The Cleveland Cavaliers were flying high heading into Game 1 of the NBA Finals. They would be appearing for the second year in a row in the NBA Finals and they would be at full strength with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving fully healthy. And along with them being at full strength, they would be facing the same team they faced last season in the Golden State Warriors. It all looked like a favorable situation to some. But those good feelings turned into frustration by the end of Game 1. The Cavaliers went back and forth with the Warriors until they eventually went on a big run in the third quarter and seized control of the game for good. The Warriors would go on to win Game 1 104-89. Heading into Game 2, many have already written off the Cavaliers winning a game or two let alone this series. They look at the stats and the way the game is being played and cannot possibly see the Cavs rising up. They also throw out there that the Cavaliers played in a weak Eastern Conference as well. Of course, we all know the East is not supremely strong. But that does not mean the Cavs have no chance. They have a chance in this series, but for them to win, they must make some adjustments.
One big adjustment is the shooting. The Cavaliers have not really been a team that has a strong scoring bench. But even with that, they still got embarrassed in Game 1. They were outscored 46-10 by the Warriors bench. Of course, the Warriors are the deeper team, but to expect them to get 46 points next game off their bench is unrealistic. But for the Cavs, they have to get more from their bench. And that starts with the Cavaliers playing Channing Frye more. The big man, who has been playing well for them in the playoffs and it was interesting that he only played seven minutes and ten seconds in Game 1. It seemed like the Cavs were trying to use Frye at the power forward position as a backup to Kevin Love. Needless to say, he did not have the impact that it was thought he could. But looking at the stat sheet, he was the only Cleveland Cavalier that was in the positive on the plus/minus Thursday night. And he really did not hurt them defensively when he was in there like he has a tendency to do at times. In Game 2, the Cavs may actually want to rotate like they usually do and try different combinations of Love, Frye and Thompson. More specifically, they may want to actually put Thompson and Love on the court together more. Those two can spread the floor and will make the Warriors have to make some decisions defensively. And provided they get JR Smith off the side, the Cavs can cause some defensive problems.
Another issue with Game 1 was the tempo of the game. The Cavaliers were a team that did not get out and run a lot when they were playing under head coach David Blatt. But when he was fired and Tyronn Lue took over, the Cavs became a team that pushed tempo when the opportunity presented itself. And in pushing the tempo, the Cavs were putting a bunch of pressure on teams. In Game 1, it seemed like the Cavs were not pushing the tempo at all. They would get rebounds and bring it up the floor with pace but not a tempo that was threatening. And as a result of that, the Cavaliers were going up against Golden State’s set defense. And for all the things that the Warriors get credit for, many don’t give them credit for their solid defense. They held the Cavaliers to 89 points on 38.1% shooting in Game 1. In Game 2, the Cavaliers need to get back to pushing the tempo. The more they can get out on the fast break with a scrambling Golden State defense, the easier things will be and the more pressure they will put on the Warriors defensively. The Thunder may not have beaten the Warriors, but they showed that pushing the tempo can affect them especially on the fast break. The Cavs may not be as athletic as the Thunder, but they can certainly pick the tempo up. It would also help them find more open three’s as well.
Defensively, the Cavaliers allowed the Warriors to shoot 49.4% from the field in Game 1. Now some of that can be credited to great offense. The Warriors were moving the basketball and getting everyone involved. But some of that can also be credited to bad Cavaliers defense. The Cavaliers were doing a lot of switching and non-switching Thursday night. And what looked confusing about it is that they looked like they were doing it on the fly. And when you make that type of change so quickly, there are bound to be mistakes that happen. And as we saw, the Warriors got plenty of wide open layups when one player was confused on the defensive coverage. In Game 2, the Cavaliers have to get one gameplan defensively and stick to it. If they are able to do so, then maybe they will defend a little better than they did. The positives about Game 1 is that they kept Steph Curry and Klay Thompson under control (combined for 20 points total on 8 of 27 shooting). The bad thing about Game 1 is everyone else got going. The Cavs have to decide whether they are going to force the Warriors outside or not because the uncontested layups they gave up in Game 1 cannot happen in order for them to win Game 2.
Game 2 just turned into a game the Cavaliers have pressure on them. They are already the underdog and are down one game against the Warriors. And they are playing against one of the toughest teams to beat at home this season in Golden State. They aren’t quite in desperation mode, but there is definitely a hint of desperation in the air. They don’t want to go down two games and have to attempt to beat the Warriors four out of five games.
The General Mike Patton is an up-and-coming writer from Nashville, TN who brings a fresh and non-biased opinion about sports. From his radio experience in Nashville to his time as a sports writer for Free’s World, the website for radio personality and former cohost of BET’s 106 and Park Free (www.freesworld.com), The General is definitely one you want to get to know in the sports world. You can catch his work on SPORTSAWAKENING.COM. Mike grew up rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bulls and Chicago Cubs, and remains a passionate sports fan who expresses intelligent opinions.
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