Five of X’s thoughts on the Finals heading into Game 4…
1. LeBron James is the story.
Why not start with the obvious? It would be an historic performance if a player had 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists in any single Finals game. But that is what James has done on average through three games, without a ton of variance in any of those stats from game to game (especially in the scoring department). James has made the adjustment of playing outside of his character and comfort zone, going from being a natural facilitator who can score to being a volume shooter who must score. And keep in mind he is doing this against the team that ranked #1 in the NBA in defensive efficiency this year.
2. Cleveland’s “other guys” are better than you think.
While LeBron James is the story, he is NOT winning these games alone. Other guys have stepped up in a huge way. The Warriors were the best scoring team in the league this year, averaging 110.0 points on 47.8% shooting. In the Finals, the Warriors have failed to hit 100 points in regulation of any game and as was exemplified last night they are struggling to get to 40 points by halftime. In this series, they’ve dropped to 97.3 points per game (with two of the three games going into overtime) on 41.4% from the field. That’s called team defense – one guy can’t defend five no matter how good the one is. Matthew Dellavedova had his 3rd game of the postseason with at least 17 points in Game 3, despite that game only being his 4th start of the playoffs. He’s not “just a try hard” guy. Tristan Thompson is averaging 14 boards per game in the Finals and has had double digit rebounds in 8 of his last 9 games. Thompson’s 17 offensive rebounds in the Finals are more than the rest of the Cavaliers have combined. He is averaging 5.7 offensive rebounds – no other player in the series has had more than 4 offensive rebounds in any game. Iman Shumpert has a series-high 10 steals despite missing a good portion of Game 3 with a shoulder injury. Timofey Mozgov has 3 less free throw attempts than the Splash Brothers put together in this series. J.R. Smith produces just enough of his own offense to give James the occasional break from having to create for others. Basketball is a team game, and even the best player in the world needs some help. These role players are being called bums, but they are making significant contributions.
3. Harrison Barnes does not belong in this series.
0 points. 0 for 8 shooting from the field. 3 turnovers. 2 fouls. This was Harrison Barnes’ “contribution” to Game 3. If you’re thinking “Man, I can do that.”, you’re right. Add to this stat line that Barnes can’t slow LeBron James down in any sense of the word, and there’s simply no room for Barnes in this series. He has always been too passive, and the Warriors can’t afford that right now with their MVP still trying to find himself. Andre Iguodala has been the player in this series for Golden State who looks the most confident to me. Though he can’t stop LeBron, he has shown that he can make LeBron work twice as hard as he wants to, which is all you can ask. In my opinion, Iguodala needs to be starting, and should be on the floor every minute that James is out there. This is the Finals, no use in restricting minutes at this point.
4. More David Lee, please.
David Lee was dusted off and inserted into the lineup for 13 minutes in Game 3, and responded with 11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal. I know he has fallen out of Steve Kerr’s favor for various reasons, but it’s time to see more of David Lee – at the expense of Andrew Bogut. Lee is every bit as good a passer as Bogut is, but he’s also a scoring threat from more than 5 feet away from the basket. Golden State needs to kick start their offense somehow, and inserting a big man who can knock down the mid range jumper may be one way to do it. Yes, this means the Warriors would have to go undersized. But it’s not as if their “big” lineup has done anything to keep Tristan Thompson off of the glass. So why not see if Lee can capture some of his old form. After all, he is only a year removed from being an 18 point/9 rebound per game guy.
5. Draymond Green is in “self-check” mode.
For those unfamiliar with the term, “self-check” is used for the guy who you intentionally leave open because you want him to shoot. Green has become that guy. He shot a miserable 3-15 from the field in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, and has brought those bricks with him to the NBA Finals. In this series, Green is shooting 8-30 from the field. That pace would make for a decent albeit uninspiring batting average, but it’s not close to good enough to win an NBA championship. Going back ten games, Green is 6-40 (15%) from the three-point arc. He has got to realize that the defense wants him to take that shot. He is not a Splash brother, and right now he’s not even a faint ripple brother. What he is however is a gifted passer and solid ball handler for his size. Golden State needs him to play to his strengths at the offensive end and resist the urge to shoot open perimeter shots – because right now he is open for a reason.