– By Evan Sally and Jim Bearor
The first three games of Warriors vs. Cavs have ranged from unexpected to downright bizarre. We saw back-to-back overtime games for the first time in Finals history. We saw Golden State, the best team in the league statistically, never lead at the end of any quarter except for the end of overtime of Game 1. We saw Matthew Dellavedova become a household name because of his inexplicable ability to frustrate the MVP Steph Curry, and more bizarrely, score a career high 20 points in Game 3. We saw Golden State miss a ton of open shots. We saw the league’s best shooter shoot a career worst 2 for 15 from 3 in Game 2. We saw LeBron James torch the league’s best defense for 41 points per game. And as great as LeBron James is, no one saw that coming.
Then the Warriors woke up.
Game 4 represented a return to normalcy. Finally, we saw the series we expected to see. Role players like Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala finally hit some open shots. Especially in the case of Barnes and Green, who had looked rattled previously, this is a huge development. LeBron finally had an off game, and the rest of the Cavs weren’t able to keep up the scoring slack. Add it all up, and it’s the recipe for a Golden State blowout victory. With the series tied at 2-2 headed back to the Bay Area to start a best of 3 for the championship, Jim Bearor and I try to figure out how we got to this point and examine where the series is going from here.
Andre Iguodala Rises to the Challenge
Jim: I love Iggy on the Warriors. His career took such an interesting and prosperous turn when he joined the team last year. He went from being an Olympian and the centerpiece for some God-awful Philadelphia teams, to swallowing his pride and being the sixth man on a team that’s two wins away from a championship.
He’s only 31 years old, but he’s assumed the part of the wise old veteran. Throughout his time as a Warrior, he has contributed in ways that aren’t always quantifiable. His teammates and his coach have said that he’s a calming force in the locker room, and he’s a true student of the game.
The levity that Iguodala provides goes a long way, especially with this young team trying to keep their cool in their first Finals appearance. We saw a touch of this in Game 4, when Iggy dropped to the floor like he got shot after hard contact with LeBron James. Before anyone had time to react to this potential injury, he bounced right back up as if nothing happened. He went from grimace to grin, 0 to 100 real quick. He may have been mocking LeBron, but whatever he did was well received by his teammates. Those guys love Iggy, and they probably love him now more than ever.
Through four games, Iguodala has been the best player for Golden State, and I think it’s awesome to see him flourish like he is. It’s funny how he took a diminished role to play for a winning team, and now, he finds himself leading the way again.
His defense on LeBron James is surely his most vital contribution. James has been putting up historic numbers so far this series, but his shooting percentage is down, and Iggy is the man responsible for this. He is a notorious film junkie, and he has spent a fair amount of time playing with James on America’s Olympic team, so this really isn’t a surprise. What makes it surprising is the stage, the situation, and the fact that Andre Iguodala finally made it here.
He’s still very athletic, but his style of play has changed from the highlight-reel dunks that epitomized him in Philly. His game has aged well; he has a little less flash and a lot more finesse. He’s still a lot of fun to watch, and it’s all coming together beautifully for him. Iggy is a great teammate and a hard worker who bit the bullet and took a gig where he’s not the alpha. Now, he finds himself in an alpha role anyway. The cream always rises to the top, I suppose.
Evan: When Kyrie went down at the end of Game 1, followed by the news that he was out for the rest of the series, it was fair to think that this series was over. Golden State’s defense was too good to be beat by LeBron alone; Cleveland needed a secondary playmaker to carry the load. Following Cavalier wins in Game 2 and 3, you began to wonder if LeBron could single-handedly drag the offense along on his back, that they really could pull this off without Kyrie. Dellavedova was creating, hitting open 3s and clutch free throws, and Shumpert and JR Smith were doing just enough to offset the loss of Kyrie in the Cleveland backcourt.
That notion came back to Earth in a big way in Game 4. Dellavedova: 3/14 shooting. JR: 2/12, 0/8 from 3. Shumpert: 2/9. Cleveland’s back court completely collapsed for a few reasons. With the loss of Kyrie, Delly and Shumpert were forced into offensive roles that do not suit them. Several times in Game 4, each of them would end up with the ball in their hands late in the shot clock and be forced to create offense on their own, and most of the time, it went poorly. One play in particular sticks out: Delly had the ball at the top of the key. He makes a nice move on his man, drives hard and steps back for a jump shot. It was one of those moves where if Kyrie or Steph does it, you assume the shot is just gonna go in because the move was so dope. But Delly airballed the shot. It was symbolic of his place in this series; he’s trying his hardest to make up for the loss of an all star, and he’s doing a pretty good job considering the circumstances. But ultimately, he’s just inadequate for the role.
