Andre Iguodala had a heck of a Game 1.
His coolest moment? Losing his shoe and then making a 3-pointer.
Andre Iguodala had a heck of a Game 1.
His coolest moment? Losing his shoe and then making a 3-pointer.
OAKLAND — The Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs — the two teams many people thought were the second and third best teams in the Western Conference — met in the first round of the NBA playoffs this season. It was an epic seven-game series, one of the best of the postseason, but one that took so much energy from the Clippers to win they started to fade against the Houston Rockets the next round (L.A. led 3-1 but lost the last three).
Los Angeles and San Antonio only met in the first round because under the current NBA rules Portland, which won 51 games, had to be the four seed in the West because it won the Northwest Division. That put them ahead of the 55-win Spurs. The NBA’s rules say if a team wins its division it can be no lower than the four seed. In the next round, Houston was the higher seed with home court against the Clippers because it won its division, even though both teams won 56 games.
For a couple years NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has suggested the divisions (or at least rewarding their winner) should be done away with, and he reiterated that again on Thursday, addressing the media before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
“Having said that, we are very focused on the divisional seeding process, and I think we are going to take a very close look at whether we should seed at least 1 through 8 by conference as opposed to giving the division winner that higher seed,” Silver said. “So that is something we are taking a close look at that, and we may change that fairly quickly. As I’ve said earlier, that is a vestige of a division system that may not make sense anymore.”
Silver added the NBA is not yet going to just put the best 16 teams in the playoffs and seed regardless of conference, as has been suggested by some fans and media members.
“I think ultimately where (the owners) came out is this notion of 1 through 16 seeding, while it seems attractive in many ways, because of the additional travel that will result, it just doesn’t seem like a good idea at the moment,” Silver said. “This notion of, for example, this team would have played Boston in the first round under a 1through16 seeding and would have had to crisscross back and forth across the country, which does not seem like a good idea, especially based on the earlier question based on the health of our players, and focusing on actually reducing the amount of travel and back to backs.”
In other comments during his 45-minute talk, Silver said:
• Don’t expect changes to the intentional fouling rules to limit hack-a-whoever strategies.
“On the Hack-a-Shaq, you know, as I’ve said before, again, another issue we had a long discussion about at our general manager’s meeting recently in Chicago. And while we looked at the data, it’s true most of the general managers in that room were not in favor of making the change,” Silver said. “In essence, what the data shows is that you’re largely talking about two teams throughout the playoffs, in fact, 90 percent of the occurrences of HackaShaq involve the Rockets and the Clippers, and then for the most part it’s two players, 75 percent involved two players, DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard. So then the question becomes should we be making that rule change largely for two teams and two players?…
“But, in addition, one of the things I’ve raised before is I’m also concerned sort of as a steward of the game what it means if we change the rules as well, and that’s from literally the hundreds of emails I get from high school coaches, junior high coaches, AAU coaches saying you can’t possibly change the rule to accommodate players who can’t make free throws.
“So it’s a balance of issues, but I think it’s one that the owners will end up having a sort of robust discussion on this summer. Ultimately, I think I said the other day, my personal view is it would help to look at another season of data, because in so many of the situations with which it was used this year, putting aside the fact it was largely two teams, it flat out wasn’t effective. Even in terms of players hitting their free throws, roughly, if a player can hit 50 percent of his free throws, it defeats the strategy.”
• He said he would be open to a discussion of alterations to the NBA’s concussion protocol in the wake of the injury to Klay Thompson. However, he didn’t make it sound like change was coming.
• He talked about the plans unveiled in Milwaukee for a new stadium: “There is a bit of a negotiation going on. I don’t know how else to say it. There are some moving parts there. You have the State making a contribution, you have the City making a contribution as well. But I’m fairly confident it will all get worked out.”
OAKLAND — LeBron James had a career NBA Finals high of 44 points, posting up and overpowering every defender the Warriors threw at him (although Andre Iguodala did a solid job). Kyrie Irving, coming off eight days rest for his sore knee, was moving well and making plays. The Warriors started off ice cold shooting in the first quarter, opening the game 4-of-18 (1-of-5 from three).
