Thursday, June 08, 2017

Pre-Game Four

Even apart from being down three games to none, the Cavs are in a tight spot for the fourth game.  LeBron James played major minutes again in the third game, with an aggressive first half going to the hoop and shooting threes.  But he ceded the third to Kyrie and was pretty obviously gassed in the crucial fourth.  Now he's facing a closeout game for Golden State two days later, the least amount of rest in the playoffs.

That James and Kyrie carried the scoring meant other players were less involved, and that also came back to haunt them in the fourth quarter.  So the logical strategy for the next game is for James to get everybody involved early, and save more of himself for the fourth quarter.

But in that third game, without his first half scoring, the game would probably not have been close in the fourth.  So what is the strategy?  Down 3-0, the Cavs might start thinking about the long term, about keeping LeBron healthy and not using him up, even with the long off-season ahead.  But LeBron himself is likely to be especially competitive about not being swept.

So will we see LeBron come out scoring, or distributing? Maybe distributing to start.  Obviously how the game is going will be a major factor.  If the Warriors do what they've done in previous close-out games this year--get a big lead right away--then chances are LeBron will get more rest in this game.

On the Warriors side, all the talk has been about KD and Steph.  Some see them as potential co-MVPs though most observers tip the balance to Durant.  But the fourth game could see two other heroes: Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.  Green has been trying to be careful, although he's been in foul trouble anyway.  He might be more obviously active Friday, and put up big numbers.

As for Thompson, I was impressed that in his postgame interview on Wednesday he kept talking about Friday, what they needed to do on Friday.  He was (in the phrase they all use) "locked in."  Only Curry ventured to evaluate Wednesday's game historically.  So given Thompson's breakout from his shooting slump, he may have one of his monster games on Friday.  If the Warriors don't suffer a letdown, it's hard to see how the Cavs win a game, if they couldn't win Wednesday.

Warriors Tough It Out

Finishing with an 11-0 run to win the third game of the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors showed the one element some observers questioned: their toughness.  It was the Cleveland Cavs who arguably panicked as their lead slipped away in the final minutes.

The Warriors took the early punch they expected in the Cavs first home game, and countered it with a record number of threes in the first quarter.  They led at the end of the first quarter and the half.  Their signature third quarter didn't happen however, and the Cavs seized the momentum, when Kyrie Irving took over the scoring at the basket from LeBron.  But they both played heavy minutes and couldn't withstand the cool composure and determination of Curry and especially Kevin Durant in the final minutes.  The final score was 118-113.

Klay Thompson continued his return to shooting form with 18 points in just the first quarter.  His defense in those crucial last minutes, particularly on Kyrie's last possession, was outstanding.

Evidently the Cavs game plan was to neutralize Draymond Green, and he did get in early foul trouble.  Though always important on both ends, Green hasn't had a breakout game--yet.

The fourth game is Friday, when the Warriors could sweep and become the first NBA team in history to go 16-0 in the postseason.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Pre-Game Jitters

The third game of the NBA Finals in Cleveland will begin soon.  For the past few days the sports media chatter has been almost universally about Warriors dominance.  That may be so in the series, but it doesn't guarantee a win in this game.

In terms of the physical benefits of rest, the home team has a decided advantage in the first two games, especially in a time-zone spanning series like this one.  The Cavs crossed from the eastern to the western zone, with whatever effects that may have on sleep and sheer physical energy, presence and groundedness.  The Warriors hadn't gone anywhere in a couple of weeks.  They were totally there.

So we've seen only games in which the Cavs were at the biggest physical disadvantage in terms of time zones of the series. That advantage doesn't repeat to the same extent as the series goes on.  The Cavs will have some but a smaller advantage in their home time zone, but they've had to adjust as well as the Warriors.  The games are at about the same relative time, (5 or 6 p.m. West Coast time) so theoretically both teams now don't have to adjust as much.  But small differences in energy levels, in the ability to maintain focus, can have large consequences.

This is apart from the other aspects of home court advantage, such as familiarity with the space and especially the home crowd.

So how do the Cavs win this one?  If the Dubs come out shooting threes and don't make them, and especially if at some point in the game, the Cavs start hitting threes in droves.  Both things have happened before with these two teams.

The Cavs didn't shoot especially well in Oakland, and still managed to be competitive for most of the second game.  The Warriors went from only four turnovers in the first game, to 20 in the second.  As Steve Kerr said, they'll be hard pressed to win in Cleveland with that many turnovers.

So missed threes and turnovers that help to energize the Cavs with easy baskets early, followed by a rain of Cav threes.  Those are the obvious routes.  But of course every game is only itself: players in foul trouble and above all injuries can change the game, and injuries can still change the series.

Still, it's hard not to agree with media observers that the Warriors have so many weapons and are playing so well (and so fast) that over the course of a game, and certainly over the course of a series, they're very very hard to beat.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Another Record Setting Win for the Warriors

The Golden State Warriors won the second game of the Finals 132-113, setting a Finals record with the most made 3s at 18.  Steph Curry had his first playoff triple double, and Kevin Durant had a double double for the Dubs.  LeBron James had a triple double for the Cavs.

The Cavs changed their defensive approach and mixed their personnel.  Some of it backfired--they fouled to stop fast breaks, but Curry tied an NBA record by making all 14 of his foul shots.  But with an aggressive game by LeBron James, who also had a record number of assists in the first half, the Cavs kept coming close.  Still, the last actual lead they had was at 15-14 in the first quarter.  The Cavs had runs.  But the Warriors had blizzards.  They got a healthy lead in the third quarter and pulled away in the fourth.

Curry and Durant were the big guns, with momentum-changing and breathtaking shots and plays.  Klay Thompson got his 3 point stroke back.  Durant's defense was dominant as the game wore on.

Coach Steve Kerr was back on the bench for the first time since the first round.  In the post-game euphoria of the media, he cautioned that the Warriors turned the ball over way too many times, and if they do that on the road they are likely to lose.

Most Warriors fans probably remember the media euphoria last year, when some sportswriters wanted to declare them the ultimate winners after their first two home game blowouts, and even more so when they went up 3-1 with a fourth game win.  With a healthy Curry and Kevin Durant, whose play in these games invites some to call him the best in the game, this year is likely to be different.  But nobody should be counting their chickens just yet.

The important game 3--the next odd numbered one-- is Wednesday.  Obviously it's must-win for the Cavs, and it's all but over if the Warriors get the victory.

While a historically excellent team plays basketball in Oakland, San Francisco's baseball team struggles on the road, losing a series to the MLB basement dwelling Phillies, prompting at least one Bay Area sportwriter to proclaim them the worst Giants team in a generation.