Cav-tlas Shrugged

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders – What would you tell him?”

“I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

To shrug.”

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

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After Game 1 of the NBA finals, in the post-game press conference, LeBron’s frustration was apparent after losing to the Golden State Warriors 104-89.

LeBron explicitly stated that the Cavaliers lost the game to “a team.” Translation: If Cleveland relies only on James to carry them to victory and do not get worthwhile contributions from their bench, the Cavs team does not stand a chance to win the NBA Finals. In that first game, the Cavs were able to contain the Warriors big 3 of Curry, Thompson and Green to only 36 points, but the Warriors’ bench outscored their Cavs counterparts 45-10: in the last 50 years, there hasn’t been a Finals game that lopsided.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James gestures during the first half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James gestures during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Then, Game 2’s loss was just embarrassing as the Cavaliers failed to make the right adjustments and continue to look out of their element and out of the competition.  After a game in which the Warriors’ big 3 scored only 36 points, Klay only needed to score 18, while Steph only needed to score 17 – and he did it in less than 25 minutes.  Cleveland squandered a golden chance to steal either of the first two games in Golden State and seize home-court.

OKC Thunder had figured out a winning formula against the Warriors for the first 4 games of their series. The Cavs might be able to properly emulate their winning formula starting in Game 3 at home.  On defense, the Thunder hounded the Warriors Big 3 into uncharacteristic turnovers, limited their fast-break points, boxed out the Warriors to secure defensive rebounds, and restricted the Warrior’s second chance opportunities. Then, on offense, they attacked the rim and got to the free throw line, penetrated and scored in the paint, and found open shooters on the perimeter.  The Cavaliers have particularly failed in rule #1: Ball-movement is key against the Warriors. The Cavs need to make the Warriors work hard on both offense and defense if they want to take game 3 in Cleveland. Cleveland has some similarities to OKC Thunder in regards to their big bodies, athletic wing players and physicality in the paint – they just haven’t been able to put the ball in the basket. That’s rule #2.  Cleveland needs to follow the OKC Thunder’s keys to challenging the Warriors: crash the boards for rebounds, score in the paint, cover the Warriors’ big 3 like bees swarming on honey, don’t give their shooters nearly as much open daylight, and create open 3 pointers to counter the inevitable 3 pointers that the Warriors will create.

The deciding factor in Game 3 (and potentially the series) may be the Cavaliers’ ability to come out of the gates and suffocate the Warrior’s bench in the first half so that they don’t lose the game against the starters before it even begins. The Warriors’ bench won the first two games for the Warriors – we’ll see if they can continue their hot shooting on Cleveland’s turf.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love remains on the floor after a play during the first half of Game 2 of basketball's NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love remains on the floor after a play during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cavaliers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, June 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

If that is going to happen, they need to execute against the Warriors’ while their bench unit is playing and they have an opening to score against the less defensively gifted squad.  LeBron wants to get his teammates involved, but LeBron’s teammates have to be ready to make the shot when LeBron finds them.  When Kevin Love returns, he needs to play his style of basketball – the way he played in Minnesota when he was arguably the most effective power-forward in the league, averaging over 20 ppg and 13 rpg.  Kevin Love hasn’t succeeded in the Playoffs this year by getting into the paint and incorporating elements of his offense outside of his 3-point shooter.  He is a gifted rebounder, and he needs to crash the boards with Tristan Thompson on both ends.

Can the Cavs outshoot the Warriors on their home court, and get this series back on track?  After shooting the lights out against the Eastern Conference, they find their confidence.  Get JR Smith in a shooting rhythm early: if he hits a hot streak, ride him as far as he can take you.  Replace While Kevin Love is out, give his minutes to the sharp-shooting Channing Frye.  When the ball finds him on the perimeter, he has been one of the Cavaliers’ only reliable options from deep.

LeBron needs to find himself, get his fair share of points, rebounds and assists.  If the Cavs win Game 3, they will win it as a team.  Every team needs a leader, and LeBron needs to be the LeBron he knows he can be.  If he finds his game, can the rest of the Cavs regroup around his effort and play as a team?  Which team will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy?

Let the best team win.

By Raj Manjrekar