In the end, the Cavaliers had a situation they will take every time — the ball in LeBron’s hands with a chance to win the game.
And still the Cavaliers lost.
Now — especially considering Irving’s knee injury — it feels like the Cavs best chance to earn a split of the first two games in Oracle Arena went skipping off the rim, like Iman Shumpert’s shot at the regulation buzzer.
“Realistically, we put ourselves in position to win that game the way we played it,” Cavs coach David Blatt said.
“It’s our game plan, and our game plan worked,” LeBron said. “ We put ourselves in a position to win, we just didn’t come through.”
LeBron, Blatt and the rest of the Cavaliers went into these NBA Finals knowing they were about to face their toughest test by far — their margin for error was nonexistent. They couldn’t miss out on opportunities.
That’s exactly what happened.
It wasn’t for lack of effort, in fact Blatt said fatigue from that effort may have played a factor in Cleveland scoring just two points in overtime. Cleveland doesn’t have the depth of Golden State.
To open the game Cleveland was the more mature, focused team — they were the team that had guys that had been there before. The combination of rust and the bigger stage seemed to overwhelm the Warriors. Meanwhile LeBron and Irving were making shots, and when they missed Tristan Thompson seemed to get his hands on the rebound.
“We did start extremely well,” Blatt said. “We were prepared, and we had a game plan that we followed well early. But the NBA game is a long game. A 48-minute game is a long game, lot of stops, lot of changes in momentum. You know, a tough away game.
“Teams are going to make their runs. They did. We ran back. They did, we ran back. But still we were in a position to win that game in a very tough and hard fought game by both sides.”
What should worry the Cavaliers — outside of Irving’s potential knee injury — is that the Warriors can play a lot better. The combination of Cleveland’s athletic defense and some nerves/rust had the Warriors not looking like the Warriors early. As the game wore on the Warriors started to find and exploit the holes in the Cavs defense. That will only get worse with time to watch the film, plus a comfort level with the stage.
The same is true of the Cavaliers.
“We had a lot of miscues tonight. I think they would say the same,” LeBron said. “We had a lot of breakdowns, a couple of transition threes they made that we kind of pinpointed on saying we don’t want to give those up. But at the end of the day, we gave ourselves a chance, man. I missed a tough one. But we had so many opportunities to win this game, and we didn’t. It’s up to us now to look at the film, watch and make some adjustments, what you need to do and be ready for Sunday.”
Adjustments as the series has gone on has been the purview of the Warriors this postseason — by the third or fourth game of every series they had figured out what they wanted to do, and the opponents couldn’t counter.
The Warriors are going to get better as this series goes on.
The Cavaliers may have just missed their best chance to steal a game. It certainly feels that way.
This was LeBron James’ easiest shot in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, a late layup conceded by the Warriors after they’d sewn up the win:
That was also his only shot within two feet.
LeBron was awesome in the Finals’ opening game, scoring 44 points. But Golden State made him work for it.
In the regular season and first three rounds of the playoffs, LeBron took 42% of his 2-pointers within two feet. Thursday, he attempted only one of his 30 2-pointers (3%) within two feet.
Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green took turns bodying LeBron. A big man – usually Andrew Bogut – usually shaded toward LeBron when the Cavaliers star neared the paint. The result: The Warriors prevented LeBron from getting all the way to the rim and made him work from the mid-range.
Here’s LeBron’s shot distribution in the regular season and playoffs entering the Finals (wine) and Game 1 (gold):
That late layup wasn’t LeBron’s only easy bucket. There were also these two:
But this was LeBron’s fourth-closest attempt:
Though not overwhelming difficult for LeBron, that’s not an easy shot. And every single one of his other 34 shots came from farther out.
Because the Warriors stayed home on Cleveland’s shooters, LeBron couldn’t just kick the ball out when he couldn’t get closer to the rim. Often, him shooting in isolation was the best option as plays unfolded.
LeBron’s jumper, which had been horrific of late, came around. So, that outcome didn’t devastate Cleveland.
