After the first two games of the 2017 NBA Finals, it’s clearly evident that the Cleveland Cavaliers have some serious work to do.
Golden State has beaten the Cavs in two-straight contests by an average of 20.5 PPG. This piece will attempt to provide those in Cleveland with some hope for the remainder of the series.
1. Trap On Pick & Rolls Involving Zaza Pachulia
It’s a pick-your-poison scenario when defending Golden State. When looking at the ‘least lethal’ of the options in the starting lineup, it’s clearly Zaza Pachulia. The lumbering center is a capable passer, but isn’t defined as a classic playmaker by any stretch.
In both Games 1 and 2, there were countless examples of Cleveland switching on ball screens involving Pachulia and a smaller player (normally Steph Curry). As opposed to trapping Curry at the top of the key, Cleveland players would either switch, try to go over/under the screen, or would get swallowed up by the Pachulia screen. The common thread within all of these scenarios is that Curry would be garnering the big advantage.
In Game 3, Cleveland should make Pachulia into a playmaker. Trap Curry (or whomever is handing the ball), and let them pass to a rolling Pachulia in the paint. Cleveland will live with Pachulia attempts, rather than wide-open threes from the best shooter in league history.
2. Start Iman Shumpert
After getting blown out in back-to-back games, Cleveland’s got to do something differently. Of the options within the starting lineup, J.R. Smith looks like the potential candidate to be jettisoned next to Ty Lue on the bench.
In two games, the enigmatic swingman is averaging 1.5 PPG in 21.0 minutes on the floor. He’s also not accrued a steal or assist during this time. Shumpert isn’t an offensive dynamo, but he is a far superior defender and athlete when compared to Smith. His role as a high-energy player could spark the Cavs a bit.
3. Get Kyrie Going Early
Credit Klay Thompson for being an absolute pest on the defensive end of the floor. He’s completely disrupted Kyrie Irving’s game thus far in the series.
The dynamic guard has yet to string together a consistent stretch during the finals. It was clear in Game 2 that the game plan was to get Kevin Love going early. It did work — as the former UCLA star put up 27 points in the loss. With that said, Irving’s been woefully inconsistent. He’s struggling to garner separation from Thompson, and isn’t getting his normal amount of “easy” baskets.
It may benefit Cleveland to be a bit more creative offensively, especially as it pertains to getting Irving the ball. The Cavs could look to get Irving moving off screens, or even have him act as a screener — before flaring out to the perimeter. Irving is averaging 21.5 PPG through the first two contests, but he’s only connecting on 41-percent of his shot attempts.
This is a far cry from last year’s finals — when he averaged 27.1 PPG and shot 46.8-percent from the field.
4. Get Under Draymond Green’s Skin
We know Green is an emotional player. The versatile big man was tied for second in the league with 15 technical fouls. Though he’s been relatively under control during the playoffs, we did see Green get highly irritated in Game 2. He was seen berating officials on multiple occasions. Green also got into a minor skirmish with James in the second half.
In the case of Cleveland, it may make some sense to put master irritant Dahntay Jones on the floor — with the sole purpose of going after Green psychologically. It could lead to a technical foul, change of momentum, or even an ejection.
And we all saw what a Green ejection can do when these two teams play each other…
5. Muck It Up
Golden State has averaged nearly 123 points per contest through the first two games of the series. In many respects, Cleveland simply may not have the personnel needed to slow this offensive juggernaut.
With that said, there are a few things Lue’s team can try in order to shake things up a bit. It’s impossible to “control” the tempo with which Golden State plays. The vaunted pace of the Warriors is something Kerr’s team prides itself on. It’ll push at any time — whether it’s coming off of a make or a miss.
Cleveland has not done a good enough job of trying to slow things down. It’s human nature for the Cavs to get caught up in the breakneck speed of the contest, and the requisite energy emanating from the crowd. However, it would highly behoove the Cavs to try and slow things down. For one, it would (in theory) shorten the game, and limit the number of possessions Golden State will get. Duly, it helps Cleveland conserve energy — an underrated aspect in this series considering the depth advantage the Warriors possess.
Lastly, they need something from Tristan Thompson. The rugged big man has averaged 4.0 PPG and 4.0 RPG in only 21.5 minutes. This simply cannot happen going forward. Cleveland needs to be more physical across the board, and most certainly needs Thompson to become a beast on the glass.
Image Sources: Cary Edmondson, Kelley L. Cox, Kyle Terada /USA TODAY Sports
Main Image Source: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports