No team in NBA history has ever overcome a 3-0 series hole and that task seems even more impossible against this talented Golden State Warriors side, which means Cleveland are out of time for figuring things out.
Their defensive coverages have to be tight and their shooting has to bounce back on Wednesday night if they hope to make this a series, instead of the lopsided affair it was last year.
The Cavaliers’ adjustments will centre on defence, where they’ll have to come up with a way to slow down Golden State’s prolific attack to give them some sort of margin for error on the other end of the floor.
It all starts with containing Stephen Curry, who has already hit 14 triples in the series, including a Finals record nine in Game 2.
Cleveland’s game plan has so far mostly been to switch everything defensively, except when Curry hunts out Kevin Love for a mismatch. In those situations, the Cavaliers have tried to avoid leaving Love on an island with Curry by trapping or having Love jump out aggressively to invite Curry drives.
That strategy wasn’t an unequivocal success in Game 1, but Cleveland managed to not get completely dismantled on those possessions. That wasn’t the case in Game 2, however, as the Warriors countered by having the screen-setter slip before the Cavaliers could switch, which left the defence in a confused state and a Golden State big man diving uncovered to the basket.
When Cleveland abandoned that approach and just had everyone switch all the time, Curry smoked them by catching fire and splashing 3s off the dribble.
There’s no real right answer for how to guard Curry, but it may be time for Cleveland to break out their trapping method, which they used with relative success in the pre-Kevin Durant clashes. That means having not just Love, but every Cavaliers player involved in the Curry screen swarm him to force the ball out of his hands. From there, Cleveland will have to hold up in a 4-on-3 situation on the back end, but that becomes easier when Golden State are playing two non-shooters with either JaVale McGee, Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell alongside Draymond Green.
That would absolve the players involved in the Curry screen of having to constantly be in the right position, but it would still require constant communication for the other defenders to overcome a math equation not in their favour.
As I wrote before the series, I expected a lot more defensive possessions like this when the Warriors put Love in the pick-and-roll: https://t.co/wa4vOiQ3KF— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) June 4, 2018
“That’s our game plan defensively,” Tristan Thompson said of the switch-everything scheme. “We saw Houston do a good job doing that so we piggybacked that. With that said, we have to do a better job of communicating.
“With this team, they move a lot. They’re not conventional. NBA-style team. They have guys that are moving constantly and if you stop for a second and relax Klay [Thompson] and Steph will get open in the corner or KD or Draymond will get a back cit. We have to have our head on a swivel for the entire 24 seconds and give maximum effort.”
Offensively for the Cavaliers, it may be as simple as knocking down shots.
With the ball constantly in LeBron James’ hands, Cleveland are generating good looks as the Warriors have had to pick their position between letting James feast one-on-one or force his teammates to beat them. The latter hasn’t happened yet as the Cavaliers are just 8-of-32 on 3-pointers off James’ passes in the series, including 5-of-16 when it’s been an uncontested shot.
J.R. Smith has been representative of Cleveland’s shooting woes as he’s converting just 26.3 per cent from the field through two games. However, he was also next to useless in the first two games in Boston last round before going 6-of-10 from deep in the following two games at home.
That was also the case in the past two Finals – Smith shot 7-of-18 from deep in 2016 and 10-of-19 last year in the Cavaliers’ first two home games of the series after going 2-of-7 and 1-of-4 on the road, respectively.
JR Smith in 2017 NBA Finals:— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) June 2, 2018
Games 1-2: 1/6 FG, 3 PTS -30
Games 3-5: 19/31 FG, 56 PTS, +4
He rebounds after he disappoints. You should expect big things from him at some point this series.
Smith and the rest of Cleveland’s role players are out of excuses now. They’ll have the comfort of being at home and more open shots are likely on the way with Golden State keying in on James.
This will be the last chance they have at making this a competitive series.
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Former basketball player Gaafar ElSouri was a dual-sports athlete competing in both basketball and football. Dubai-based since 2014, ElSouri started his career in Saudi Arabia with Al-Hilal basketball club and his career included stints in Europe, Southeast Asia and Canada.
Last year however, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) required him to have full knee reconstructive surgery, leaving him on the treatment table. ElSouri has been documenting his recovery back to fitness for the last twelve months. His physically challenging workouts are designed specifically to get him back playing on the court.
