2018 NBA Finals: Adjustments Cavs, Warriors Need to Make in Game 2
There was a fascinating parallel between Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Scripps Spelling Bee.
The runner-up in the spelling bee misspelled the German word "bewusstseinslage," which means "a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components." That adequately described the state JR Smith appeared to be in at the end of Game 1.
Prior to Smith's brain fart, another controversy emerged regarding whether the referees should have reviewed a call that changed a charge against Kevin Durant into a blocking foul against James.
The Warriors wound up winning by double digits, but the fact Game 1 went into overtime is far more telling than the final score.
What adjustments should you expect from each side heading into Game 2? The following tweaks could swing the outcome Sunday.
Warriors Adjustment: Make LeBron James Uncomfortable
On Thursday, James had perhaps the greatest Finals Game 1 performance in NBA history.
Based on his 41.3 Game Score, he had the second-best game in a Finals since at least 1964. The only better performance is his own 42.5 in Game 6 of the 2016 Finals.
Not only did James finish with 51 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but he was absurdly efficient, too. He shot 19-of-32 overall, 3-of-7 from deep and 10-of-11 from the charity stripe for a true shooting percentage of 69.2.
LeBron is one of the greatest players in NBA history, and he's even challenging Michael Jordan for the title of greatest of all time. He's going to get his one way or another.
The Warriors could make it more difficult on him, though.
Golden State wasn't nearly aggressive enough defending James. Picking him up at the half-court line, selectively using moments to trap him, blitzing him, using different defenders on him and throwing double-teams at him are all ways to shake him out of his comfort zone.
There's no one way to defend James, but guarding him in different ways and with as many players as possible would make the Warriors defense less predictable. Forcing him to react to a variety of looks might make him slightly less efficient, which is about the best Golden State can hope for.
Cavaliers Adjustment: Feed Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr. at the Rim
The Warriors don't have many weaknesses, but they do lack a viable two-way option at center. With Andre Iguodala sidelined, they can't use him as a small-ball 4 and let Draymond Green play the 5.
When the Warriors have played either Kevon Looney or JaVale McGee during the postseason, it's gone poorly. The Warriors' offensive rating is 108.4 with Looney on the court and 104.7 with McGee. With neither, it's 114.0.
While Looney and McGee can each protect the rim, they're both non-shooters. Combined with Draymond Green's shooting struggles (28.6 percent from deep for the postseason), the Warriors are playing three-on-five on offense with either Looney or McGee on the floor.
Golden State played without either one of them on the court for 22 of the 53 minutes in Game 1.
The Cavs need to force the Warriors to keep Looney or McGee in the game by beating them up at the rim. James did that in Game 1, going 9-of-10 in the restricted area. Kevin Love went 3-of-3. Larry Nance Jr. was 4-of-6. All other Cleveland players combined to go 2-of-8.
It's hard to ask James to do more, but Love can and Nance can. In the regular season, Nance shot 65.3 percent at the rim, while Love shot 62.1 percent.
The Cavs must feed those two inside to force the Warriors to put McGee or Looney on the court and keep them there.
Warriors Adjustment: Attack on Defense
The Warriors are at their best when they are aggressive on defense. They weren't always that way in Game 1.
They had only 13 points off turnovers Thursday, compared to 17.9 they averaged during the first three rounds of the playoffs and 17.3 during the regular season. That's one area where their lack of defensive aggressiveness manifested.
The other is in how much (or little) they challenged shots.
Per Second Spectrum, the Warriors challenged 33 of the Cavs' 99 shots for the game. But according to ESPN Stats & Info, Golden State challenged all nine of Cleveland's shots in overtime, only two of which went in. That means the Warriors challenged a meager 24 of 90 shots in regulation.
Golden State can't exert that much energy on every play, but it came a missed free throw away from giving up home-court advantage.
The Warriors are at their best when they play downhill, move the ball freely and launch shots early in the clock. That puts an enormous amount of pressure on the other team.
They didn't do that in Game 1 until overtime. When they did, they blew the game wide open.
Cavaliers Adjustment: Bench Jordan Clarkson
Jordan Clarkson was awful in Game 1. In fact, he's been awful all postseason.
His minus-0.6 win shares are the lowest in NBA history for a player with at least five playoff games in a single season. His 3.5 player efficiency rating is the third-lowest for any player with at least 250 minutes, trailing only Jason Collins in 2006-07 and 2007-08, and Collins earned playing time those seasons solely for his defense.
Clarkson is in there for his offense, which suggests he shouldn't be there in all.
Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue doesn't have great options behind him, but how do you go lower than the worst performance ever? What's the drawback there? Can Rodney Hood be that much worse?
Lue is stuck in a sunk cost fallacy here. There is no upside to doubling down on the worst playoff performance in history. Clarkson isn't going to suddenly break out in Game 2.
Bench the man. Put in anyone else.
Both Teams: Stay Focused
Both teams need to do a better job of staying focused, albeit in different ways.
After the Warriors built a lead, they seemed to get bored. When the Cavs came roaring back, they'd get interested again. It's almost as though they treated Game 1 as a regular-season game.
If they come out focused in Game 2, it should be a wire-to-wire blowout.
The Cavs held the Dubs to 16-of-36 shooting overall and 2-of-10 from deep with between seven and 15 seconds left on the clock. Golden State was 6-of-12 overall and 4-of-7 from deep with seven seconds or less left on the clock.
The Cavs would play solid defense for the first part of the clock, but as time wound down, they would eventually blow a rotation or miss an assignment. More often than not, the Warriors took advantage of it.
Defense isn't just about effort; it's also about concentration. The Cavs won't beat the Warriors unless they're defending well until the end of the shot clock.
The Warriors need more focus through the game, while the Cavaliers need it on any given defensive possession. But both need to be mentally sharper in Game 2.