JR Smith is an entirely different story. JR is still coming off the bench, still playing roughly the same minutes, so there’s no excuses for him in that respect. He just stinks right now. He’s shooting 30% from the floor and 25% from 3 so far in the Finals. But his poor shooting doesn’t tell the whole story. He’s playing dumb basketball, often in the wrong place on defensive rotations, and making terrible fouls, never more evident than at the end of Game 2. He made a series of horrible fouls late in the 4th quarter that allowed the Warriors to force overtime. The Cavs had to survive his mistakes to get the win. While JR is known for being a streaky shooter, Coach Blatt had been handling this by playing him more or less depending on how his shot is falling that night. With the Cavs being so offensively challenged, Blatt is playing JR a little more through his poor stretches of play in the hopes he gets hot. It hasn’t happened yet, and in the hopes that JR can win the Cavs a game on his own, Blatt will be forced to deal with the rest of JR’s nonsense.
Adjustments for the rest of the series
Jim: I don’t think Golden State has to change too much. Last game was the one for changes, and Coach Kerr made some ballsy decisions that ended up paying off. He went small with his lineup and the speed of the Warriors made the difference. Guys like Iguodala, Curry, and Green were able to get behind Cleveland’s big men and finish at the hoop.
As I’m sure all of you know, the Warriors go 10 deep, and some of their bench players are better than starters on the Cavs. This depth is going be increasingly more important the further we get into this series. Iguodala, Livingston, Barbosa and Lee not only give Golden State a chance to rest their starters, but they’re usually flat out better than the guys they are matched up against when James isn’t in the equation.
As far as covering LeBron goes, the Warriors should keep doing what they’re doing. They aren’t double covering him. This makes sense because if they were, he would find a way to get the ball out to an open teammate and get the team going that way, which is probably more dangerous. James has been dominant, but there’s really no use in trying to stop that. It’s more damage control than defense, and that’s cool; it’s sort of worked so far. A hand in JR Smith’s face will make more of a difference than two hands in LeBron’s.
I really don’t think the Warriors need to change much. They’ve stolen the momentum, their shooters are hot, their bench is producing, and they just had two days off leading into a home game. The Warriors should keep on keeping on. Stay the Kerrse (Get it? Kerr? Course? I’m awful).
Evan: The Warriors found a winning formula in Game 4. They punished the Cavaliers not with their big guns, Thompson and Curry, but with their depth. Supplementing Curry’s 22, were Harrison Barnes (14), Draymond Green (17) and Andre Iguodala (22). The Warriors role players must continue shooting the ball with confidence and not shy away from taking open looks if the first few don’t fall.
Defensively, we saw what happens when the Cavaliers don’t get 40+ points from the King; their offense falls apart. With LeBron coming off of 2 days rest, I wouldn’t anticipate him struggling so much around the rim again, so I think the best move would be to start doubling him more aggressively and take the ball out of his hands. Force the Cleveland role players to hit shots, and see how confident they really are.
Evan: Even though the Warriors’ defense was a bit more active in Game 4, the Cavs still had some open shots. They were just god awful when it came to hitting them. While I’d expect that to improve going forward, the Cavaliers have to get the game played at a pace that better suits them. This includes taking better care of the ball and not giving the Warriors free points in the form of fastbreaks.
This also includes utilizing their big advantage in the middle of their offense. Overlooked in the craziness of this series is that Timofey Mozgov is dominating Andrew Bogut or anyone else the Warriors throw at him. In the midst of the horror show that was Game 4 for the Cavs was Mozgov getting a career high 28 points. Look for Cleveland to run more pick and rolls with Mozzy and find him in the post more often. Not only is this their most efficient offensive option, it also serves to grind the game to a halt in the hopes of slowing the Warriors offense.
Jim: Having the past couple of days off could end up benefitting Cleveland more. Matthew Dellavedova has run himself ragged trying to defend Steph Curry, and LeBron James has been playing an almost unhealthy amount of basketball. The Warriors have settled in, and their shooting has improved.
After Game 3, we had no idea where this series was headed. This was immediately following Dellavedova effectively shutting down the MVP and Draymond Green’s bad night. The backcourt of the Cavaliers was aggressive on defense, and they were forcing Golden State’s shooters to take tough shots. It looked like Cleveland’s slow physical approach and the best player in the world might be enough to win these Finals.
Then Game 4 happened, and we saw a regression to the mean. The Warriors shot a lot better, Dellavedova’s defense wasn’t quite what it has been, and JR Smith had one of those games. More than anything, the bench of the Warriors made the type of difference that all of us have been expecting and waiting for.
So here we are, after two excruciating basketball-less days, and the Cavs have to find a way to steal another game at the Oracle. Dellavedova better be well rested, because Cleveland needs him to play with the same defensive ferocity that he brought to the table early in the series. I’m also an advocate for getting Shawn Marion and Mike Miller some minutes to help keep starters as fresh as possible. Even a few minutes of Marion before half could give LeBron a 25 minute break instead of 19, which is big. I’m also all for JR Smith and Iman Shumpert shooting so much. Again, there should be a regression to the mean. Shane Battier’s performance from the 2013 Finals comes to mind here. He was struggling out of the gate, then he produced later in the series because he kept pulling the trigger, and eventually, some of them started going in. I expect something like this for Smith and Shumpert. Oh, and LeBron has to do more, because people are still comparing him to Jordan instead of appreciating him.