The Finals So Far: A Brief Look at Games 1 and 2 and What to Expect Going Forward

Well, I got at least one thing right so far: this year’s Finals have been sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting through games one and two. Even that sells the thrill a bit short, considering that this is the first NBA Finals in the league’s history in which the first two games have gone into overtime. Amazing. Only time will tell if this series can live up to the historic greatness of 2013’s epic battle between the Spurs and the Heat, but I’d say we’re off to a pretty good start.

If you’re reading this, then I’m assuming that you’ve watched, at least to some extent, the first two games of the Finals. If you haven’t THEN WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING??? Even my mom has been watching the games, and it usually takes the strength of five men to get her to switch to anything but the Food Network. For those of you that have missed the first two games, we’re witnessing possibly LeBron’s greatest Finals to date, which is insane. He is literally putting the team on his back, accounting for an astronomical 88% of his team’s offense (meaning a possession with LeBron on the court ends with either a LeBron field goal attempt, free throw attempt, assist or turnover) while experiencing a career-high 41.4% Usage Rate. To put that into perspective, even as dominant as he’s been since entering the league, his career Usage Rate is a full ten percent lower at 31.7. So far, he is averaging a mind-boggling 41 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists per game and 48 minutes per game.

Bleacher Report seems to think that LeBron is finally entering MJ-mode. Please, just stop it. I’m so sick of this comparison. LeBron is hitting peak LeBron-mode, which is something entirely different and scary for distinct reasons. Let’s just all be content with watching LeBron unleash basketball fury play after play as he forms his legacy before our eyes. That is, unless you’re the Warriors. The biggest issue moving forward for the Dubs will be figuring out what they need to do to slow down James. So far, they’ve seemed content letting him run one-on-one iso-ball on his preferred left-side of the court. Although LeBron is shooting at an inefficient clip slightly below 40%, letting the best player in the world play iso-ball hasn’t worked in the Warriors’ favor. He’s still getting to the free throw line a ton and is hardly turning the ball over. The slowed pace that comes with milking every shot clock is also hurting the Warriors’ offensive rhythm and means they have less opportunities for their dangerous transition scores.

The Warriors, however, are still playing great team defense, and this is no time to panic. Though they need to adjust their scheme on LeBron, and I’m sure Kerr will, they should be content knowing they held the Cavs to just 32.6% shooting in game two. Their hyper-efficient small-ball lineup of Curry, Klay, Barnes, Iguodala and Green has been their most successful thus far, and it’s something I look for Kerr to deploy a lot more going forward. Not only does this group offer the perfect combination of spacing and defensive versatility (four of the five players can switch on to LeBron if needed), but it also has forced David Blatt into taking Timofey Mozgov off the court to match the quickness of the Warriors’ lineup. Mozgov has been an effective rebounder, rim-protector and inside scoring presence in the series, and the Cavs have outscored the Warriors by 11 when he’s on the floor. While the Dubs’ coaching staff worries about stopping the King, Blatt and his cohorts need to come up with a lineup that can hang with this versatile group.

Even though the Cavaliers were a missed Iman Shumpert buzzer-beater away from leading the series 2-0, they should feel pretty good about where they are right now. They managed to take a game at the Oracle Arena where the Dubs were 47-3 beforehand, and they’ve been capable of deploying strategies that poke holes in the Warriors’ two-way success. They’ve also proven they can win without Kyrie and Love, and that even though they’re down to a thin seven-man rotation, everyone in it is delivering sound contributions. That said, it has been apparent from watching both games that LeBron is worn out by overtime. Though I still believe he’ll play at the level we all expect from him, he has so much mileage and wear-and-tear on his body that it’s reasonable to think he won’t be scoring 40 every game. The Cavs need to figure out a way to take a bit of the offensive burden off LeBron, and they also need to keep Mozgov on the court more. If they can continue to play this well defensively, they are absolutely capable of ending this series before the seventh game.

I’m sure some Warriors fans are in panic mode after losing a game at the Oracle to the Kyrie-less Cavaliers, but I’m still sticking with my prediction of Warriors in six. Of course, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this series went all the way to seven games or if the Cavaliers won it, but I still think the Warriors have the upper-hand. Curry was a disaster shooting the ball in game two, and though part of that can be attributed to the scrappy defense of Matthew Dellavedova, there is no way Curry has another abysmal shooting performance of that nature. Considering that the Dubs only lost that game by two with their MVP turning the ball over more than usual and struggling to score, they should be fine with the position they’re in. I look for Curry to continue his MVP pace going forward, much more like we saw in game one. Klay is playing at the level they need him to play at, and Draymond and Iggy are both flourishing in their all-around roles. The Dubs still have the bench depth to give their starters some rest and their defense is playing well as a unit. As long as Kerr can find a way to hold LeBron in the low thirties and stress ball-movement to his players, I still think this is the Warriors’ series to lose. I can’t wait to find out.

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