To beat or even compete with the Golden State Warriors, much has to change for the Cleveland Cavaliers from their opening performance, and the play of their frontcourt is near the top of the list.
After terrorising opponents in the first three rounds of the playoffs, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love were either non-existent or ineffective in the 113-91 Game 1 loss to the Warriors to begin the NBA Finals.
Thompson’s stat line backed up how little he seemed to be involved in the action, with the big man recording no points on 0-of-3 shooting, while grabbing just four rebounds overall, including a sole board on the defensive end.
As the Cavaliers’ ‘Energizer Bunny’, Thompson is relied upon to consistently bring effort defensively and on the glass, and his hustle plays were a major reason for Cleveland storming back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals last year.
Despite Thompson’s disappearance in the opener, the Cavaliers still managed to grab 15 offensive rebounds, but his lack of rim protection and aggressiveness meant he brought little to the table.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue highlighted Golden State’s approach to limiting Thompson, saying: “He’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the league, so they’re doing a good job of making sure they get two guys on him, two guys hitting his body to keep him off the glass.
“When you play good defence and Tristan is getting offensive rebounds, that demoralises your defence… We got to continue to keep playing. It was one game. And he’ll get more the next game.”
Love, meanwhile, managed solid production in the loss, but his fit against the Warriors is in many ways more concerning than Thompson’s.
The power forward shot well from deep, connecting on 3-of-6 triples, and gobbled up 21 rebounds, yet his 15 points paled in comparison to how exposed he was on the other end of the floor.
Golden State weren’t shy about attacking the power forward in mismatches whenever Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant found themselves covered by Love.
He also struggled to capitalise against mismatches in his favour on offence, with Klay Thompson shutting down his post-ups and the Warriors’ defence regularly pushing him out past the 3-point line, relegating him to a spot-up shooter.
Both Love and Thompson looked a step too slow and how they rebound in Game 2 tonight could be telling.
“The onus is definitely on us,” Love said. “That’s a mindset. Like I mentioned, we need to understand when to take fouls, when to be super-assertive, super-aggressive on the defensive end and in the open court, know how we’re going to fan out to different defenders, not open up the lane for certain guys, and just make second and third efforts to get the 50-50 balls.”