The Golden State Warriors showed why they were big favorites to not only win Game 1 but to win the 2017 NBA Finals as well. OddsShark listed the Warriors as -240 favorites over the Cavaliers, and after a 113-91 victory in the series opener, the hype surrounding Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and their loaded roster only picked up steam.
Now, the Cavaliers will look to steal Game 2 on the road, a task that won’t be easy based on how Game 1 went. Let’s take a look at a few of the keys for LeBron James and company to pull the upset on Sunday.
1. Slow Down the Pace
The Cavaliers have been the worst team in the NBA in transition defense, allowing 1.18 points per possession. They’ve also allowed opponents to score a league-worst 53.7 percent of the time in transition, which is a terrible stat against a fast-paced Warriors team.
While it may seem from watching like the Warriors that they love to push the ball, the numbers back it up as well. Golden State pushes in transition 18.5 percent of the time, the most in the league. This has led to the most transition points in the league for the Warriors (2,025), with the next closest team not even being within 200 points.
If the Cavaliers can’t figure out a way to slow things down, they’re going to be on for a headache of a night in front of a rowdy home crowd at Oracle Arena.
2. Figure Out How Kevin Love Fits
Love had an absurd 21 rebounds last game, five of which were offensive boards. This is why it makes little sense that he wound up with just one basket inside the 3-point line. Love went 4-of-13 from the field (30.8 percent), but 3-of-6 from 3-point range. Since joining the Cavaliers, there have been times where Love’s role has been a bit all over.
Looking at this postseason alone, Love has taken at least 13 shots in every game since the start of the Eastern Conference Finals. But, in the first two series of the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers, he attempted double-digit shots just three times. He also failed to hit double-digit points in three of the eight games as well.
Last year against the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, Love was almost non-existent for four of the six games that he was active for. He hit double-digit shot attempts just once (a 15-point loss in Game 1). Aside from that game, he totaled 34 points in the next five games, yet as we all know, they won the series.
Love’s role is confusing, but it needs to be figured out immediately for the Cavaliers to pull off a Game 2 upset.
3. Get the Shooters Open Looks
The Cavaliers shot 31 3-pointers in Game 1, which was only two less than the Warriors. Interestingly, they only made one less than Golden State also, but the issue was more of who was taking the shots. While Kyrie Irving led the way, going 3-of-4 from deep, Kyle Korver missed all three of his attempts and J.R. Smith made one of two and was virtually non-existent offensively.
During his 35-game stretch with the Cavaliers thus far, Korver has attempted the third-most 3-point attempts per game of his career (5.7). He’s also made the second-most of his career at 2.8 per game. Korver was ice cold in Game 1, but he can’t stop shooting and needs to get more open looks.
As for Smith, this postseason has been a bit of a head-scratching one for him. Over the 14 games played so far, he’s made double-digit 3-pointers in five games. Of those five games, three of them were against the Toronto Raptors. In last season’s NBA Finals, Smith was a vital part of the Cavaliers defeating the Warriors. He showed no shyness when it came to shooting 3-pointers, averaging 6.4 attempts per game in the seven games. In games where he made at least 40 percent of his looks, the Cavs were 3-0.
4. Cut Down the Turnovers
When you turn the ball over 20 times and your opponent only gives it away four times, it’s going to be hard to walk away with a win. As NBA.com pointed out, the 20 turnovers for the Cavaliers were the most they’ve committed in 55 playoff games over the last three years. The silver lining here is that it’s obviously not the norm for Cleveland, so expecting them to cut that number down in Game 2 seems likely.
Golden State forced 11 live-ball turnovers (steals), which resulted in 17 points. They also put up 20 more shots than the Cavaliers did, so these numbers wound up being a big part of the final score of Game 1. Turnovers are going to happen, but when facing a team who plays as fast and runs as much as the Warriors do, they need to be cut down to a minimum.
Turnovers may prove to be one of the biggest keys to the Cavaliers not only winning Game 2 but winning their second-straight NBA championship as well.