In game 2, they tried it. Maybe try isn’t the right word, since Kevin Love caught an elbow in the back of the head before they kept playing over his half-functioning body, leading to him having to exit the floor. Plus, Tristan had some fouls on him, and Mozgov’s season has been a steadily-burning dumpster fire. So, it might have been mostly because of necessity, but, anyway, LeBron did spend some time at center in game two. Of course, it didn’t work. The Warriors’ lead expanded. Draymond splashed a three in LeBron’s face, after he bit down too hard on a Klay Thompson drive. The floor didn’t space the way Lue clearly hoped — iso-ing LeBron didn’t work out, making surrounding him by smaller shooters a moot point.
The move certainly didn’t become the key to stopping the Warriors precision passing. It seemed like a poor attempt to counter the Warriors, by becoming an Adam Sandler Neflix movie version of them. But, to be fair, it was a small sample size. And, to say that two thirds of the big three choked, and the supporting cast looked shell shocked would be an understatement. So, why not try it again? At least in another small, if not extended, seven minute or so sample size, when the Warriors go small. In theory, the defensive switching and offensive space still makes sense. On paper, what do you have to lose?
Instantly countering the death lineup with an untested one seems like a mistake … even though walking onto the floor with that lineup seems like a mistake right now, as they’ve been hurricane levels of disastrous for other teams all year. With, of course, the exception of the Thunder in the conference finals, a team that reimagined it’s potential to be able to switch and still have length. While the Cavs don’t necessarily have the same luxury, they have a dominant superstar who can play multiple positions, and supplementary wings who can defend, granting them a certain amount of lineup flexibility. Plus, with Kevin Love questionable for the game, they might not have a choice in terms of tinkering with lineups. It might be: try to kickstart Mozgov and try to replicate the possession-based style that surrounded LeBron with offensive rebounding and defending ironmen that struggle to score which found them a bit of success in the finals last year. Or plug in Channing Frye. Or they could move LeBron to center. Or all of the above.
The compromise, of course, is to move LeBron to power forward, keeping Tristan at center. This is the smart thing in terms of heavy minute lineups, but, with Draymond hurting them on offense, and Curry due for a dominant performance, why not keep LeBron close to those two on defense in certain situations? And, on offense, it could be useful to jump start the shooters — a Kyrie/Delllavedova/JR/Shumpert/LeBron can create lanes for LeBron to take defenders off the dribble, or get LeBron a starting point in the post where he can use his combination of size, speed and ability to be a bully, hopefully scoring and drawing enough double teams to throw the Warriors off of their incredible ability to help and recover.
The Cavs need to find a way to shake them, especially if they want to get their shooters rolling, because, as of now, they’re afraid of nothing Cleveland is throwing at them. The Cavs shot 21.7 percent from three in game two and 33.3 percent in game one. They tied their playoff low in team assists at 15. Kyrie’s 1-7 from three this series; JR’s 2-7. Richard Jefferson has been the second best player.
If Cleveland is going to win this series, LeBron has to be more effective at getting to the rim — even though he’s shooting 50 percent on 12 of 24 through two, to win this series they still need more, at least in terms of sucking in defenders — to attempt to throw the Warriors’ defense off balance. His jump shot doesn’t look the same this season (he’s only hit three this series), and that’s allowed defenders to give him major cushions and to causally glide under screens. He needs to get into the paint, one way or another.
With him at center, he’d have more space to work with in the paint if he handles the point, and there’s not an opposing player that wouldn’t struggle with his back-to-the-basket game. It’s certainly not foolproof: if a LeBron at center lineup struggles to rebound against the Warriors death lineup, the Cavs are instantly letting the Warriors run, which has perpetually buried teams, although with several athletic wings, they might be able to switch better in transition. And, for that matter, in general: Golden State is always forcing mismatches, over and over, finding your weakest link and shattering it. With a Kyrie/Delllavedova/JR/Shumpert/LeBron you match their size and athleticism. You obviously don’t match the skill level, but good luck finding a lineup that does. It’s not perfect, but it’s worth trying again.