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Cavaliers vs. Warriors NBA Finals Game 2 preview: Five things to watch

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Game 1 of the NBA Finals raised questions — “if the Cavaliers can’t win when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are off, when can they win? — but it did not provide a blueprint for the rest of the series. Expect Game 2 to look and feel different. Here are five things to look for on Sunday night.

1) The Cavaliers are going to try to play faster, but can they keep the ball moving? On a very basic level, the idea of the Cavaliers trying to play faster and out Warrior the Warriors seems flawed. Know that the Warriors hope the Cavs try to play faster in Game 2. That’s not how Cleveland sees it — the Cavaliers know they are an excellent offensive team that can create havoc they play fast. This is the style they are committed to.

“I just told LeBron (James) I need him to play faster,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “I need him to pick up the pace for us offensively, getting the ball out and just beginning to play faster.”

By faster, that’s not just pace trying to create cross matches they can exploit in transition (although that is part of it, the Cavaliers need some easy buckets). It’s also about moving the ball in the half court. The Cavaliers did a poor job of that in Game 1.

“I think the way they play defense, they switch 1 through 5, and it makes you play one-on-one basketball,” Lue said. “So your movement with floppy stuff coming off of pin-downs, they just switch out and try to deny those passes. And then you’ve got to post Kevin (Love), you’ve got to post LeBron against those mismatches. So I don’t see any reason for change. We’ve just got to convert.”

2) Cleveland has to hit its open looks. The Cavaliers missed some open threes — notably Kevin Love and J.R. Smith — and missed 28 shots in the paint. Part of that should be credited to Golden State’s defense; Cleveland had not played anyone this fast, this smart, and a team that recovers and challenges shots as quickly as Golden State. Plus, when the Warriors do double (particularly in the post) their zones on the weak side are as smooth and good as you will see in the league.

That can’t matter. It’s hard to generate good looks against the Warriors defense and when the Cavaliers do they need to knock the shot down. Expect Smith to be far less tentative and more of a gunner in Game 2 — you don’t have to tell him to shoot more twice — but he’s got to be efficient doing so.

3) Expect a better game from Stephen Curry. We know that the ridiculous Curry 7-minute run of threes is coming this series, likely a couple of times. It doesn’t matter what Cleveland, LeBron, or anyone does, it’s coming. The Cavaliers just need to survive it and battle back. The questions for Sunday are: Does that run come in Game 2? Can the Cavaliers survive it or does it knock them out of the box? Curry is not going to miss shots in Game 2 like he did in Game 1, taking some pressure off the Warriors bench.

4) Also, expect another good game from Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala. That 20-point Game 1 from Livingston was not an aberration. He likely doesn’t score that many points again, but he will impact the game and the Cavaliers do not seem to have a good answer for him. Livingston is a 6’7” and he is long, which creates some defensive advantages, plus he can happily live in the midrange.

Also, expect another strong game defensively from Iguodala. That was no fluke — the guy is the defending Finals MVP and the Warriors aren’t even in these Finals without his defense on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook last series. He brings that defensive energy and a sense of calmness to their offense nightly.

5) Expect a big push from the Cavaliers early. Cleveland is going to respond to their Game 1 loss — they will come out and play with force. LeBron is 9-0 in Game 2s of playoff series after losing Game 1, you know he is going to play well. There will be a sense of desperation around the Cavaliers — if they go down 0-2 in this series it’s hard to imagine them winning four out of the next five games to take it.

Cleveland hadn’t played a team executing at near the level of the Warriors through the playoffs, The Cavaliers hadn’t been pushed by their opponent to get better and sharper each game to advance, the Warriors had. It showed in Game 1. But now the Cavaliers are up to speed — or they had better be.

Andre Iguodala thought LeBron James would get Finals MVP

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If I’d had a Finals MVP vote, I would have cast it for LeBron James. I would have been in the minority, but to me he was clear and away the best player in the series — heck, it’s not even an interesting series without him. We’ve already laid out LeBron’s case.

Andre Iguodala — who won the trophy — was with me. From Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group.

Iguodala was not a terrible choice. He would have been third on my list — Stephen Curry was ahead of him for me — but Iguodala was a great narrative. And so long as you let media members vote, the guy with the story will always win.

Does LeBron James respect David Blatt? Actions suggest no, but Blatt says he’ll be back.

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In Europe, the coach of the basketball team has all the power (much like college coaches here in the United States).

In the NBA, the power rests with star players.

In Cleveland, all of it rests with LeBron James — and he used that power to disrespect head coach David Blatt. Oh, verbally LeBron often supported his coach. But actions speak louder than words, and there were obvious and public instances of LeBron disrespecting his coach over the course of the season and through the playoffs.

That included in the Finals, as detailed by Marc Stein of ESPN.

LeBron essentially calling timeouts and making substitutions. LeBron openly barking at Blatt after decisions he didn’t like. LeBron huddling frequently with Lue and so often looking at anyone other than Blatt.

There was LeBron, in one instance I witnessed from right behind the bench, shaking his head vociferously in protest after one play Blatt drew up in the third quarter of Game 5, amounting to the loudest nonverbal scolding you could imagine. Which forced Blatt, in front of his whole team, to wipe the board clean and draw up something else.

That stirred up new “would Blatt be back?” talk. Chris Haynes asked Blatt that question.

I expect he will be. LeBron could have him fired if he wanted, and Tyronn Lue is his guy, but it is not LeBron’s style to get that kind of blood on his hands. And if Blatt is fired, it is all about LeBron.

LeBron may have decided he can live with Blatt at the helm. There is support for Blatt in the organization.

Blatt is a highly respected offensive mind and was hired to help build up a young team and get them to play selfless ball (ala Golden State). Then LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland. That changed the dynamic (from rebuilding to contender) and the power structure in one move. Blatt struggled to adapt to that, still trying to put in an offense that LeBron, Kyrie Irving and other players didn’t like.

And Blatt made his share of mistakes (he doesn’t like to be called a rookie coach, but he had a lot to learn about how the NBA game worked). There was the famed almost timeout call, or having LeBron as the in-bounder on a late-game out of bounds play (something LeBron overruled).

But if LeBron disrespects his coach and his teammates see it, that door swings wide open. And it’s hard to get players to buy in if the star isn’t on board.

Expect Blatt to be back on the Cavaliers sideline next season. But just don’t equate that with respect from LeBron.

PBT Extra, Twitter reaction edition: Should Andre Iguodala have been MVP?

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Wednesday morning I took to twitter and asked for people’s reactions to the NBA Finals. Then we took some of the best of those and talked them over with Jenna Corrado in this PBT Extra.

At the top of the list: People didn’t love the pick of Andre Iguodala as the MVP.

 

PBT Extra: Despite loss, these Finals should improve LeBron James’ legacy

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Truly the first NBA superstar of the digital age, everyone has an opinion on LeBron James — and some of those people try to stand out by being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian. It’s part of the hollow debate of the Internet age. LeBron can’t be enjoyed for being LeBron — clearly the best player of his generation — rather he has to be compared to Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson or Allen Iverson, or whoever.

Which is a shame, because LeBron was nothing short of brilliant in these NBA Finals. He was historically good. He would have had my Finals MVP vote, even if he was on the losing team.

Jenna Corrado and I discuss LeBron and his legacy after these Finals in this latest PBT Extra. For any thinking person not stuck in a rigid box, these Finals should improve his legacy. Few other players in history could have carried this roster this far.