Of the 15 Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals games the last three years, Games 1 and 2 this year have been the fastest-paced. Golden State has run Cleveland off the floor in both contests.
Should the Cavs try to reduce the tempo?
That’s not our game. We don’t play slow-down basketball.
We play at our pace, and we play our game. We’ve got to this point playing our way. We’ve won a lot of games playing the way we play. So, we’re not going to change.
There is a logic to slowing the pace. LeBron and Kyrie Irving are exceptional isolation scorers against set defenses, and Kevin Love can isolate in certain matchups. Even if that scheme isn’t as efficient as running and hunting 3-pointers, it might be worth the defensive tradeoff. The Cavs have been awful at getting back and picking up men in transition. A slower tempo could also alleviate the Cavaliers’ depth issues.
But Cleveland is 0-5 with the estimated pace below 90 in the Finals against the Warriors and 6-2 with it between 90 and 99, per Basketball-Reference. The estimated pace was 99.5 in Game 1 and 106.4 in Game 2 this year.
Playing slow is playing scared. It’s what the Cavaliers did in 2015 with David Blatt, and they performed better than expected, pushing Golden State to six games. Tyronn Lue had the Cavs play unencumbered last year, and they won the title.
I think playing slower would make the Cavaliers less likely to embarrassed, but continuing to play fast would give them best chance to win the series. Speed increases variance, and Cleveland should increase variance.
That said, the Cavs could stand to slow down in certain situations rather than force transition. Especially in Game 1, they got just a little too out of control and turned the ball over, leading to easy Warriors points. Again, LeBron and Irving isolations or pick-and-rolls are good fallback options.
The trick is doing that while maintaining an attack mentality. Given LeBron’s comments, it sounds like a balance this team isn’t trying to recalibrate.