The first two games of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are now in the books, with the Warriors taking a 2-0 series lead. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have spent a significant portion of their season and playoff run working to get back to this moment: In the NBA Finals, against the Warriors, looking to avenge their loss to that team during last season’s final series. However, now down 0-2, the series may be starting to slip away for the Cavs. The good news for the Cavs is, no series is won in just two games. With Game 3 of the series shifting over to Cleveland, the Cavs will need to make some adjustments to get back into the series, many of which I will break down:
LeBron James must be more aggressive and assertive. LeBron James is averaging a near triple-double so far in this series, putting up 21 points, 1o rebounds, and 9 assists a game. Add in three steals and a blocked shot and LeBron looks to be having quite the series on the surface. However, judging by the fact that his team is down 0-2, those stats are looking pretty empty. In the first two games, LeBron has taken the approach of looking to facilitate first and score later. That is a formula that has worked very well in the playoffs up until now, however LeBron needs to do more now that none of his teammates are scoring with any efficiency or consistency. This series, he has been missing layups, turning the ball over at a rate of 5.5 per game, and hasn’t been defending at the level he is capable of. LeBron looks hesitant, sloppy and indecisive with the ball in his hands and that is unacceptable. If the Cavs are to get back in this series, Lebron needs to play like the best player in the world he claims to be.
Kyrie Irving must be more efficient. It is no secret that Kyrie Irving is a scoring point guard. He has attempted the second most amount of shots for the Cavs in this series (36 to Lebron’s 38), however is averaging 18 points on a putrid 33 percent from the field and a freezing cold 14 percent from the three point line. The leading scorer for the Cavs throughout the early part of the playoffs, the Cavs need an efficient Kyrie Irving. A stat from ESPN shows that in this series, Kyrie is 8-9 in this series in shots coming off a pass and 4-27 from shots not coming off a pass. Considering the fact that he doesn’t tend to look for his teammates very often (averaging 2.5 assists in the series), if Kyrie is going to be taking so many shots, he must be efficient and take shots within the flow of the offense and not so much in isolation. Which brings me to the next point…
The Cavaliers must regain offensive flow. Something we have seen from the Cavs a lot since the hiring of head coach Tyronn Lue is a much more fluid offense. Throughout the playoffs, we’ve seen a lot of ball movement and penetration from the Cavs leading to smart, open, efficient shots. They have gone completely away from that in this series. Credit to Golden State for playing incredibly tough defense, however too often the Cavs’ offense have just looked stagnant. The Cavaliers have been playing selfishly, far too often the players have been taking shots with the shot clock winding down, making sloppy passes, and just look disengaged and interested. The Cavs need to get back to some semblance of what they looked like earlier in the playoffs and the role players and bench must step up. Guys like J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova, and Channing Frye must get going if the Cavs are to have a chance. Richard Jefferson seems to be the only role player on the team with any interest or effectiveness.
Defense, Defense, Defense. Putting it nicely, the Cavaliers have defended horribly in this series. In the first two games, the Warriors are shooting 52 percent from the field and 39 percent from three. The Warriors have been getting pretty much any shot they’ve wanted and that’s with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson both having rather subpar series so far to their standards.
The Warriors have been getting to the rim with very little issue, shooting many open threes, outscoring the Cavs in transition and bench scoring. The Cavs have been turning the ball over, leading to a lot of those transition buckets; aren’t rebounding on either end, which are giving the Warriors second and third chance opportunities; aren’t getting back quickly enough on transition, getting lost on switching and just are not playing an uninspired brand of basketball in every facet on the game.
While the strategy of trapping Curry and Thompson once they catch the ball has worked to some degree, leaving Draymond Green open has burned them numerous times, especially in Game 2, and switching on defense so often rather than sticking with their man has really helped the Warriors showcase their unselfishness and great passing, forcing the Cavs to look lost and outmatched.
At the end of the day it comes down to effort, which the Cavs don’t look to be giving enough of. They have looked demoralized in the first two games in the series, as if they don’t belong on the same court as the Warriors and that is the wrong message to give. The Cavs’ two wins during last year’s Finals were made possible by a rugged defense and dominance by Lebron James.
The inclusion of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving this time around as Lebron’s help has not led to much success at all in this series. Now that Kevin Love went going through the NBA’s concussion protocol after a shot to the back of the head by Harrison Barnes, he is out for Game 3. In that case, that puts even more pressure on the shoulders of Lebron and Kyrie to deliver.
The Cavaliers must quickly regroup and get back to doing what brought them this far: moving the ball, taking smart shots, and defending at a high level. Lebron must do a better job as a leader and lead this team along with Kyrie, and everyone else must follow suit or else this series may be over before the weekend rolls around and the Cavs will head into a long offseason with a multitude of questions that must be answered. Will they be up for the challenge?
Spark Sports NBA Analyst