The Cavs got J.R. Smith-ed, then Steph Curry-ed

A look back at Games One and Two of the NBA Finals.

In my last post, I mentioned that I could not report on Game 1 of the NBA Finals because I was attending my college reunion at Haverford College in Philadelphia. It was a great event, including meeting with my college coach Tony Zanin, who suggested to me during my senior year that I should consider coaching someday. That suggestion fermented through law school and blossomed into coaching college ball for eight years, several of which were opposite someone you may have heard of — a fellow named Gregg Popovich. And that ultimately led me to Pounding the Rock.

The only downside of being at my college reunion was missing the chance to add my insight to the commentary by a multitude of others about the ending of Game One. Here it is:

First, the block call on LeBron James was clearly correct, though reaching that call after a review was very strange. Second, the J.R. Smith brain freeze will live in infamy in Cleveland, and it made George Hill’s missed free throw an afterthought. Third, the Cavs provided a second way to destroy the Death Star. Unlike the Rockets, who proved that the Rebel Alliance could prevail by going small and draining 3s, the Cavs showed that the Death Star could be destroyed by going big and pounding the offensive boards — 19 of them on 55 misses: over one-third. However, the LeBron/Hill/J.R. ending meant that millions of voices from Cleveland cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Before my flight back to LA from Philadelphia, ESPN provided yet another possible way to vanquish the Warriors’ Death Star. ESPN reported that Klay Thompson was “questionable” for Game Two, and that if Klay couldn’t play, they would start…wait for it…Nick Young. My reaction: if a team starts Young in an NBA Finals Game, that disqualifies that team from ever making any claim to “Best Team Ever” status.

When I got back to LA in time for the game, I learned that Klay would play, thus avoiding the Nick Young embarrassment. However, the Warriors had decided to exhume JaValle McGee to start at center. He had barely played against the Rockets (for numerous reasons), and played only six minutes in Game One. And while the ABC announcers claimed he had earned the start by rebounding effectively in those six minutes, in truth he had only one rebound in those six minutes.

Proving that it is better to be lucky than good, Steve Kerr’s decision to start McGee worked. McGee went six for six from the floor, one of which wasn’t even a dunk, and played 18 minutes without hurting anyone.

Along with starting McGee, Kerr also went full-Popovich with his substitutions. Unlike most other teams who shorten their bench for the playoffs (see, for instance, the Rockets), Kerr played 11 different players in the first 16 minutes of the game. Early in the second quarter, the Greatest Team in the World’s five players on the floor were Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, Nick Young, Shaun Livingston and Steph Curry. And that was before Curry caught fire from deep.

Of course, on this night, everything worked for the Warriors. Curry set an NBA Finals record with nine three-pointers but was less efficient shooting than four teammates. Curry needed 26 shots to get his 33 points, while McGee needed only 6 shots for his 12 points, Livingston needed 5 shots to get 10 points, Thompson took only 13 to get 20, and KD took 14 to get 26.

As a result, even though the Cavs again got numerous offensive rebounds (16 on their 53 missed shots), the Warriors simply out-shot Cleveland. The Cavs got 8 more shots from the floor than the Warriors – and got crushed because they shot 37 for 90, while the Warriors made 47 of their 82 shots. The Warriors had ten more makes on eight fewer attempts and six more three pointers

All that being said, the Cavs hung around for the first three quarters, never completely out of the game, and often on the cusp of getting back into it. So much so that when a Lebron dunk cut the lead to 11 with 8 minutes left I wrote on my notepad that the next few minutes would decide things: would the Cavs cut the lead to 4 and make it a game, or would the lead expand to 16? Either seemed possible. Of course, Curry then threw in the fall away no chance in hell shot clock beating 40 footer, and within a few minutes a 100-89 game became the 114 – 93 score that cleared both benches.

Pat Riley once said that a playoff series doesn’t really start until the home team loses a game. Based on that, I expect the Finals to begin Wednesday night in Cleveland.

The other fascinating thing from Game Two was the instrumental version of The National Anthem by Carlos Santana, accompanied with much enthusiasm and skill on the drum’s by his wife. Pounding the Rock readers – what did you think?

Source: Pounding The Rock


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