After a thrilling Game 1 that saw the Golden State Warriors pull away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime following Kyrie Irving’s injury, both teams have a lot of things they can adjust headed into Game 2. As the old saying goes, a seven-game series is like a heavyweight fight and Game 1 is usually the feeling-out process. Hanging over everything is Kyrie’s injury situation, which could push an already thin Cavs' team to the breaking point. Cleveland is going to have to pull some rabbits out of a hat if Kyrie isn’t healthy and Golden State is going to want to go for the kill and go to Cleveland up 2-0.
Adjustments for the Warriors
1. Start Andre Iguodala on LeBron James.
Harrison Barnes doesn’t defend with enough physicality to give LeBron much of a challenge and LeBron was able to get a feel for his defense pretty early in Game 1. Iguodala completely changed the dynamic of the game when he came in and he was the only one of the Warriors defenders to bother LeBron. It was a lot like what happened with James Harden in the Western Conference Finals - LeBron was 4-14 with 3 turnovers against Iguodala and 12-22 with only 1 against everyone else. The Cavs need LeBron to absolutely dominate his 1-on-1 match-up so there’s no reason to give up a bunch of free points and allow him to get into a rhythm against Barnes at the start of the game. The key for Iguodala will be continuing to knock down perimeter shots and force Cleveland to close-out hard on him, which opens up the rest of his game and prevents LeBron from taking possessions off on defense.
2. More small-ball.
Steve Kerr was able to make David Blatt blink first in the first big strategic adjustment of the series, when he went small with Draymond Green at the 5 and Harrison Barnes at the 4 in OT. Blatt ended up taking Timofey Mozgov, who had a huge Game 1, off the floor and using Tristan Thompson at the 5. Unfortunately, with Kyrie out of the game, they ended up playing James Jones as their 3rd wing player. Cleveland looks like they could be one wing player short in this series, which is why Blatt will need to figure out some way to utilize Mozgov and Thompson together when Golden State goes five-out. If Mozgov is going to outplay Andrew Bogut anyway, there’s really no reason for Kerr to go big at the end of games.
3. Get Klay Thompson going.
Thompson didn’t have a great night shooting the ball, but he kept his stat-line respectable (21 points on 14 shots) by getting to the free-throw line eight times. When the Cavs are trying to throw size on Stephen Curry with Iman Shumpert, Thompson has to take advantage of the favorable match-up on him, whether it’s a hobbled Kyrie, JR Smith or Dellevadova. It’s going to be tough for him to score too consistently on Shumpert, a defensive-minded role player with elite athleticism whose just as big as Klay and can get right into him on defense. When he has a shorter defender on him, though, he’s got to continue to force the issue and score over the top of him.
4. Attack James Jones.
Cleveland has been playing excellent defense in the playoffs and it seems like the weakest link in their 8-man rotation is Jones, a 6’8 215 shooting specialist without the size to hold up in the post or the quickness to guard on the perimeter. The Warriors can isolate Barnes on him, try to force him onto a bigger post player like Speights or get him in the two-man game against one of their guards. Jones played 17 minutes in Game 1, committed 4 fouls and had the second worst plus/minutes on the team at -11. The NBA Finals are all about finding weak points in the other team’s rotation on a possession-by-possession basis and Jones defense is too big an opportunity to pass up for Golden State. If they can force him off the floor, Cleveland has to go with either an old guy who can’t shoot (Shawn Marion) or defend (Mike Miller).
5. Force tempo. The Warriors are at their best when they are going defense to offense and running after stops and turnovers into transition 3’s. That’s the way they blow open games, especially at Oracle. Cleveland had only 11 turnovers all game because they ran a steady diet of isolation plays for LeBron and Kyrie and were able to control the tempo of the game. If Kyrie is limited, the Cavs are going to have to run more plays for Smith and Shumpert, which means running them off screens and generate ball movement, which in turn could play into the Warriors hands in terms of forcing tempo. Forcing Smith and Shumpert to make decisions on the fly could get Golden State’s transition game going and negate the threat of Thompson and Mozgov on the offensive glass.
Adjustments for the Cavaliers
1. Get J.R. Smith going.
Even if Kyrie was 100%, the Cavs would still need to get more from Smith, who had 9 points on 13 shots in Game 1. Smith is the only player on the Cleveland roster beyond LeBron and Kyrie who can create his own shot and they need him to be a consistent third scorer in this series. If he has to move into the 2nd option role, he will have to expand his game and not just hoist 3’s off the dribble. That means getting the ball to the rim and looking to create shots for teammates out of the two-man games. Smith can make every shot in the book but he can’t fall in love with the 3 against Golden State, especially if they are crowding him on the perimeter.
2. Get Iman Shumpert going. It’s the same story with the other Knicks' castaway, as the Cavs are going to need more out of Shumpert regardless of what Kyrie’s injury situation is. He was the primary guy who suffered from Golden State’s decision to stay at home on the shooters and force the Cleveland stars to score 1-on-1. Shumpert had 6 points on 6 shots in 34 minutes and never really got into the flow on offense. Blatt has to figure out a way to generate offense from Shumpert besides trying to isolate him against the Golden State perimeter defenders, whether it’s running him off screens, trying to use him in the post or playing him in the two-man game.
3. Use LeBron in the two-man game.
LeBron’s Bully Ball tactics almost worked in Game 1 but the presence of Iguodala means he won’t be able to take over the Finals as completely as he did in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hawks, who had no one who could guard him after DeMarre Carroll injured his knee in Game 1. They can either use Mozgov or Thompson to try and get Iguodala off him or they could use LeBron as the roll man ala Draymond Green, which might be the easiest way for the Cavs to get Shumpert and Smith going on offense.
4. LeBron at the 4. If LeBron is going to have to score 30+ points a game in this series, you want to make the offense as easy on him as possible. Using this line-up becomes more difficult if Kyrie is out since you are going to need Mozgov and Thompson to pick up some of the slack with minutes. Either way, I think Cleveland’s going to want to go Dellevadova-Smith-Shumpert on the perimeter at some point in an effort to let LeBron play in maximum space and generate either open 3’s or dunks at the rim for his teammates in the four-out spread pick-and-roll.
5. A different counter for Golden State’s small-ball.
After Kerr went five-out in OT, Blatt tried to use James Jones instead of Mozgov, which played right into Golden State’s hands. It might be worth trying to isolate Mozgov in the post against a significantly smaller perimeter player, as he’s enormous, has decent footwork and touch around the rim and can convert free-throws if he’s fouled. His offense was found money in Game 1 and Cleveland needs to continue getting production from the 5 position to have a chance in this series. If Blatt is sure he can’t use his traditional two big-man line-ups against the Draymond Green at the 5 line-up, then he should probably go to LeBron at the 4 with three guards to close the game. I would definitely try to go away from James Jones but there doesn’t appear to be too many other options on the Cleveland bench. Kendrick Perkins and Brendan Haywood are just taking up roster spots and Joe Harris hasn’t played in months.