Don’t Overlook Cleveland Now


The Golden State Warriors have been fantastic all season. An expected mid-season slide occurred after they lost star forward Kevin Durant to injury, but even during that stretch, the Warriors were still 11-3 with their normal starting lineup with Patrick McCaw in place of Kevin Durant.

Going into this year, many people thought that a 73-9 Warriors team getting another league MVP in free agency was simply unfair. Although Durant came at the cost of key contributors like Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Harrison Barnes, Leandro Barbosa, Mareese Speights, and Brandon Rush, the contributions of those role players were more than accounted for with Durant, as well as other newcomers like Zaza Pachulia, Javale McGee, and David West, McCaw, and Matt Barnes.

The results have shown thus far in the post season. Golden State has yet to lose in the playoffs through 14 games played – an NBA record, and have outscored their opponents by 16.9 points per 100 possessions in doing so.

These facts make the notion that there is any cause for concern seem outlandish, but history does have a tendency to repeat itself, and there are certain truths that cannot be overlooked in predicting the outcome of this series.

Golden State currently has a 2-0 lead against the Cavaliers with an average margin of victory of 20.5 points per game. Last Finals, Golden State held a 2-0 lead against the Cavaliers with an average margin of victory of 24.0 points per game. As dominant as Golden State has been through the first two games this series, they weren’t even as dominant as they were last Finals, a series they still managed to lose.

In both 2015 and 2016, the Cavaliers have won game three. In 2016, the Cavaliers won game three by 30 points. In both those years, as well as these NBA Finals, game three was/will be played at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers benefit from home-court advantage. Even their playoff slogan, “Defend The Land,” is based on winning on their home court.

It should also be concerning for Golden State that, despite these large margins of victory, Cleveland has been right there in both games for the majority. After the first quarter, Golden State has only been up by five and six points in games one and two respectively. At half, by eight and three points.

This wouldn’t be as alarming if not for the fact that the Cavaliers not named LeBron James and Kevin Love have struggled immensely. If the Warriors are banking on 40.3% field goal shooting and 31.7% three point shooting, Cleveland’s percentages from games one and two, going forward, then they are in for an unfortunate surprise. Cleveland, even with these Finals factored in, has outperformed Golden State in many statistical categories offensively and even defensively, where they’ve struggled.

Miscellaneous Stats Table
Adva Adva Offe Offe Offe Defe Defe
Cleveland Cavaliers 119.3 .320 .404 .576 22.9 .248 77.3 .171
Golden State Warriors 118.2 .282 .368 .568 20.8 .230 77.3 .212
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 6/5/2017.

Cleveland has scored more points per possession than Golden State, gotten to the free throw line at a higher rate, shot more threes relative to other attempts as well, shot a higher effective field goal percentage, been better on the offensive and defensive glass, and they’ve also been better about not fouling, which are all indicated by the table.

Golden State must be ready for the inevitable: Kyrie Irving is going to start shooting better than 40%; Tristan Thompson is going to step it up from 4.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game on 40% shooting; J.R. Smith is going to improve on his 1.5 points per game on 16.7% shooting; Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, and Kyle Korver are going to start shooting better than 20.0%, 25.0%, and 28.6%.

Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports

The 103.0 pace? That will come down in Cleveland as the game slows down in favor of Cleveland’s 96.2 average playoff pace. Between Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry‘s near 30 point triple double stat lines, one or more of those will come down. This level of production will not be kept up against a team like the Cavaliers:

Golden State Warriors Basic Stats Table
Shoo Shoo Shoo Per Per Per Per Per
1 Kevin Durant .563 .500 .909 35.5 11.0 7.0 1.5 2.5
2 Stephen Curry .462 .455 1.000 30.0 8.0 10.5 2.0 0.0
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 6/5/2017.

In games 3-7 of last year’s Finals, Curry and Shaun Livingston shot below 40% from the field. In games 3-6 of last year’s finals, Draymond Green shot 29.2% and didn’t make a single three pointer in ten attempts. Andre Iguodala shot just 38.9% in games 4-7.

If the Cavaliers needed any fuel to their fire, they certainly got it last night. LeBron James was asked if he needed to defend the Cavaliers’ home court last night, and here was his reply:

In addition to that, Paul Pierce went out of his way to say that Kevin Durant, not LeBron James, is the best player in the NBA. LeBron has a history of playing well after receiving this sort of negative media attention.

All of these things: history of the match-up, home court, Cavaliers’ under performance, and also the fact that the Cavaliers have the most time tested champion in the series contribute to the plain fact that Golden State must not take their foot off the gas petal, and they must continue to play aggressive two-way team basketball that got them this 2-0 series lead in the first place.

If not, look no further than last year to see what can happen from playing carelessly.

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