But it was also far from ideal.
The Cavs scoring just 98.7 points per 100 possessions – only a slight tick better than Golden State’s league-leading regular-season defensive rating.
Maybe LeBron can just put his head down and bull his way to the rim a little more. He’s the NBA’s most powerful player. Plus, if he draws fouls, his job gets easier.
Maybe Timofey Mozgov, whose man often took a step or two toward LeBron, can do more. Mozgov doesn’t have the jumper to make the Warriors pay for ignoring him, but he could drift out to screen away from the ball on perimeter. Not only could that spring shooters like J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert (and Kyrie Irving if he’s healthy) to receive passes from a posting LeBron, it could draw a three-second violation on the Warriors. They got whistled for (a quick) one Thursday when Marreese Speights planted in the paint and kept his eyes on LeBron as Tristan Thompson remained near the 3-point arc.
On one hand, that strategy could hurt Cleveland’s offensive rebounding by taking a big away from the rim. On the other hand, Mozgov could still try darting into the paint as shots go up, and it’d be more difficult for the Warriors to find him and box him out. If that approach allows the Cavaliers to get more kickout 3s on LeBron post-ups, longer shots would give Mozgov more time to get inside.
Cleveland has options.
But the Warriors – powerful enough defensively to keep LeBron away from the rim – have forced an adjustment.
OAKLAND — All season, the Warriors’ depth and versatility off the bench has been a huge part of their success. Things were no different in Game 1 of the Finals, when one reserve player in particular was the difference. Throughout his career, Andre Iguodala has been the “LeBron stopper” wherever he’s gone. If all the Warriors got out of him was strong defense, that would have been enough. But Iguodala contributed 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including two three-pointers.
LeBron James scored 44 points and singlehandedly kept the Cavs in the game in the second half, but it wasn’t an easy 44 points. Iguodala did the only thing you can do: make him work. James had 7 points on 13 shots during possessions when he was defended by Iguodala, according to Synergy Sports.
“Andre is one of the smartest defenders I’ve ever seen,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “I mean, he understands angles, he understands where everybody is on the floor. You know, it’s funny to say when a guy gets 44 points that the defender did a really good job, but I thought Andre did extremely well. Made LeBron take some tough shots.”
There was a noticeable difference anytime another defender was switched onto James. The Warriors started the game with Harrison Barnes on him, with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green taking some possessions as well. Thompson and Barnes simply weren’t up to the task. James overpowered both of them. But Iguodala gave him a hard time.
“Andre, he’s one of the best defenders in the league,” Thompson said. “And obviously LeBron had a great game. But he made it so tough on him that last quarter and a half. He’s got long arms. He’s very active. Some of the best hands I’ve ever seen, and he did it on both ends.”
This is Iguodala’s first time in the Finals, following an 11-year career filled with elite defensive performances like this one, but that also miscast him as a primary scoring option. In Golden State, under Kerr, he has found the perfect role: scoring if needed, but mostly making sure the LeBron Jameses of the world don’t get easy baskets.
“My years in Philly, I always had to guard the best players, and then I had to try to create on offense as well,” said Iguodala. “But it was always those nights when it was kind of I shouldn’t say second-tier, but those second-tier guys that gave me problems because I’m so used to having so much energy on the defensive end guarding the elite guys. underneath them and they seem to bite me a little bit.”
Iguodala wasn’t the only Warriors bench player who stepped up. Marreese Speights contributed 8 points while Festus Ezeli had 5. Overall, Golden State’s bench outscored Cleveland’s 34-9. Their attack was all James, and in the end, even his Finals career high wasn’t enough. But that depth and consistency is what got the Warriors where they are.
“That’s going to be pivotal in this series, is our bench play, and they played great tonight,” said Thompson. “We’re one of the deepest teams I’ve ever been on. That’s what we’re doing all year is just wearing on teams, and Andre was an example of that tonight. He played both ends like a champion, and really stepped up for us.”
“Andre has been fantastic all year,” Kerr said. “The numbers don’t always show it, but he’s a great player for us.”