The Golden State Warriors are now up 2-0 over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. The series is far from over, but the dominating fashion in which a relatively exhausted Warriors team trampled the well-rested Cavaliers in each of the two opening games is looking like a strong indictment of the conference talent discrepancy in the NBA.
The Cavaliers coasted through the Eastern Conference playoffs, but their struggles against the Warriors so far in the Finals make the Eastern Conference look pretty weak.
The theory of rest vs. adversity in this case seems to be leaning towards “adversity.” The Warriors courageously climbed back from down 3-1 to beat an extremely talented Oklahoma City Thunder team in the Western Conference Finals.
From how overmatched the Cavaliers have looked against the Warriors, it doesn’t seem likely that they’d be faring any better against the Thunder right now.
It’s hard to judge, because they would have played the first 2 games in Cleveland had the Thunder advanced, and perhaps a home-court advantage would dictate a different outcome. Just looking at the lineups is enough to make picking the Cavaliers over the Thunder seem like a dubious leap of faith, though.
Who on the Cavaliers could stop Russell Westbrook? LeBron James would be assigned to Kevin Durant for most of the game, but there’s absolutely no way that Kyrie Irving could even remotely contain Westbrook.
Matthew Dellavedova harassed Stephen Curry for a couple games in last year’s Finals, but his impact is best utilized in short bursts. If Dellavedova is being heavily relied upon to shut down possibly the most explosive guard the NBA has seen in at least the past decade, that doesn’t bode well.
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Iman Shumpert would probably get a shot at Westbrook as well, and he’s a great defender, but devoting significant playing time to a shooting guard who shot just over 37% from the field last season without much history of adept offensive skill is a risky endeavor.
More Shumpert probably means less J.R. Smith, and that’s removing an offensive weapon that is capable of explosive scoring streaks.
Steven Adams and Enes Kanter would make Tristan Thompson’s job of cleaning up the boards extremely difficult. Cleveland is a great rebounding team, but they aren’t at the level of the Thunder.
Cleveland actually had the same rebounding rate as San Antonio during the regular season, and the Thunder were still able to gain a significant rebounding edge in their series win against the Spurs.
If the Thunder seem to have the hypothetical edge against the Cavaliers, then what about the San Antonio Spurs? San Antonio won 67 games in the regular season, but would that be enough for them to handle the Cavaliers?
The first 2 games of the Finals give the Spurs a strong case of being able to be the superior team in a series.
The Warriors are beating the Cavaliers with basketball principles that mirror what make the Spurs such a formidable team.
One of the reasons the Warriors have gone up 2-0 is because of their depth. Game 1 was the most blatant example of this, when they had 7 different players score in double digits.
The Spurs similarly have numerous players who can produce double digit points on any given night. Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, Patty Mills, and David West are all legitimate threats to score 10 points or more in a game. Most teams don’t have scoring talent that runs that deep within a lineup.
The Warriors have also used their efficient defense to hold the Cavaliers to about 37% shooting in the first 2 games.
The Spurs not only gave up the least amount of points per 100 possessions in the regular season, but they also held opponents to just 43.6% shooting in the process. Comparatively, the Warriors held opponents to 43.5% shooting.
The Warriors have also run up hefty assist totals on the Cavaliers, which makes sense considering both games were blowouts. But what about the percentage of field goals made that were assisted on? That should be the main sign of fluid ball movement leading to scoring chances.
The Cavaliers have hit 60 field goals and totaled 32 assists in the series. Their percentage of field goals assisted on is about 53% for the series.
The Warriors have hit 87 field goals and totaled 55 assists in the series. Their percentage of field goals assisted on is about 63% for the series.
The Warriors are scoring more through ball movement while the Cavaliers are basing more of their offense on isolation plays and one-on-one shot creation.
This is the style the Spurs utilize. They were uncharacteristically paltry on assists during their series with the Thunder, but their regular season numbers were impressive. Only the Warriors and the Atlanta Hawks ended a higher percentage of their possessions with an assist than the Spurs.
The Warriors have been dominating the Cavaliers with traits that the Spurs also possess in abundance, which leads one to conclude that had the Spurs been able to advance out of the Western Conference playoffs to represent the West in the Finals, it’s very likely that they would be having an equal amount of success against the Cavaliers.
Combine their metrics with their 40-1 record playing in San Antonio during the regular season (the Spurs would have home-court advantage in a Finals with the Cavaliers) and they’d probably have gotten out to a 2-0 lead like the Warriors have.
The San Antonio Spurs happen to play in a very difficult conference, and it doesn’t provide sufficient solace to a heartbroken Spurs fan to know that the Spurs were extremely capable to handling this Cavaliers team. Yet pride should be taken in the fact that even though the Spurs weren’t the best in the West, they’d still be better than any team out East.