4 things the Cavs must try to avoid an embarrassing NBA Finals sweep
The Cleveland Cavaliers have had better weeks.
Short of a major tactical shift, LeBron James and his team are on pace to get swept right out of the NBA Finals — and in record-setting fashion. That would drop LeBron to 2-for-7 in Finals appearances, as well as adding fuel to the bonfire of questions about whether Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving can be part of a championship-caliber team.
Now, there’s a microscopic chance that the Cavs somehow win this series, and that’s being generous. There’s nothing we can do to make this team better than the Warriors. We’re not magic. If Cleveland wants to save a little bit of face and avoid the sweep, though, we do have some suggestions.
They’re not convential. They won’t be popular. But what do the Cavs have to lose, other than two more games and a second straight NBA Finals series?
No more excuses for the King. He can’t rest his legs for tomorrow because Cleveland is two games away from staring at nothing but a long stretch of vacation for the summer.
And it won’t be enough for James to play all 48 minutes. He’s been passive through the first two games of the series. Some of that is the Warriors’ outstanding defense. Mostly, though, it’s LeBron struggling to find a seam and getting frustrated in the process.
So from here on out, James needs to stop being a supercomputer and start being a freight train. Put your head down, LeBron, and barrel into the Golden State defenders, put the onus on the officials to call fouls, and force the Warriors to focus their defense on you. Do it for 48 minutes. It will be exhausting, but a little fatigue is better than getting turned into a chump in the Finals.
This isn’t about "beating the Warriors at their own game," whatever that means. Instead, it’s about pure desperation.
The Cavs are the inferior team. It’s not an opinion. It’s fact. And if you’re the inferior team, you might as well put your faith in variance — especially since that’s what you’ve been doing all season long. Cleveland attempted the third-most three-pointers in the league in 2015-16, then they tried to turn J.R. Smith into a defensive stopper in The Finals.
No. Bad, Cleveland. Bad. You don’t try to change Earl. You let him shoot all of the 3s. You let Iman Shumpert do the same. And you play Channing Frye quite a bit more, even though you know your defense is going to get crushed when you go small. The only way you’re winning a game in this series is by getting hot from 3.
So that means a healthy Kevin Love, right? Yeah, about that …
We hope Love recovers from his concussion quickly and fully. Head injuries are no laughing matter. But if he’s cleared to play, that doesn’t mean the Cavs should actually put him on the floor. Not with the starters, anyway.
If the Cavs play Love and Kyrie Irving at the same time, the Warriors are going to rip them apart on defense. And with Love often getting beat on the glass, what value does he really bring? Put him on the bench and let him try to outshoot Golden State’s reserve units.
Who takes Love’s spot with the starters? The easy answer is Frye, allowing Cleveland to try a stretchy lineup that lets it shoot all the 3s in the world while still having Tristan Thompson on the floor to clean up all of the ensuing offensive rebounds. Frye plays nominal power forward, LeBron stays at small forward, J.R. or Shump is at the 2, and Irving starts at point guard — unless the Cavs find the courage to bench him, too, and let Matthew Dellavedova play with the most important lineups.
As long as we’re suggesting outside-the-box ideas, here’s one that will likely never happen but that could be a lot of fun:
LeBron + Smith + Frye + Thompson + TIMOFEY MOZGOV.
The Warriors would never see it coming. The Cavs would have 3-point shooting from J.R. and Frye. LeBron’s the point guard and driving force. Thompson and Mozgov have two jobs: Protect the paint and grab all of the rebounds.
This lineup would fail miserably on defense. It would probably fail miserably on offense, too. But again — how is that any different from the first two games?
Gasp! Encouraging rough play? What is this, the 1980s?
You’re absolutely right; we don’t want anyone getting hurt. Yet somehow, in our efforts to protect players, we’ve completely abandoned the idea of making a guy earn it at the line. With nothing else working for Cleveland, it might as well let Mozgov or Tristan Thompson put a body on the Warriors point guard and see what happens.
Again, it’s not about hurting Curry. By committing a few hard fouls, you’re trying to get under Golden State’s skin. Maybe you can get them on tilt once they see their MVP go down hard a few times. Maybe that will cause Draymond to start making bad decisions as he tries to exact revenge. (Or maybe the Warriors will take the physical play and turn it into motivation, running Cleveland off the court. How exactly is that any different than the first two games, though?)
The Cavs have to walk a fine line. They can’t fully embrace the "Jordan Rules" for Curry; the entire team would be thrown out before halftime if they did. But if Cleveland can’t beat them, a few "playoff fouls" might be its only option.
This is the level to which the Warriors have reduced one of the NBA’s greatest players ever and his team — grasping at straws, with no clear path forward. So you might as well try something unorthodox, LeBron & Co. Either way, you’re probably on your way to another Finals loss.