After what felt like a missed opportunity in Game 1, the Cleveland Cavaliers were dismantled in game two against the Golden State Warriors. The defense has been lackluster, but the biggest issues have come on the offensive side of the floor. The Warriors versatile switching and swarming defense has got the Cavs out of their rhythm and their inability to manipulate the defense and force it to collapse has caused the movement to stagnate. The Cavs will hope that a return home allows them to return closer to form and avoid a fatal 0-3 hole in this series.
Who? Golden State Warriors (2-0) at Cleveland Cavaliers (0-2)
When? 9 PM ET
Where? Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland Ohio
Where on my eyeballs? ABC
Enemy blog: Golden State Of Mind
As I wrote prior to this series, if the Cavs offense was unable to get going against this stout Warriors defense, this series is as good as over. There's just no stopping or containing the Warriors offensive attack, especially with the personnel available to the Cavs. While the compete level on defense has been where it needed to be, the creative sets ran by the Warriors do an incredibly effective job of finding the right mismatches and manipulating the defense to get good shots.
On the other end, effective switching has allowed them to defend the Cavaliers straight up without bringing the help defense that has lead to open looks for the Cavs in the previous rounds. The absence of movement and passing lanes has baited both Kyrie Irving and LeBron James into isolation basketball and they have taken the bait. The initiators of the offense have struggled as well as everybody else. While in game two there were some quality off ball sets early on, the team went away from that and failed to execute with the consistency required to hang around with the Warriors. It's on Tyronn Lue to come up with creative ways to get quality looks off ball, as well as on the players to execute with consistency coming into game three.
This game will be incredibly interesting, as this series is proving to be a tremendous learning opportunity for the Cavs. While having their names dragged through the mud and everything they accomplished tarnished in the eyes of some, this is the type of trial that pushes players to get better. For Irving, this is the first time in his career that his play has been ineffective in a playoff series due to what the defense is doing. How he adjusts both in this series and this summer will be incredibly telling when it comes to what to expect moving forward from him. Just as James struggled in 2011, this is Irving's trial by fire. The effort is there, but it just hasn't been channeled in the proper ways so far. He needs to start playing the game as he had in the previous rounds rather than thinking. If the three pointer is there off a screen he needs to bomb away, rather than hesitate and try to make the right play.
James also needs to improve. While his box score stats have been impressive, his decision making has been reckless and he has been baited into a lot of the same hero ball that has lead to the struggles Irving have had. While the list of the Cavs issues is extensive and it's unfair to pin everything on just a select handful of players, both James and Irving must accept that extra responsibility as stars and shoulder that weight so that the rest of the team doesn't have to. The Warriors are the only team with the personnel to do what they are doing on the defensive end of the floor to the Cavaliers, it's tough to anticipate and impossible to replicate in a practice setting. I expect to see better performances from both the Cavs primary playmakers back in the friendly confines of The Q.
In all likelihood Kevin Love will not play in game three as he goes through the NBA's concussion protocol. Love did not take part in practice on Tuesday and given the nature of head injuries, it seems unlikely that he will play Wednesday. Whether Lue goes with Channing Frye to start or Iman Shumpert will be an interesting decision. Assuming Mozgov is still unplayable, starting Shumpert appears to be the more favorable solution as it would allow Frye to play in relief of Tristan Thompson. The other option would be starting Matthew Dellavedova to give the starters a third playmaker, however that would likely involve giving Mo Williams minutes to provide relief to the two point guards. There is no easy answer, but the adjustments to the rotation will be just as interesting as the ones made to the game plan heading into game three.
The gear the Warriors have found on the defensive side of the floor is incredibly impressive and there is not easy solution. I can't sugar coat this, the Cavs are in a tough position. They are likely on the wrong side of history and lost their shot at a championship when the Oklahoma City Thunder lost game six of the Western Conference Finals. But there is still a slight chance that they can come back and win this, but at the very least they can come out and make somewhat of a series out of this. They are a tough team to beat at home and with or without Love, game three should be the Cavs best shot at winning a game. They can only take things one game at a time and win or lose, we'll find out a lot about this team as we dissect the "how" and process behind the result.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction
If there's one game to get, it'll be this one. Cavs win 106-102 and Kevin Love takes fill the airwaves.