By Oliver Mauntel
Prior to the season, if you had told me that Cleveland would meet Golden State in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year, I would not have been surprised. If you had told me that both Cleveland and Golden State would trail 3-2 in the conference finals against depleted opponents, I would have been very surprised. Both teams have experienced roller coaster seasons but their championship pedigrees have helped them overcome the necessary obstacles to reach this point.
Although the Warriors have looked uncharacteristically sloppy at times during these playoffs, this series will be a greater challenge for LeBron & co. than it was last season. Without Kyrie, LeBron has been tasked with micromanaging the Cavs’ offense, expending a substantial amount of energy in the process. In order for LeBron’s Cavs to have a remote shot at upending the Warriors, Cleveland’s role players must show up every game.
- Get Clarkson, Nance Jr., and Hood Involved
When the Cavaliers acquired each of these players in mid-February, they believed they would help re-energize their lethargic roster. They also hoped that they could provide athleticism on the perimeter, especially defensively. If Cleveland ever needed a boost in athleticism, the time is now. None of these players are known for their defensive prowess, but each of them can match up with the Warriors athletically. In order to contain Golden State’s shooting, Cleveland must contest shots quickly, which each of these players are capable of doing. Offensively, Clarkson and Hood can both create their own shots, which can take some pressure of LeBron. Larry Nance Jr. is not really capable of creating his own shot, but he is ferocious on the offensive boards. Although Rodney Hood has been noticeably absent from the Cavs’ rotation for the majority of the playoffs, Ty Lue must get him involved in this series.
- Assign Jeff Green to KD
Last year, the Cavs had no choice but to assign LeBron to KD on defense. Running the show on offense and guarding Kevin Durant on defense may have been too physically taxing on LeBron. In the offseason, Cleveland brought in Jae Crowder, who they hoped could serve that role. Now that Crowder is gone, the Cavs should turn to Jeff Green to guard Durant. Green blossomed as a member of the starting lineup in game 7 at Boston, posting 19 points, 8 rebounds, and a block. To me, Jeff Green is like a “poor man’s LeBron”. At 6’9 and 235 pounds, Green has similar physical attributes to James. Placing Green on Durant would likely yield similar results as putting James on Durant would, while granting James more rest in the process. Jeff Green could essentially serve as the Cavs’ version of Andre Iguodala.
- JR Smith, Korver Must Knock Down Shots
JR Smith and Kyle Korver are Cleveland’s two best outside shooters, yet they are still extremely streaky. They both have performed well at home thus far, but have often failed to show up on the road. Although they are only role players, their performance from beyond the arc has often correlated to the game’s final outcome in these playoffs. When both Korver and Smith knock down at least one three, the Cavs are 9-2 in the playoffs (one of those losses being in Game 1 against Golden State). When at least one of the two fails to hit a three, the Cavs are only 3-5. As two players with finals experience, Smith and Korver must be reliable from downtown to give LeBron help in this series.