2015 NBA Finals: Speed Kills
Narratives change quickly.
After the Cleveland Cavaliers Game 3 victory against the Golden State Warriors, everybody has slowly given the Cavs the edge of how they played in the Finals. Through the first three games, LeBron James and company have established the pace of this series—that this was going to be a traditional, slow down, type of dog fight.
The Warriors haven’t had an answer for how the undermanned Cavs have played them—through relentless defense and scrappiness. It’s ugly but it ultimately gets the job done.
With the Warriors searching for answers, Coach Steve Kerr made a huge decision in choosing to go small—starting five perimeter players by slotting Andre Iguodala to the starting lineup while sending Andrew Bogut to the bench. At the start of the game, the gamble seemed to have backfired immediately as the Cavaliers opened the game on a blistering 7-0 run highlighted by a behind the head pass from LeBron James to Timofey Mozgov. Not only did the gamble seem to backfire, but it made the Warriors look like fools as Tristan Thompson destroyed them on the offensive glass.
Steve Kerr was forced to call a timeout to settle his troops but doubt should have crept into his mind—should he still stick with his small lineup or go back with Bogut up front. Ultimately, Kerr’s decision to stick his small lineup paid off as the Warriors picked apart the Cavaliers tenacious D en route to a 103-82 victory to even the series up at 2-apiece.
This unit of the Warriors was able to bring back the type of pace the team thrives in—and was able to set in motion their deadly offense. Removing Bogut from the floor not only removed a seemingly checked-out and disengaged offensively liability but it gave the Warriors an extra perimeter player who could create his own shot and space the floor for the Splash Brothers to operate.
The Cavs have made a conscious effort of trying to get the ball out of Curry’s hands and let the other players beat them. And in today’s game—they did. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala played with much more confidence combining for 39 points which eased the scoring load of Curry and Thompson, who only finished with 9 points. Green and Iguodala were especially aggressive in those mini 3-versus-2 or 4-versus-3 battles.
It also helped the team defensively as they could send an extra defender to LeBron—just to show a slight double team—and have the speed to go back to their original man. With the Cavs depleted lineup, a smaller lineup also has forced Timofey Mozgov to defend out in the perimeter removing the Cavs rim protection.
Even if the Cavaliers dominated in the offensive glass and with Mozgov toying with his smaller defenders, the Warriors still were able to amp up the pace because they don’t have a big guy like Bogut or Ezeli trailing the play. With all five players down the floor quicker, the Warriors have more time to try to destroy the Cavs’ halfcourt defense.
In a game where height is might, the Warriors worked together collectively to make up for their lack of size. They gang rebounded and were much tougher in trying to defeat the Cavs. However, when they were in doubt, all the had to do was run—run these Cavs players to the ground—and go back to Oakland feeling confident about themselves.
In the words of Mama, “Run, Forrest—run!!”