Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. (I believe Mike Tyson said this.) The Golden State Warriors had plans Friday night in Cleveland. They had planned on continued dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers. They had planned on securing a 4 game sweep of the NBA Finals. They had planned on popping bubbly and partying all the way (with the Larry O’Brien trophy) back to Oakland. The Warriors had many plans, until the Cavs punched them in the mouth.
There would be no sweep, there would be no continued dominance, there would be no partying with the “Golden Ball.” The Cavs were dead set on survival and did more than that. They returned to their brand of basketball. It was a return to smash and dash basketball and it left the Warriors shell shocked.
The Cavs accomplished this in two ways on the offense end. The Smash was the “Bully Ball” LeBron has become known for. It was much more than him driving the lane with defenders bouncing off of him. The Cavs’ plan was to punish the Warriors and make them defend. The Cavs accomplished this by putting James in the post. They let him do work on the block. It was a welcome change and I don’t understand why they didn’t do this sooner. James’ physicality beats opponents into submission and the Warriors were no different. It effectively slowed the game down and finally allowed the Cavs to control the tempo.
The dash in this equation is the barrage of threes made. The Cavs took control of the post and lanes, when the Warriors were forced to pack the lane or double team in the post, Cavs player kicked the ball out to open shooters and made the Warriors pay dearly. Twenty-four three point baskets were made by the Cavs. Remarkable.
The Cavs were smarter defensively as well. They finally began to double team the roller on the vaunted Warriors screen and roll. The Cavs were able to get back on defensive rotations quickly off of double teams and fast breaks. Something they hadn’t done consistently all series.
Personally, I’m quite happy this was not a sweep. It would have put the cherry on top of a rather lackluster NBA showing all season. The Cavs took every ounce of desperation they had and turned it into one hell of a punch. It’s what they needed to do. We sit at 3-1 (Yes again. Here come the comparisons and jokes from last year’s Finals.) but it is a completely different 3-1. Can the Cavs replicate gane four’s performance? I don’t believe so, but I do think they can replicate their desperation. Being on the verge of elimination is a motivating factor. Was this their best punch? Monday night will tell.