Sorry that the last 2 posts have been about professional sports, but it was a good weekend of boxing and basketball and I saw some things where I felt I could provide some value-added commentary for sports fans. The commentary is still potentially actionable in the markets…the sports wagering markets.
The broad assumption here is that the Cavaliers take the Eastern Conference. Based on game 1 against the Pistons, the Cavs should be able to beat any team in the conference in a 7-game series. The Pistons are young, fiery, and came out extremely hot but the Cavs kept their cool and simply stuck to a game plan of Lebron getting everyone involved. The other 2 of the Big 3 stepped up huge, and despite the closeness of the score, it was a pretty easy win for Cleveland. Their game play against Detroit provided a clear look at the formula it’s going to take to have a chance at Golden State.
I’d like to make one quick note on the Detroit Pistons. Reggie Jackson pretty much lost them the game. No joke. He got fouled on a jump shot with 3 minutes and change to go. No call by the refs. Jackson then loses his cool and storms over to the referee’s face and incurs a technical for his immaturity. In his un-subdued fury, Jackson continued to over-dribble and take horrible shots for the rest of the game like a petulant little child. Yes, his teammates missed a couple shots when Jackson did try to make a play, but Jackson’s over-dribbling gave the Cavs easy defensive possessions and caused the Piston’s to take bad shots. If Jackson doesn’t get his head right, it’s gonna be a long series for Detroit. Reggie is Stan V’s guy. I’m sure Stan will have the heart to heart that Reggie needs and basketball fans hopefully will see a more composed playmaker for the Pistons. Maybe even Stan’s brother, Jeff, can shoot Reggie a text telling him to grow up, man up, and bring it.
Now let’s breakdown that game plan. First, regarding Curry, forget him. He’s going to make his shots and get his points. You simply can’t stop players that good. You can only make it hard for them. But players that skilled and that mentally tough are going to shine. Always. Just make him work. That’s why you have Dellavedova. Rotate him for Kyrie but sometimes run him with Kyrie, especially if Klay is on the bench but Steph is on the floor. Just let Dellavedova annoy, harangue, harass, and piss off Curry. That’s his value against the Warriors.
The key to winning is to neutralize the other starters. Step 1, the Cavs have to switch to the small line-up for the rest of the playoffs. Bring Mozgov off the bench. Start Kevin Love at center against Bogut. This will draw Andrew out of the paint. It will also allow for faster starts to the offense via Love’s outlet passing. That’s the only way they’re going to maintain the Warriors’ pace. The key is Love has to consistently hit the 3. Poor shooting completely negates the effect of starting Love at the 5. If the Cavaliers try to go to a half-court, slow-down offense this will stymie the small-ball strategy of starting Love and will just be chewed up by the shooting accuracy and passing efficiency of Golden State.
Step 2, bench J.R. Smith for Iman Shumpert for defensive purposes. I see more value in J.R. Smith providing an offensive spark off the bench than I do in playing him 30 minutes as the starter. Think Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson of the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons. Give Shumpert the same mission as Dellavedova, except it’s against Klay Thompson. Shumpert will need to be a body glove, shadowing Klay’s every move. Iman will need to body him up, foul him hard even flagrantly a couple times, and just straight up get in his head. Shumpert is built like a strong safety. He’s fast enough and certainly strong enough to affect Klay Thompson. Should coach Lue agree, Shumpert has to be mature enough to understand the mission and engage with maximum effort defensively and not worry about scoring points.
Step 3, Lebron has to match up against Draymond Green to essentially destroy Green’s box score. This is the toughest step for the Cavs to execute but Lebron is strong enough and fast enough to do it. It’s not about shutting down Green’s scoring. That’s not the issue. It’s about taking away his rebounding opportunities by effectively boxing him out. It’s about keeping the ball out of his hands so that he can’t be that playmaker for the Warriors. It’s about keeping him honest defensively so that he can’t provide that weak-side help that he’s so great at giving. This is where Lebron will have to supplant his ego a bit and allow Irving and Love to lead the Warriors in scoring. If Lebron dedicates himself to the task of significantly reducing Green’s total affect for the Warriors, then I think Kerr will have a tough time adjusting the game plan accordingly. However, Lebron is one of the greatest players of all time and I just don’t see him accepting the fact that he needs to focus on diminishing Green’s presence while making plays to get the rest of the Cavaliers involved. I believe this is the most critical step for the Cavaliers to win it all.
That leaves Tristan Thompson and Harrison Barnes. That’s a tough cover for both. Thompson is too strong for Barnes and will effectively grab rebounds against the smaller player, especially offensive boards. Barnes is too fast for Thompson’s feet and will be able to get to the basket or free himself up for jumpers. The Cavs will just have to live with that match-up. If Barnes burns Thompson for some points but Klay Thompson is taken out of the game and Draymond’s total playmaking is scaled down then you live with the tradeoff.
After considering the starting five of each team, the benches need to step up accordingly. This is where the coaches really earn their keep by effectively subbing based on the ebb and flow of the game. Making the right reads and adjustments based on shifting chemistry is the bread and butter of the best coaches. Kerr has a decided advantage over Lue in this department plus Luke Walton’s insight provides another edge. It’s like playing tennis 2 on 1.
Look, I’m not saying that the Warriors aren’t going to win the championship. They did just win 73 regular season games. The odds are clearly in their favor as not a single team has been able to figure out their revolutionary brand of basketball. It’s just that I think the Cavaliers provided a blueprint specific to their team to potentially beat Golden State in a 7-game series. Consider the evidence. We’ll see what happens in June.