The Rematch That Wasn’t Much of a Rematch

The hype surrounding the NBA Finals rematch some six months after the Warriors championship parade, and a week after the Warriors 24 game winning streak suddenly ended, was heavily slanted towards the visitors.  The often regurgitated- the Cavaliers are finally at full strength- was adopted, believed and thrust into the atmosphere as truth as to why the Warriors could possible lose.

Umm….no.

As was the case six months ago, Kevin Love who did not play in June and Kyrie Irving who played only one game in June, didn’t solve the basic Cleveland Cavaliers problem. They don’t have the depth to match the Warriors second unit. And Draymond Green is too versatile for any of the forwards the Cavs are throwing at him.

I will say the Cavaliers defense is impressive, better than their numbers indicate, and their numbers are good, they are the third ranked defense. The Cavs are physical and rotate well and have the ability to yank the chain of a fast moving offense like the Warriors with their grind it out toughness. The Cavs can go small but therein lies their main issue. In the Finals, they had no answer for Shaun Livingston. And they didn’t have one last night.

A prolific Livingston on center stage makes all the sense in the world to those who have followed his career in all of its reincarnations. First, the hope. Then, the tragedy. Finally, the resurrection. The Clippers lottery pick is identified, in part, by that paralyzing scream that felt like the earth was ripping in two when Livingston, on a drive to the rim, shredded his knee. His comeback and ultimate reward of playing for a NBA title means that a.) you shouldn’t necessarily believe what people predict about your future, and b.) careers often don’t fit the draft day narrative.

The truth about Livingston is he is still 6-7. He is still athletic and can get to his spots. He can defend his position. The Cavaliers (and no one else for that matter) has a matchup for him. The closest thing I can relate it to was when 6-9, left-handed Lamar Odom came off the bench for the Lakers title teams. Odom was too much of everything for anyone’s second unit to survive- too long, too gifted, too silky in the lane. Livingston is a guard and not a forward and clearly doesn’t have the passing talent, the scorers identity, nor the in the lane presence of an Odom, but he dominates his defender and it’s hard for a bench player to have to check him. And, this is the important thing about Shaun Livingston: he allows Steph Curry to get a long break.

Livingston had a nice game yesterday; he took nine shots and missed only one. That was the bench story. The starter story was Draymond Green being Draymond Green.

Green is redefining the forward position. He rebounds, scores, hits threes and he can smother any offensive player. He makes this Warriors juggernaut operate at maximum capacity and his leadership is off the charts.

Those two weapons, Livingston and Green, make it hard for opposing teams to stage comeback rallies. Everyone is trying to stop Curry. But Curry, as great as he is, functions within an offense that legitimizes a multitude of skills and abilities which allows Curry to function at his most elite level. His rookie year, Curry was draining 43% of his three point shots. His seventh season (2015-16), he is draining 44% of his three point shots. The difference between a 26 win season and possibly, (probably), a 70 win season is the surrounding personnel fitting each other’s skills and talents perfectly. Shaun Livingston. Draymond Green. Klay Thompson.

The only Warriors question, and this pertains to the off-season, is Harrison Barnes. The Warriors are winning all of these games without him. Yesterday afternoon, the Warriors got 0 points from the starting small forward (Brandon Rush) and beat the best team in the Eastern Conference. Should the Warriors go all in on Barnes when teams like the Thunder (if they lose Durant), and the Wizards (if they don’t get Durant), and the Miami Heat (the genius of Riley pulling strings), set the market price for Barnes. The Warriors have to pay Curry close to $175 million in two years. Is Barnes really necessary in this offense with so much versatility and depth when it has been proven they can function without him?

The Warriors beat the Cavaliers yesterday with their depth and defense. LeBron James took 26 shots and made ten. Kevin Love took 16 shots and made five. Kyrie Irving is not who he will be in the playoffs, his numbers are reflective of his rust. But the Cavs run a basically boring iso system with James at the top that will never be successful against the Warriors unless they are having a spectacular shooting night from the perimeter, which they weren’t: 16%.

The Warriors defense wants to go up against iso-heavy teams. The Warriors, when they struggle, face a lot of ball movement and dribble pull-up guards that have an offensive option down low. As they did in the Finals, the Cavs expected LeBron James to save them at the end. He couldn’t; he was swarmed by defenders. He couldn’t save them in June either, despite his heroics. Humbling for the Cavs and their ugly slow paced game is that the Warriors beat them at it. They played a quiet pace and weren’t ever threatened with the possibility of losing.

And so, it is on to the next one, the next supposed matchup where the Warriors will be in trouble. It’s a reflex that won’t stop at Christmas. It will start all over again when the Warriors visit the Thunder, Spurs and Cavs.

Two months in, no one has proven they can beat a rested Warriors team. The march to 70 wins rolls on.

photo via llanaba