and Klay run more freely around screens instead of being the focal point of the Warriors movement. Shaun Livingston, Draymond’s replacement in the death lineup Monday night, doesn’t have the same threat offensively, even though he has been playing fantastic.
Plain and simple, the Warriors need to get back to their game, their offense, and their rhythm that got them to 73 this season. Draymond’s addition and the hopeful awakening of SC30, can lead the Dubs to a title.
LeBron’s jump shot changes everything. LeBron hit 2 3’s in a row in a span of less than a minute in the first quarter Monday night, and it. was. TERRIFYING. Like if you could take all of San Francisco’s collective emotion and put it into one face when LeBron’s jumper started falling, it would look like this. (Speaking of that guy, how about Sullinger, 3 and 16 to the Cavs for K Love. Tell me why that’s not a good trade for the Cavs. #CsUP).
In all seriousness, I missed LeBron’s jumper. I missed it because it allows him to be the type of player that he should be remembered as, and the type of player he played as Monday night. As a dominant all around force, and one of the 10 best players in the history of basketball. If he makes his jump shot, and gets rolling, there is no way to stop him. Go over picks, he is a top 3 driver ever. Switch and he bullies whoever switches onto him in the post and finds an open shooter. Double him and he pulls out his best-passing-forward-ever skills, and see passes 3 and 4 steps ahead of everyone else. And this brings us back to the point that I brought up in my Finals preview. What the Cavs do after LeBron gets rid of the ball will determine a lot.
This brings in Kyrie Irving, who is playing so much more decisive and aggressive since leaving Oakland after games 1 and 2 in which the Warriors forced him to dribble a hole in the ground in front of a kinda-sorta pack line defense. Kyrie went at people Monday night and played with a lot of confidence instead of deciding if it was his shots to take or not. Irving and James played very well off of each other and opened up a possible idea of Tyron Lue for Game 6.
Channing Frye didn’t play a second in Game 5, not a second, but he could be a gigantic X-factor for the Cavs on Thursday night. With confidence at peak form for both LeBron and Kyrie, the 1-3 P&R will be as dangerous as ever. But the challenge for Lue is how to put the right pieces around it without sacrificing liabilities on defense. Kevin Love hasn’t played well enough on defense (or really on offense either, sorry Tim), to warrant him being used as anything more than what to center the Cavs bench units around. This is especially true when the Warriors go small, which is like 80% of the time now (and that number will probably increase with a possible knee injury to Andrew Bogut). Frye, Smith and Mozgov/Thompson would be my move, but that is the decision that Ty Lue gets to make.
LeBron’s jump shot is the obvious X-factor for the Cavs, and if it continues to be on, it could really make these Monday two games amazing to watch. But the tweak that I’m going to be looking for to push the Cavs over the top is how confident, aggressive and correct the decisions LeBron and Kyrie make out of the 1/3 pick and roll.
I’ll admit, I was really expecting the Warriors to blow the Cavs out in Game 5 and walk home back-to-back champions, but LeBron and Kyrie had different plans. Now it will be interesting to see what strategies carry over, and who steps up as we head to Games 6 and 7. My prediction stays the same: Warriors in 7