With under a minute remaining in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Draymond Green and Lebron James were the biggest players on the court for the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. This continued for a few possessions before David Blatt inserted Tristan Thompson back into the game.
Small ball has taken the league by storm, but the Warriors represent its most successful version, with no true post option playing major minutes. 3-point shooting has been gaining importance for a while and Golden State is taking it to another level. We even saw Andrew Bogut turn down an easy lay-in for a Klay Thompson 3-point shot in Game 1.
Teams have depended on shooting as much the Warriors before, but where the Warriors stand out is on defense, ranking first in defensive efficiency during the regular season. Draymond Green came in second place for defensive player of the year voting. Andrew Bogut (a true center) anchors the paint for them, but rarely down the stretch in crunch time. With two of the best shooters and a variety of other deep threats, this could be the first true “small ball” team to win a championship.
The only problem is the Cavaliers have controlled each of the games, with a chance to win on the last possession each time. They are doing this by harassing Curry and forcing one-on-one matchups with Draymond Green, and because of Lebron’s greatness.
But Green, who can knock down open shots, hasn’t made the Cavaliers pay for double-teaming Curry on pick and rolls. He was just 2-for-7 with four turnovers in Game 2. Klay Thompson had 34 points, but was 4-for-12 from deep.
The adage is that jump-shooting teams stall out and get shut down in the playoffs. The Cavaliers are doing that and Green’s going to have to take advantage of it.
The Warriors are still and should be favorites to win the series. Steph Curry won’t play like he did in Game 2 again and they were outplayed in both games (especially Game 2) and still forced overtime.
This is because the Cavaliers are so undermanned.
What Lebron is doing is incredible. Is the cast around him right now worse than Allen Iverson’s ’01 Sixers or LeBron’s ’07 Cavaliers? Those are the only two teams in recent memory that were dragged by one individual this far. LeBron did have a hobbled Kyrie Irving for most of the playoffs until he dislocated his kneecap, but it’s still something special.
The Timothy Mozgov and Tristan Thompson combo was working great. Mozgov was amazing in the first half of Game 2. When Golden State went small Blatt didn’t feel comfortable putting Mozgov on Green or Iguadala, who he guarded in the first half but more or less anchored the paint and let him roam.
Down the stretch in regulation on a couple Curry-Green pick and rolls, the Cavaliers sold out to stop a Curry threes and he ended up with a layup for himself or a teammate. Blatt may want Mozgov to anchor their defense and his offense has been much better than Tristan Thompson’s.
The Warriors are still built to find their third and fourth option good shots when plays break down. They’ve slowed down Lebron down the stretch of each game, relegating him to step-back jumpers or triple contested lay-ups. It’s still hard to imagine him willing the Cavaliers to three more victories. That may be one of the greatest accomplishments in basketball history.
On the other side, if the Warriors return to their level of play and win the series, they’ll be making “small ball” history of their own.