NBA Finals: Thoughts after Game 3

2016.06.09 Finals Game 3

That’s just nuts right there… he dunked that.

The Cavs turned in a dominant performance and throttled the Warriors to the tune of a 30-point victory in Cleveland last night. As good as the Warriors have been, it’s incredible to think that the Warriors are 2-6 in game 3s during the Kerr era. They lost Game 3s to the: Grizzlies, Rockets, Cavs (twice), Blazers, and the Thunder. They have now lost five straight game 3s. This is all to say that as a Warriors fan I am not too concerned. The problems in last night’s game are easily fixed by stronger rotations (Kerr… DEATH LINEUP) and even more so, better effort and execution. Much will be talked about the scoring efforts of the Cavs but the more interesting adjustments happened on the defensive side of the ball. Here are some quick thoughts on how the Cavs put the hurt on the Warriors:

  • I’ll start with the offense. Kyrie and LeBron hit some iso jumpers that just weren’t falling in the first two games. I hope they don’t fall in love with those shots (or as a Dubs fan, I hope they do) because they had found some interesting ways to make their offense better against the Warriors defense. When Bogut or Varejao were on the floor, they punished the Warriors bigs by putting them in the PnR every time. This lead to some great open looks off screens for Kyrie and overall defensive breakdown any time they attacked them off the dribble, regardless of ballhandler.
  • LeBron spent more time driving instead of trying to just back down his man. This may seem like a minimal adjustment but Tristan Thompson’s offensive rebounds don’t happen without the help that LeBron forced by facing the basket and attacking. When he posts up, you can “half-send” help and Golden State has been able to still throw a body at TT on the boards. When someone has to commit to helping against LeBron (which Green did very effectively), it led to those short rebounds that the Cavs gobbled up.
  • JR Smith had his game. You had to think it would happen once they got to Cleveland.
  • The Cavs defense was incredible. One minor adjustment that made a huge difference was they extended their perimeter defense about a foot or two. They were inside the jerseys of the Warriors players and this had them playing out of sorts. They ended up ceding a few open looks in the first half that were imminently makeable but the Warriors were so thrown off by the pressure Cleveland was putting on them that they missed most of them.
  • They stopped with the switching nonsense off the ball and in the PnR against Curry. After picking apart the Cavs attempt to follow the switch everything plan, the Warriors were caught off guard as the Cavs switched to a much more aggressive trapping scheme off the High PnR. In particular, they used the sideline as an extra defender and forced Curry to try to either dribble through a hard double at the edge of the court or throw over two taller defenders to the release valve. On plays where LeBron was playing free safety, that was death. Additionally, they played it smart and pretty much ceded anything to Bogut and shifted their defense to cover any potential Green 4-on-3 opportunities by pushing a man up on him early.
  • As much as the Cavs defense improved, the bigger story is how poorly the Warriors defense played. The intensity that won them the first two games was nowhere to be found. A lot of it comes from starting LeBron at the 4 and that makes life harder on the GSW’s center lineups but there were some uncharacteristic mental lapses, particularly from Curry. JR Smith got open a lot because Curry’s off-ball defense was less than stellar. He also collected some very obvious and very silly fouls. Not a great outing for the MVP.
  • In my preview, one of the things I said is that Kerr can’t get cute with his line-ups. He has to go with what’s most effective. The first and third quarters were prime examples of that. In the first quarter, he started Bogut and rolled with a standard lineup for the entire 12 minutes. Cavs built a 20-point lead. For the rest of the half the Warriors played small and chipped away until it became an 8-point lead by the break. He started Bogut in the third quarter and the Cavs immediately went on another run and took the lead to 18. Look, they did get whupped, and maybe starting the Death Lineup has a negative effect on morale – but it’s the Finals. You should be playing your best stuff as much as possible. And there is NO reason Anderson Varejao should be playing over Ezeli.
  • Steph needs to be on the ball more. As painful to Kerr as it may be, the Steph high PnR is an easy way to try to get him into rhythm. Also, the Cavs are hitting him, frequently and with fervor, every time he makes his runs off the ball. If you put him on the ball, maybe he’ll get some more calls and the Cavs can’t manhandle him as much. He is out of sorts and it might be time to let him try to play his way back into Steph being Steph – Golden State will need him if they want to take one in Cleveland.

With Klay dealing with that thigh contusion, it’s important that the Warriors come out much stronger in game 4. You have to think a longer series helps Cleveland both mentally and physically. Cleveland finally got hot and you had to see that coming – they’re too loaded offensively to not click for at least one game. If I’m Tyronn Lue, I immediately remind Kyrie and LeBron that even though their long twos were dropping, they’ve got to keep allowing the offense to flow. A couple of Warriors wide open makes and Kyrie missing a shot or two in the first quarter and the game could have been much different. But the more important thing is that they discovered a way to play defense that can be effective.

The Warriors are still up 2-1 and in the driver’s seat. If they win game 4 they’re still in a position to closeout at home. But the lackluster effort and poor rotations are not going to cut it this late in the season. Emotionally, this win was huge for the Cavs because they just blew out a team that beat them seven straight times. Regardless of what they may have been saying, that is something guys think about. This might be a mental hurdle that allows them to play the Dubs at a higher level. It might be nothing but it’s something to think about if the Cavs even it up on Friday. My guess, the Warriors win a close one with Steph going for at least 30.