The Cleveland Cavaliers played well for 48 minutes of Game 1. LeBron James was great Stephen Curry couldn't get into a rhythm for most of the game. Kyrie Irving looked like Kyrie Irving again.They had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. But everything unraveled in the overtime period, as Irving was injured early on, LeBron couldn't get shots to fall, and the Cavs only managed two points in the period for a 108-100 loss.
A large part of any championship series is response to adversity. the ability to block out unfortunate events you can't control and find ways to build off what success you've had are how teams get back in a series like this. The Cavs have been brilliant at playing through adversity and making strategic adjustments all Playoffs, so we know they're capable. But after losing their second-best player, in an overtime game, against their toughest opponent yet, can the Cavs respond again?
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Oracle Arena - Oakland, CA
Enemy Blog: Golden State of Mind
Music: Cage the Elephant - "Back Against the Wall"
The Cavs don't quite have their backs against the wall just yet. It's a long series, after all, and while a 2-0 hole going back to Cleveland certainly isn't ideal, that's far from impossible to overcome. However, the general feeling is that the Cavs will really need to come away with the split in Oakland to be able to stay in the series. That, combined with Irving's injury, makes the pressure to win this contest greater.
Keys to the Game
- The obvious key will be how the Cavs' offense runs without Kyrie available. LeBron took 38 shots in game 1 even with Irving on the court for 44 minutes, and without him as a secondary ball handler and shot creator, even more of the offense will fall to James. The important thing for the Cavs will be figuring out how to reconfigure the offense so that LeBron isn't hitting 2006 Kobe levels of shot selection. J.R. Smith, for better or worse, has to take more shots, Iman Shumpert will probably have to handle the ball a little more, and Matthew Dellavedova is going to have to play more than the nine minutes he got in Game 1. Hopefully those guys can fair a little better than they did in Game 1 shooting the ball so LeBron has outlets.
- Another potential solution to that is to get Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson more involved in the offense. Mozgov gave Andrew Bogut some real problems in game one, as the Cavs continually posted him 18 feet from the basket and used him as a cutter in the pick-and-roll, dragging Bogut away from the basket and keeping him from truly protecting the rim. Using both in a similar fashion, along with some designed post-ups, could help supplement the offense further, in addition to the clear advantage they seem to have on the glass.
- Defensively, Delly is going to have a huge role. Iman Shumpert didn't do the greatest job on Steph Curry, but Delly did well pestering him in limited minutes. If he's going to play 25 minutes Sunday, as I'd expect with Kyrie out, he needs to be tracking Curry and doing his best to keep the Warriors' sharpshooter from getting in rhythm.
- Finally, transition defense was key in Game 1, and will be even more so in Game 2. The Cavs did a great job of dictating the pace and preventing the Warriors from getting clean looks to pull up from three in transition, which I maintain is their biggest psychological weapon. In a game like Game 2 should be, where the Cavs are going to be more fragile as they try to reconfigure their gameplan without Irving on the fly, they're going to have to stay tight on Curry, Thompson, Iguodala and Barnes in transition, because the last thing this team needs is a 9-0 run where the Warriors are just launching in transition and hitting shots that would make J.R. blush. This is the area where I think they could have some lapses, but it's going to have to be something they stick to. When you're trying to fight back from adversity, things like the Warriors' transition game can be crushing for morale.