The Golden State Warriors’ convincing 113-91 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the NBA Finals did not stand out just for the margin of victory or Kevin Durant’s stellar outing. Rather, one of the biggest takeaways was the ease with which the Warriors offense got to and scored at the rim. Simply put, the Cavs defense didn’t offer much resistance via either quality defense or hard fouls. Twenty Cleveland turnovers certainly contributed to Golden State’s ability to score so easily, but the weak defense certainly didn’t help matters.
The NBA Finals are never likely to stay at a low energy level, especially when the series features two old rivals a year removed from one of the most dramatic matchups in league history. Not surprisingly, members of both teams expect a different sort of contest in Game 2.
“I think the Cavs on Sunday will make a plan to not let [Durant] get so many easy buckets around the rim,” said Klay Thompson during the media conference call on Friday’s off-day. “I expect the Cavs to play a more physical game on Sunday to combat that.”
Cavs forward Kevin Love indicated that more defensive pressure and tactical open-court fouls could be a part of the team’s plan to stop the Warriors.
“We naturally felt like we could have played better, taken the game to them a little bit more and also played with better pace,” he said. “There were also times where we could have been smarter and made better decisions as far as fouling in the open court when they had an advantage.”
These comments echo what the Cavs said late Thursday night. While the defending champions were clearly disappointed with their effort, they maintained a high level of confidence and seemed content in the knowledge that they’ve been in this position before against the Warriors. All three of Tyronn Lue, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James used the same language in speaking of how difficult it is to “simulate” the Golden State offense, and the expectation seems to be that the defense will grow more comfortable as the series progresses.
There’s reason to think they’re right, if only because it’s hard to imagine the Cavaliers playing worse than they did on Thursday. Even if they never solve the challenge of guarding Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (let alone everyone else) at the same time, the Cavs are too prideful to put forth another defensive effort like that in Game 1. That improvement could start with center Tristan Thompson, a willful grinder. His high effort has been a constant for Cleveland in the previous two finals against Golden State, but he never imposed himself in the opener and finished with no points and three rebounds in 22 minutes.
“I think Tristan will come out in Game 2 and be a lot more assertive and just use his will to get rebounds on both sides of the ball,” said Love. “He’s so capable and so good at doing that, no matter who we’re playing, against any team in the league.”
The Warriors will plan for just that kind of performance. Another blowout win is certainly a possibility, but the smart money says the Cavs will try far more to drive the hosts out of their comfort zone on Sunday. Cleveland is not yet at a point where it needs to make sweeping changes, and Lue offered a simple “No” as an answer to a question about potential alterations to the lineup. The Cavs are going to try to get their road split by being a better version of themselves, not changing who they are.
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