In the playoffs entering the NBA Finals, from the start of the second quarter to their first substitution of the period:
- Cavaliers: +34
- Warriors: -33
Cleveland has relied extensively on LeBron James to begin second quarters (the adjustment Stan Van Gundy didn’t appreciate). LeBron has typically opened second quarters with Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye – four floor spacers – and that was the case in Game 1 of the Finals yesterday. Teams often rest their starters to begin the second quarter, and LeBron has just thrashed backups on both ends. The Cavs valued that huge mismatch over matching up better with opposing starters in other portions of the game.
Golden State, on the other hand, usually trotted out four backups to start the second quarter – Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Marreese Speights the most common lineup. And those units without shot-creators Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green just got killed. They sputtered offensively and got lit up defensively.
So, Steve Kerr made a key adjustment in Game 1, and the Warriors outscored Cleveland 8-4 before their first second-quarter substitution. That’s a nice advantage in a three-minute stretch, but more importantly, the Cavs didn’t feast in that time like they usually had.
Instead of Speights, Green started the second quarter at center for the first time in these playoffs. Tyronn Lue quickly realized the Cavs needed more than the typical LeBron jolt and inserted Kevin Love just 31 seconds into the period, before either team had scored.
It wasn’t enough, though.
Green played a key role in holding LeBron to 0-of-4 shooting in this stretch. Not only did Green guard LeBron at times, he also covered others and took away LeBron’s passing lanes, forcing LeBron to force a shot.
Golden State shot 4-for-4 on the other end, making a couple difficult-ish shots. But the spacing Green creates with his shooting and passing abilities made those attempts just a touch easier than they would’ve been with Speights on the floor.
Maybe LeBron hits a tough shot next time. He can do that. Maybe the Warriors miss more of their difficult looks. They’re bound to regress.
But even if the teams play to a draw to start the second quarter in future games, that’s a huge win for Golden State. The Cavaliers have been counting on decided advantages in these minutes, and anything less reduces their margin for error elsewhere.