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.