Following Wednesday night’s 110-102 Game 3 loss against the Golden State Warriors, multiple Cavaliers made a point of saying there is practically no margin of error when facing off against the defending champs.
The Warriors seem at times like an unstoppable unit, and a large part of their success over the last four years stems from their collective basketball IQ. It’s a fact LeBron James recognizes.
“Listen, we’re all NBA players,” he said on Thursday. “Everybody knows how to put the ball in the hoop. But who can think throughout the course of the game?”
The Cavs are trailing the Warriors 3-0 in the Finals for the second straight year. They’ve only won one game against the Warriors in the postseason since Kevin Durant joined the 73-win team of 2016.
In this new frontier of super teams though, one that James himself helped to usher in, the biggest challenge for competitors is to try and find personnel to match the juggernauts in the league. That was part of the reason James went to Miami in the first place, and eventually came back to Cleveland in 2014.
“I felt like my first stint here I just didn’t have the level of talent to compete versus the best teams in the NBA, let alone just Boston,” he said. “I played with [Dwyane Wade], I played with [Chris] Bosh in the Olympics. I knew D-Wade for years. I knew their minds. I knew how they thought the game, more than just playing the game. Obviously, we all knew their talent, but I knew their minds as well. So I linked up with them.”
“Then you come here. I knew Kyrie [Irving], having the talent, I wanted to try to build his mind up to fast track his mind because I felt like in order to win you’ve got to have talent, but you’ve got to be very cerebral too.”
From the Big Three era in Boston, to the Heatles era in Miami, to the Spurs and now with Golden State, James said that that cerebral nature is what has set those squads apart, arguably more so than anything physical.
“This is so challenging for me to sit up here and say because people who really don’t know the game don’t really know what I’m talking about,” he said. “They just think that you go out, and, Oh, LeBron, you’re bigger and faster and stronger than everybody, you should drive every single time and you should dunk every single play and you should never get tired, never. Like it’s a video game and you went on the options and you turned down fatigue all the way to zero and injuries all the way down to zero.”
The Cavaliers did, of course, overpower Golden State in 2016 in historic fashion by overcoming a 3-1 deficit. But when you consider how good the Warriors were before they added Durant, it’s not surprising that no team has managed to put a group together that can challenge the Warriors on a consistent basis when it comes to basketball IQ.
Again, this is a fact that isn’t lost on James.
“So we come back here and we get the minds and we build a championship team, he said. “And then Golden State, because of Steph [Curry]’s injuries early on in his career and his contract situation, and then them drafting Draymond [Green] and drafting Klay [Thompson] and them being under the contracts they were in, allowed their franchise to go out to get K.D. So they win a championship. Then we play them and we come back from 3-1 and we beat them. But that was the best regular season— probably the best team I had ever played against. They go 73-9, and then you add one of the best players that the NBA has ever seen.
“So now everyone is trying to figure that out. How do you put together a group of talent but also a group of minds to be able to compete with Golden State, to be able to compete for a championship?”
It’s a question the Cavaliers will likely be asking themselves once again throughout the summer of 2018. And it will likely be even more difficult as plenty of what-ifs will remain after this series is long over. What if a few calls would have gone differently in Game 1’s overtime loss? What if J.R. Smith had taken a shot at the end of regulation? What if the Cavs would have had a stronger third quarter in Game 3? What if Durant doesn’t have a career highlight reel night?
“We have a lot of talent as well,” James said when asked directly if he felt like he has enough help currently to take down Golden State. “We’ve been in a position where we could win two out of these three games. So what do we have to do? Do we have to make more shots? Or is it we have to have our minds into it a little bit more?”