5 Keys for the Cavs
*Photo via USA Today
The Cleveland Cavaliers swept the Atlanta Hawks out of the Eastern Conference Finals, and are moving on to play the Golden State Warriors on the NBA’s greatest stage. For the first time I his career, LeBron and the Cavs are the significant underdogs, according to the Las Vegas Sports Book. So how can the Cavs overcome their perceived deficiencies. Here’s the five things they’ll need to win this series.
1. Kyrie Irving
That’s it. Kyrie needs to play, and play healthy. If he is injured, slowed, or under-confident, the Cavs offense will surely falter. Irving’s ability to attack the rim gives the Cleveland and entirely separate mode of offense to go to when LeBron is on the bench, or needs to play off the ball. With Kevin love out from injury, Irving will need to be the dominant ball-handler that everyone knows he is. Defensively, if Kyrie has lost a step, the Warriors will have a massive advantage. If coach David Blatt wants to hide Irving on defense, the only choice he will have is to put him on Andrew Bogut. The only other options would be MVP Stephen Curry, who will run him all around the floor, or Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes, who will all dominate Irving on the block. Irving on Bogut would set Cleveland’s defense in a very difficult position. Kyrie either needs to be at full strength, or not on the court.
2. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert need to continue to hit three pointers
J.R. Smith has been known to be a streaky shooter in his career. His arrival in Cleveland has shown his ability to hit dagger threes at any moment. He is shooting 39.6 percent from three in the playoffs, and will need to continue to be an attacking option, especially if Irving isn’t 100 percent. Iman Shumpert caught fire from three in the series against the hawks, draining nine for 21, for a sweltering 43 percent (which is incredible, especially for a guy who is known for defense, not three point shots). If Smith and Shumpert continue their play, Cleveland will be right in contention.
3. LeBron James needs to be “King James”
LeBron, by many accounts, has had an ‘off’ playoffs thus far. Odd to think that a guy averaging 27.6 points, 8.3 assists, 10.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.3 blocks, and 48.9 percent from the field is considered to be having a difficult playoffs. For anyone else, these are superstar numbers. But James is no typical player. If LeBron James wants to take this series, he will have to dominate every aspect of the game. He will need to find teammates on a very consistent basis, get to the basket at an alarming rate, and make outside jump shots. His greatest weakness this playoff run has been his awful 17.9 percent shooting from three. Either that will have to pick up, or he’ll need to stop shooting them. If James can get his defenders, weather it be Green, Thompson, Barnes or Iguodala, in some foul trouble and get to the free-throw line, he’ll be able to operate better.
4. Charge the three-point line on defense
For the past 20 years, the NBA has always had a few ways that win, and a few ways that don’t. “Defense wins championships” is one of the most common adages. Golden State proves this one to be true, as the NBA’s top ranked defense. “Jump shooting teams win games, but not series.” That, on the other hand, the Warriors have proven to be a load of hogwash. Though the Warriors do have elements of inside presence, their main attack comes from outside. The Cavaliers are going to need to run the Warriors off the three-point line, directing them into the size of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. Curry and Klay Thompson’s ability to pass may also hurt the Cavs, but that’s a chance they’ll have to take. This is all easy to spout, but rushing the splash brothers is easier said than done. Both Curry and Klay possess a top five shot release speed in the NBA, with Curry leading the way. Quick feet Cleveland, quick feet.
5. Hope they miss
If the Warriors are draining their threes, no one can beat them. But if they are shooting under 35 percent, they are beatable. Thompson, Mozgov, and James will need to dominate the defensive and offensive glass, gobbling up every board they can. If the Cavs make this a series about dunks and mid-range shots, they have a shot. A massive undertaking, but stranger things have happened.