OAKLAND — For a decade now, the conventional wisdom on slowing down LeBron James and his teams came down to one basic tenet: Let him be a scorer, or let him be a passer, but don’t let him be both.
LeBron seems to have evolved past that in these playoffs.
“In the past that may have been true, but I think that every year it is different,” Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams said of the scorer vs. passer idea. “He’s a different athlete right now, so the concerns about his offense, there are things he’s doing better than in the past.”
“There were parts of my game you could disrespect earlier in my career. You can’t do that now,” LeBron said more directly.
The ability of No. 23 to control and change the game is the biggest challenge for Golden State heading into Game 2 Sunday at Oracle Arena.
LeBron carved up the Warriors defense like a surgeon in Game 1. He was a scorer with the 51 points, but he was a passer too with eight assists — and he should have had a lot more, the Cavaliers shot 3-of-17 from three on passes from LeBron.
“It’s the fourth year, every year they’ve done the same thing,” Shaun Livingston said.
Rather, it was the Warriors execution of their defensive principles they think got them in trouble. It could have been a hangover from dealing with the simpler Rockets’ attack.
“When you get switched onto LeBron, he’s different from (James) Harden. He’s going to look to pass early in a possession,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They’re running a lot of sets, really good sets where they isolate him. But then you’ve got (Kyle) Korver on a pindown or you’ve got (Kevin) Love off of a curl.
“So there’s more going on around that isolated player, for the most part, with Cleveland. And LeBron obviously is such a great passer, he’s going to try to pick you apart.”
“He puts great stress on the defense,” Adams said of LeBron. “But we have our formulas we try to follow. He’s gonna score, but we can do a better job than we did the first game….
“You’re always going to make mistakes, you can’t be perfect offensively or defensively. With mistakes, the question is how will you cover them up? Is your ball pressure good enough to, perhaps, take away the real penetrating part of passing that sets an offense up?”
In Game 1 it was not. The Warriors’ communication also was not as sharp as it needed to be.
“I think in the first game we didn’t communicate well,” Looney said. “We left (Kevin Durant) out there on an island on some of those screens without communicating. It is our job, and me as a big, to let him know when the screens are coming, and just be louder on the backside.
“Draymond (Green) talked to us, Andre (Iguodala) talked to us just about communicating. Our defense is a lot better when we’re communicating and we’re rotating and we’re activated. LeBron is gonna make shots, he’s a great scorer and been on a tear these whole playoffs, we’ve got to make it tough for him, make him work for each bucket, change the defense on him — he’s such a smart player if you give him the same diet he’s going to pick it apart, so just give him different looks and pray for the best.”
The Warriors want to make LeBron a jump shooter on Sunday night. Which sounds good, except in Game 1 LeBron was knocking down his jumpers (7-of-14). Still, that is better than the alternative.
“Once he gets into the paint, the defense breaks down and that’s when you get into scramble mode, and I think where they are strongest,” Livingston said. “Guys are able to get involved and get their offense going.”
The Warriors also want to be more physical with LeBron in Game 2 (again, easier said than done). The bottom line is to not let LeBron get comfortable.
“I didn’t think we made him work hard enough, though,” Kerr said of Game 1. “I thought everything was smooth sailing for him. It’s one thing to have a philosophy where you’re going to say, hey, we’re going to make this guy beat us and shut everybody else down. You can have that philosophy in general. Lot of teams have done it with superstars in the past, whether you’re talking about Kobe or Michael (Jordan) or LeBron or whoever.
“But it only works if you actually make the guy have to really use a lot of energy. That’s not necessarily our strategy. Of course we’re trying to keep other guys down, but we’ve got to make them work harder in general. I thought our defense was subpar the other night.”
If it’s subpar again on Sunday night, the Warriors could be heading to Cleveland in a tie series.