The Golden State Warriors are known for their ball movement and shooting, contingent on off ball movement, cutting, and screens. The isolation heavy days of the previous generation is now in the rear view mirror, and has given way to a different style of basketball. The Warriors play a beautiful brand of basketball, but their main foe in the Eastern conference has also adapted the anit-hero ball approach.
Last season, the Warriors played a Cleveland Cavaliers squad without stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in the NBA Finals. Their offense took a nose dive, as it revolved around LeBron James’ ISOs. His teammates bricked 3s all series, and the Warriors were able to throw multiple defenders at Lebron whenever he got to the rim.
Fast forward a year later and the Cavs look good so far in these playoffs, having won their first 8 games fairly easily against the Pistons and Hawks respectively.
Despite the rocky regular season for Cleveland, it seems as if the Cavs players have let bygones be bygones. They’re sharing the ball and getting open looks for sharpshooters like Kevin Love, Channing Frye, and J.R. Smith.
Not only are the Cavs attempting a boat-load of threes (43 percent of their field goals have been from beyond the arc this postseason), they lead the remaining playoff teams in effective field goal percentage sitting pretty at 56 percent, per NBA reference. eFG% is a stat that takes into account the worth of a 3 point field goal being greater than that of a 2 point field goal.
To put that into perspective, the average eFG% of all teams that made the postseason this year is 49 percent, with the Warriors sitting at 54.5 percent. In fact, the Cavs are the playoff leaders in many offensive categories so far this postseason, including offensive rating and turnover percentage.
The Cavs are moving the ball, and it’s getting their shooters open shots. Check out the ball movement from their first round series vs. the Pistons.
Kyrie Irving and Lebron have been criticized for over dibbling in the past, but so far the team brand of basketball has the Cavilers undefeated through the playoffs. Cleveland has shooters on their team; Kyrie, Smith, Love, Channing Frye, and Matthew Dellavedova, meaning their current style of play is what best suits their personnel.
The Cavs are similar to the Warriors in the way that can have 5 shooters on the floor at any given moment, and they are showing that they will be able to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors if we get the finals matchup we’ve been expecting all year. (Knocks on wood).
What if the shots stop falling from long range for the Cavs in a hypothetical playoff series with the Warriors? Would they go back to their old iso ways?
Don’t get me wrong, the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons are two good defensive teams, but when the Warriors are really locked in on defense, getting a basket is HARD. The Warriors gave up a ton of wide open threes in the semi-finals, but we’ve seen the Warriors defend the 3-point line at an elite level.
The Cavs are obviously a better offense than they were last year at this time, but their new identity could play right into the Warriors’ hands. Playing up-tempo and taking a lot of 3s is what the Warriors would want you to do, and you can’t beat the Warriors at their own game.
Part of the reason the Cavs were able to take the Warriors to 6 games last season is because their defense was upgraded with injuries to Irving and Love. Dellavedova and Tristian Thompson gave Warriors fits in different ways – Dellavedova fought through screens and made life difficult for Curry before he ran out of gas towards the end of the series. Thompson’s rebounding and ability to hold his own when switched onto Curry was also key in defending the MVP.
No matter what rotations the teams choose to use, the likely Finals series will be different than last season’s.
The “If Kyrie and Love were healthy” crowd will finally get a chance to put their money where their mouth is. Cleveland will be coming in with a new coach and a whole new identity to their team. They’ll be coming in playing their best basketball of the season.
Both teams still have to get through the finals conference, but I have a feeling we’re in for an all time great NBA Finals.