So, as you may be aware, the Cavaliers lost by six points to the Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day, which is, if you're a Cavs fan, a bummer.
It was a weird game, featuring horrible shooting from the Cavaliers and the Warriors, a hampered Stephen Curry, no Harrison Barnes and Shaun Livingston morphing into Kevin McHale on the block. Your first instinct may be to panic or celebrate, depending on your affiliation, and your second, more reasonable reaction is to realize that it's just a game in December with several weird variables that we shouldn't draw too many conclusions from.
That said, the Cavaliers did seem to slow the pace of play, which seems like a win against the pace and space Dubs, but is it really?
The Cavaliers have played unbelievably slow in the second LeBron Era, while the Warriors have ruined teams by becoming a flying machine of death. The Warriors lead the league in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) at 101.94 while the Cavaliers are 28th at 95.46, per NBA.com. Each team clearly has a preferred pace of play, and as they did for much of the Finals, the Cavaliers were able to slow down the Dubs.
The Cavs-Warriors game settled in at at a pace of 98.94, so while they weren't able to play as glacially slow as they'd like, the Warriors slowed down in a major way, which is vital. The Warriors lead the NBA in points per 100 transition plays at 120.3, per Nylon Calculus, and the Cavaliers simply can't compete with them if they let them get into transition.
Luckily, no team is better in the NBA at keeping teams in the half court. Teams playing the Cavaliers operate out of the half court a stunning 93.6 percent of the time, per Nylon Calculus, leading into the Christmas day games. The difference between the Cavs and second-place Pelicans in this stat (2.6 percent) is the same difference between the Pelicans and the 9th place Warriors.
The bad news is that the Warriors are filthy in the half court as well. They rank first in the NBA in points per 100 plays in the half court, and their defense against such plays is actually better than the Cavaliers. They don't keep teams in the half court quite as well as the Cavaliers do, but in a seven-game series, I'll bet that the Cavaliers aren't really looking to run.
This might feel a little disheartening from a Cavs fan's perspective, but I wouldn't take this as a death knell to their ability to compete with this team. The first and most obvious reason is that the Cavs haven't really been healthy. They've missed Kyrie Irving all year, and he's not really back up to 100 percent yet. One of the best isolation scorers and three point shooters in the league should do wonders for the Cavs half court efficiency.
It also wasn't really practical to look for a way to just "kill" the Warriors. There's almost no facet of the game they aren't really, really good at. Any game plan to knock them off their perch won't involve completely shutting down a team that looks to be historically great. In truth, the best game plans should look to take the Warriors from "historically great" to "very, very good."
Playing in the half court can do this. Sure, they might be the best team in the league in half court sets, but they're still significantly worse than they are in transition. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combine for 17.6 three point attempts per game. Against the Cavaliers on Christmas, the two combined for eight. You can certainly expect more than eight attempts from the Splash Brothers in future meetings, especially with a healthy Curry, but a benefit of eliminating transition opportunities is keeping those two from blowing the game open.
The Cavaliers currently don't stack up statistically to the Warriors, but that probably doesn't surprise you. Forcing the Warriors to play slow certainly has its advantages. The Cavaliers can play bigger lineups that would get phased out of a track meet. Those lineups allow the Cavaliers to crash the offensive boards, one of their advantages in the matchup.
That said, there's no killer strategy that turns the Warriors into blowout fodder. They're going to be able to shoot, pass and defend in the half court. If the Cavaliers want to beat the Warriors in a seven-game series, they're going to have to get better, and find a way to make the Warriors a few percentage points worse, and it seems as though playing slow is still the key to doing so.