NBA Finals: Closeout Time

LeBronDraymondGame 4 went about as expected. The score belies how close the game was. However, that’s the thing with the Warriors – you can’t let them stay close. They either get blown out or they win. If you thought their 38.6 clutch rating in the regular season was insane, try wrapping your head around a 49.3 rating in the playoffs (For those who don’t know, a 49.3 rating means that the Warriors would outscore a team by 49.3 points if they played at that level for 100 possessions, the average amount of possessions in an NBA game). They just don’t lose close games. The Cavs did not play a particularly terrible game, in fact, during the quarter where the flow shifted, they held the Dubs to 36% shooting (giving up 6 threes to the Splash Bros will do that to you…). But to beat the Warriors, you have to play great for 48 minutes. And sometimes, even that’s not enough. Now the Cavs face a closeout game in Oakland – where the Warriors have lost only once during the playoffs and three times during the entire season to this point. What do they need to clean up to get a win?

  • The leagues suspends Draymond Green. Okay, this is not controllable and not necessarily something they “need.” The Cavs have already proven they can beat the Warriors. But life would become a lot easier if Draymond were out for game 5. His defense at the rim has been vital for the Warriors during this series and offensively his transition offense and half-court playmaking really allow the Warriors to release their potential. A suspension to Draymond is probably something the Dubs can’t comeback from. My personal opinion: they should give double techs to LeBron and Draymond. Watch the play here. Bron instigated, and Green fired back. This doesn’t happen if LeBron doesn’t walkover Green and drop his nuts on his head. Green should have held back but it’s hard to fault him given the situation – I’d do the same thing. It’s unfortunate that his flailing hit LeBron’s tenders but if you watch the replay (not in slow-mo) Green was flaying his arms to try to push LeBron off him. Two tech and call me Monday.
  • Lue needs to trust his bench more. Dellie, Shump, and Frye are all minutes-worthy NBA players. We are one year removed from calling Dellie a “Curry Stopper.” LeBron is amazing but asking him to play small-ball four for an entire half would tire out even the most freakish of athletes (as Russell Westbrook and KD showed in the WCF). That’s just too much pounding inside on the boards with the Warriors’ bigs. And Kyrie has never been a heavy minute player. The minutes are more intense because he’s spending them initiating offense AND running through no less than five screens a possession guarding Curry or Klay off the ball. If you’re surprised that the Cavs offense got stagnant in the fourth quarter, you need only look at Kyrie and LeBron’s lack of rest to find the source. Fatigue leads to lack of focus on defense and a lack of energy and movement on offense. Killers against this Dubs team.
  • Come up with a defensive plan for the 1-2 screens the Warriors are running both on and off the ball. When the Splash brothers screen for each other it’s just not fair. Both of them can slip backdoor, both can curl for a mid-range J, and both can flare/curl out for an open 3 – there are just so many options. And what makes matters worse is that if it doesn’t work on the initial action, they just run in circles and do it again. Kyrie and JR seemed to have problems with this action by the Dubs and the communication has to improve because it’s an easy way for the Dubs to get their two shooters going and that spells trouble for the Cavs.
  • More activity on both defense and offense. When the Cavs were successful in Game 3, it was when their defense was swarming and moving to take away the gaps that the Warriors love exploiting with their pass-happy offense. It’s tiring and requires extreme focus and commitment. That focus waned in Game 4 and the Cavs once again gave up too many open 3s to the Splash Bros, particularly in transition. The same goes for the Cavs offense. With simple movements off the ball, LeBron can find the open man. But as the game got tight, Kyrie and LeBron really forced the iso-play which I think led to the supporting cast allowing themselves to be pushed into the background.
  • If LeBron gets contact when he attacks the basket, he’s gotta go up with a shot. The passes he made in game 4 were probably the best available. But he was getting a lot of contact driving into the paint and if he goes up and takes the shot instead of shoveling to Tristan Thompson or making a pass to the perimeter, I think he gets more calls. He needs to continue to be aggressive but sometimes to get the call, he’ll have to forego making the right play and test out the refs’ whistles and force them to make a call.
  • In game 3 Kyrie was able to find his iso opportunities in the flow of the offense. Too many times in game 4 he called his own number and, outside of one possession putting Steph on skates, he missed a lot of iso-dribble shots that stagnated the Cleveland offense. And when his offense isn’t going, he disappears on D. Kyrie needs to find that discipline he found in game 3 and not get baited into trying to show up Steph.

If Draymond gets suspended, the Dubs lose. The Cavs are not the Rockets or the Blazers. They will punish the Warriors’ lineups without Draymond by attacking the paint with LeBron and offensively this allows the Cavs to clog the lanes even more without the threat of Dray’s attack. The Warriors may put up a valiant effort but for that to happen you’ll need a subpar game from LeBron AND a great game from the Warriors. I’m not sure both will happen.

If Draymond is in, I expect game 5 to play out similarly to game 4. I think the Cavs keep it competitive and withstand an early Golden State barrage. However, in the third quarter, I expect Steph to turn it up and to allow the Dubs to pull ahead. Kyrie and LeBron make a run in the fourth quarter but inevitably the Dubs closeout in 5 and win in Oakland to make history. With Steph going for another 30+ and continuing to contribute with his playmaking and his work on the glass, he wins the Finals MVP.