In a series of articles, coinciding with the NBA Playoff finals, we’ll be breaking down ElSouri’s workout clips with the individual exercises you can do to get yourself in top condition. The first in the series focuses on core exercises, to help during practice and game situations, increasing stamina and cardio to help keep focused for longer.
HIGH KNEE SINGLE & DOUBLE FOOT AGILITY LADDER RUN
This exercise is used to warm up and drive foot speed, while remaining under control to ensure two feet go into each box.
AGILITY LADDER PUSH
Doing this activates the upper body, while building both core strength and improving coordination.
SIDE-TO-SIDE HEAVY BALL PUSH UP
Here you engage your core and work on stability as the offset hand position forces your shoulders, chest and core to stabilise your body.
STABILITY BALL PUSH UPS
This exercise relies on your core strength, chest and shoulders to stabilise your body and control your movement. It requires balance and concentration as well as strength.
LATERAL PLYOMETRIC FLYING PUSH UPS
A tough one, this is an advanced movement that is designed for explosion utilising the core, upper body and overall body control.
WALL BALL SIT-UPS
Using a medicine ball ensures your core creates the explosive movement generating power to throw ball as powerful as possible.
LATERAL SIDE STEPS AGILITY LADDER WITH HEAVY BALL
It looks easier than it is, this exercise is used to improve foot speed, lateral steps and foot coordination. It requires speed and concentration.
You need good coordination to complete this three-count combo moving forward while increasing foot speed in and out of the boxes.
You can follow ElSouri’s progress on Instagram @g.elsouri1
If the series opener of the NBA Finals showed how much impact the best player in the world can have when he’s at his peak, Game 2 exhibited just how demoralising the best team in the world can feel when they’re clicking.
Golden State didn’t need Cleveland to shoot themselves in the foot or have to pull it out in overtime this night as they took the initiative by playing their brand of basketball and playing it well.
The Warriors were hyper-efficient scoring the ball on one end of the floor, while on the other they forced players not named LeBron James to beat them, which the Cavaliers couldn’t do for the most part.
Of all people, JaVale McGee set the tone after Golden State coach Steve Kerr inserted him into the starting lineup over Kevon Looney.
The change didn’t improve the floor spacing from a conventional sense, but McGee’s ability as a roll man burned Cleveland over and over again as they struggled to stop his dives to the rim after he set a screen for the ball-handler. McGee had the first two buckets of the game off dunks and finished a perfect 6-of-6 for 12 points.
His defence was also significant as his length provided more rim protection and made life a little bit harder for James on drives.
The Warriors’ defence as a whole was much better than in Game 1, when James ran roughshod on them for 51 points and torched in isolations. This time around, Golden State weren’t shy about doubling and bringing their help defenders a step or two closer to the paint to deter James’ drives. For almost every other team, that strategy would potentially backfire, but because the Warriors have so much collective length, they can bother James while also rotating quick enough to run the Cavaliers off the 3-point line or contest their looks from deep.
Offensively, Golden State couldn’t have shot better as they hit 57.3 per cent from the field and 15-of-36 from beyond the arc. Stephen Curry was unconscious towards the end and finished with an NBA Finals record nine 3-pointers, but even outside of him, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston and McGee were a combined 29-of-38.
Such is life against the Warriors that when they’re on, they’re really on, and that can leave opponents feeling defeated. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how well you play on defence because one of Golden State’s deadly shooters can make it a moot point with a difficult make, like Curry did with his ridiculous 28-foot fadeaway over Kevin Love in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland can take some solace in the fact they were within reach for most of the game despite taking the Warriors’ best shot on the chin. But unless James’ supporting cast plays better, it won’t matter.
LeBron gets little help agian
With the way Golden State’s defence was geared to slow down James in Game 2, that put even more pressure on his teammates to step up as many more possessions ended with them shooting.
George Hill came out with an attacking mindset and had 12 points in the first half, but was just 1-of-4 after the intermission as his aggressiveness seemed to fizzle out.
Love, meanwhile, topped 20 points again but was 7-of-18 from the field as he left makeable shots on the court for the second straight game.
After catching so much heat for costing the Cavaliers in the series opener, J.R. Smith carried over his struggles into Game 2 as he had five points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Through two games, Cleveland are 8-of-32 on 3-pointers off James’ passes, including 5-of-16 on uncontested looks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Role players typically perform better at home in the playoffs, so the Cavaliers will hope their shooting woes turn around when the series shifts to Quicken Loans Arena for Game 3 and 4.
Otherwise, there won’t be any need for Cleveland to return to the Bay Area.