This will be the third straight Finals featuring both coaches and each has gotten the better of the other so there will no shortage of familiarity.
Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for in Lue and Kerr’s game plan.
The Cavaliers coach has his work cut out, considering the talent gulf between the two sides. While Kerr has four All-Stars at his disposal, Lue has LeBron James and mostly role players. His only other All-Star, Kevin Love, is recovering from a concussion and may not be on the floor to start the series.
On offence, expect Cleveland to use a similar approach to the one they utilised against Boston last round, which centred on LeBron drawing a switch against a small defender, usually Terry Rozier. The target in this series will be Steph Curry as LeBron seeks to overpower the guard, like he’s done in the past. It could also put Curry in foul trouble, serving as a double whammy.
As a whole, the Cavaliers will need to toe the line in terms of pace. That means getting out in transition on Warriors misses and turnovers to catch them before they can set their defence, while also being wary of upping the tempo for the entire game, which plays into the Warriors’ free-flowing hands.
Defensively, the Cavaliers may take a page out of Houston’s book and switch everything. To do that though, they’ll have to play Jeff Green more and Love less. It’s likely Cleveland won’t be able to use the Tristan Thompson-Love frontcourt much and Thompson would be the preferred option for defensive purposes. However, minimal gains on defence may not be worth sacrificing spacing around LeBron on the other end, so Lue could decide to play four shooters around James and hope Cleveland can score enough to keep up.
Andre Iguodala’s knee injury makes Kerr’s job a little harder, with the forward’s absence robbing the Warriors’ of their best LeBron defender and leaving a hole in the lineup. Kerr has started Kevon Looney and rotated Jordan Bell, Shaun Livingston and Nick Young in as the fifth player alongside his stars, but he may need to keep his bigs on the floor more counteract Thompson off the offensive glass. Going small with Draymond Green at centre, however, would make it difficult for Love to be on the floor.
As far as who to throw on LeBron, Kevin Durant did fairly well last year, although Kerr could change up bodies to keep his players fresh. The real challenge will be how to guard LeBron when he draws a mismatch and looks to post. The Celtics held their own in those situations by using a scram switch, which sees a bigger body on the weakside pull the overmatched defender off before or immediately after the entry pass. Golden State have the length and versatility to do the same, although James will look to punish the switch from the top of the key and near the perimeter, making the defensive strategy not as viable in those instances.
On offence, Kerr has to resist going to Durant so often in isolation. That was a somewhat needed approach against the Rockets’ stout defence, but the Warriors should have no problem carving up Cleveland with back cuts and off-ball movement. Playing a grind-it-out, half-court slog focused on one-on-one play would even the playing field for the Cavaliers.
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