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NBA Finals Game 6 Analysis: The Cavs' role players were overextended

In the end, the Cavs role players were asked to do a bit too much in support of LeBron James.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals in due part to Andre Iguodala. It helped that Steph Curry found his MVP form in the later part of the series, but Iguodala was a deserving Finals MVP. By starting Iguodala and not playing Andrew Bogut, the Warriors were able to push the ball more and always had someone on the floor to defend LeBron James.

As a result, there were mismatches for the Cavs to take advantage of. Only now, they seem to have been there by design.

With Iguodala starting, 6'6" Draymond Green became the starting center for Golden State in traditional positional names only. That meant he was defending Timofey Mozgov, the Cavs' seven-foot Russian rim protector, and that forward Harrison Barnes was to defend Tristan Thompson, who is by far Cleveland's best rebounder and a much bulkier player. On paper, it seems sort of crazy that Golden State went to this and that it worked due to the Cavs gaining a huge rebounding edge on size alone.

The Cavs ultimately did have a rebound edge in every game from the moment Steve Kerr inserted Iguodala into the lineup prior to Game 4, but it didn't matter. The plan all along was to get the ball out LeBron's hand by playing to his passing nature and force the Cavs role players to win games. It worked.

The Cavs deployed a variety of lineups in hopes of putting the pressure back on the Warriors to make the adjustments. There was the small ball lineup where Thompson had to hold together the defense, the big lineups that started off the game and the once-used lineups where LeBron was at center. Even Mike Miller was dusted off to some success in hopes of having extra shooting on the floor.

Each had their merits, but each also made the Cavs attack in ways that played into the Warriors hands. With Green defending Mozgov, Cleveland often threw the ball into Mozgov on the block. The idea makes sense - Mozgov has a huge size advantage over Green - but it take the ball out of LeBron's hands and runs the offense through a player who was the Cavs fourth or fifth option during the regular season. It's not a total coincidence that Mozgov's high scoring game in the series was also the Cavs worst loss.

Smith too was asked to do and be too much. Without Irving and with Matthew Dellavedova's limited distributing abilities, Smith had to become the secondary creator behind LeBron. This is a role that reinforces his bad habits and he finished 24-77 from the field in the finals. The Warriors swarming, long defense that forced Smith to consistently take contested jumpers didn't help either.

Aside from Thompson - who was arguably the second best Cavalier in the Finals as a whole - the rest of the Cavs rotation struggled too. James Jones enabled the Cavs to go small, but was just waiting to be attacked in the pick and roll. Iman Shumpert, perhaps partly due to his shoulder and groin injuries, never really found his shot and enabled the Warriors to further tilt their defense toward LeBron.

And as for Dellavedova, despite the #grit of his play, he was simply outmatched. He constantly was chasing around Curry, just trying to get in front of him and at least make an effort to get Curry off balance. On offense, his inability to get his own shot took him off the floor for long stretches of Game 6. Any argument saying that Cavs were better on the floor with Dellavedova as opposed to Irving because of Delly's defense both overstate his ability on that end and under value how important Irving is to the Cavs offense.

This doesn't mean that Mozgov, Smith and the rest are bad players or bad fits for the Cavs moving forward. The Cavs' supporting cast - namely those acquired mid-season - was a huge reason why the Cavs surged mid-season and made the Finals. They each, for the most part, compliment what the Cavs' core of LeBron, Irving and Kevin Love does so well. Generally speaking, this group of players was a better group than the 2006-2007 Cavs Finals team that featured Sasha Pavlovic and Damon Jones as key rotation players. None of those players were a situational superstar like Thompson or a mobile rim protector like Mozgov.

This wasn't LeBron, two or three NBA players and a bunch of nobodies. This was LeBron and a good, but injured, supporting cast that was playing a team capable of making an adjustment that forced non-LeBron Cavs to do more than was possible. These adjustments may have still had a still had a similar effect had Irving and Love been around, but it's easier to overcome disadvantages when you have the best player in the world flanked two other top-20 NBA players.

But when you lose those two players and a key veteran center, it's easy for everyone else to be extended too far past their comfort zone.