How the Warriors Jumped All Over the Cavs to Snatch a 2-0 Finals Lead

Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and company have made the Cavaliers miserable so far in the Finals. We dive into Hudl Assist’s breakdown to see what potential answers the Cavs might have.

How the Warriors Jumped All Over the Cavs to Snatch a 2-0 Finals Lead

Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and company have made the Cavaliers miserable so far in the Finals. We dive into Hudl Assist’s breakdown to see what potential answers the Cavs might have.

This series is what the NBA universe had been waiting for since Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors last July. The regular season and first three rounds of the playoffs were simply a primer for round three of the Warriors-Cavaliers meeting in the Finals, a rubber match for the ages.

Things played out pretty much according to plan. The regular season proved massively entertaining thanks to the individual efforts of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and others. But once the playoffs rolled around, it became clear that no other teams were prepared to deal with Golden State or Cleveland, who rolled into the Finals with a combined 24-1 playoff record.

The prevailing thought was that an epic Finals between two Goliaths would make up for a mostly lackluster playoffs. But Golden State has thus far proven to be a bigger monster than we even imagined, outscoring the Cavs 145-104 en route to a 2-0 lead.

It’s easy to look at the disparity and simply surmise that the Warriors added Kevin Durant, arguably the second-best player in the world, to a team that won a record 73 games last season. But after Hudl’s analysts broke down the first two games, Cleveland’s struggles don’t start and end with Golden State’s starry addition.

The King Needs Help

LeBron James has lived up to his end of the bargain, averaging 28.5 points, eight assists and 12 rebounds on 55.2 percent shooting in the opening two games. He’s been attacking the rim with abandon, taking 24 of his 38 shot attempts in the paint (and making 15 of them).

LeBron James' shooting chart from the first two Finals games

As great as James is, he’s not getting much help. Kyrie Irving (22.5 points) and Kevin Love (16 points, 12 rebounds) have done their part, but the rest of Cleveland’s supporting cast has crumbled. The quintet of Tristan Thompson, Deron Williams, Kyle Korver, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert, a group vitally important to Cleveland’s success, has a combined 37.2 effective field goal percentage and sports a cringe-worthy 3/10 assist/turnover ratio.

Thompson and Smith’s failures are particularly worrisome. Thompson is considered one of the NBA’s best rebounders and presents a major mismatch when the Dubs go small with Durant or Draymond Green at center. But Thompson has pulled down just eight boards so far, with Golden State gobbling up a healthy 24.2 offensive rebound percentage. The Warriors are simply too good to be given easy second chances. Allowing easy second possessions like this is death.

Smith’s failures are equally as troubling. He must at least provide a threat on offense to take pressure off of Cleveland’s three top dogs, but he hasn’t been up to the task. He’s scored a total of three points on 1-6 shooting without providing any semblance of defense. If the Cavs are to have a chance in this series, Smith has to at least show a pulse.

Slow It Down

Cleveland overcame a 3-1 deficit in last year’s Finals by grinding out possessions and taking the Warriors out of their element. Golden State averaged 82.5 shots per game in that series and limiting the number of possessions allowed the Cavaliers to take the title.

This strategy makes sense - just as NFL teams try to slow the pace and limit possessions for great offenses like New England and Green Bay, it’s imperative to give an elite offense such as the Warriors’ fewer attempts to score.

But Golden State has dictated the pace through two games, attempting 178 shots and 57 free throws so far. They’re averaging 1.13 points per possession and have 52 points in transition. Shooting ugly 3-pointers early in the shot clock is not the recipe for beating Golden State.

The Cavs should slow the pace to limit the Warriors’ scoring chances, but that hasn’t been their style this season. Cleveland has averaged 98.7 possessions per game in the playoffs and has excelled playing at a fast speed. Asking the Cavaliers to slow down might not be effective.

KD and Steph Are Too Much

At the end of the day, the Warriors might just have too much talent, regardless of what schematic moves Tyronn Lue makes. Golden State boasts the last three MVP winners in Durant (2014) and Curry (15-16) alongside Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, not to mention a studly supporting cast. The two stars in particular have been on fire to start the series, combining for an effective field goal percentage of 61.4 percent.

The combined shot chart for Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry in the first two games of the Finals

Cleveland doesn’t have an ideal answer defensively. James is the only Cav with the requisite size and speed to cover Durant, but his energy is needed at the offensive end. Irving is a mess defensively, Richard Jefferson has nearly 40,000 career minutes on his NBA odometer and Smith and Shumpert are both mired in funks.

Poor Jefferson has no chance in this sequence:

Then there’s Curry, who threw up a casual triple-double in 36 minutes in Game Two. And Thompson, who awoke from a playoffs-long shooting slump with an 8-for-12 Game Two performance. And Green, who hasn’t put up big numbers but is a plus-26 so far in the series.

The Warriors just have so much firepower and Cleveland, owners of the league’s 22nd-best defense in the regular season, weren’t a defensive juggernaut to begin with. There is no easy answer for Lue to plug the gaping leaks in the Cavs’ defense.

His answer might need to come from the advanced stats, and the Cavs have a team dedicated to diving deep into the numbers. Many of the same insights they can uncover are possible to find with Hudl Assist, which broke down the first two games to supply the stats in this blog. If the Cavs are to make this a competitive series, they need to discover a tactical advantage in the numbers.

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