Golden State Warriors should sweep, but lucky to lead Kyrie-less Cavs

Golden State Warriors (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Golden State Warriors (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The Golden State Warriors are extremely lucky to have the opportunity to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2018 NBA Finals.

The Golden State Warriors were very fortunate to be in a position to win Game 3 of the 2018 finals.

The game was kept close by a free throw disparency, ankle injury to LeBron James, and non-called 2nd technical foul to eject Draymond Green, all in the first half. NBA fans were robbed of an epic duel of its two best players.

Kevin Durant was sensational in Game 3 for the second year in a row to crush the hopes of the Cavaliers’. However, the individual performance of any Warrior must be taken with some grain of salt.

The Cavaliers have to pick their poison against the Warriors offense, at times having the 6’0 George Hill on Durant, just hoping he misses. The majority of a team’s gameplan against LeBron James revolves around stopping him.

The luck of officiating and injuries

The Warriors finished the 1st half on a run to close the gap to six points, shooting 12-13 from the free throw line. The Cavaliers had 0 free throw attempts in the half.

Whether or not the fouls were fair, the Warriors would not have remained in the game without this discrepancy. Closing the half on a run to cut a 12 point lead down to six, is a lot different than bringing a 24 point lead down to 18.

The counter-argument is that the refs called early fouls on Draymond Green, including a technical foul that could matter if the series turns around. Much like how Warriors fans will point to the early fouls on Klay Thompson in Game 1 in response to the later calls that went their way. Except it’s a lot harder to argue a foul in Green’s favor, as demonstrated by former Cavaliers’ center Channing Frye.

Green was actually fortunate not to pick up a 2nd technical early on on the play Frye is referencing.  That would have been an automatic ejection, as well as put him just one technical away from automatic suspension, again.

Officiating and injuries may be seen as excuses at the end of the day, because of their scapegoat associations. But they are what they are, and it’s where skill and luck deviate in the outcome. The Cavaliers would likely not want to exchange a minor setback to James for all the Warriors ongoing injuries combined.

Even with the game close, the Cavaliers’ had little chance with James hobbled by an early ankle sprain. The NBA world was completely robbed an epic showdown of James and Durant. James had no physical choice, but to hope his teammates would carry him to victory, which is a luxury only Durant can afford.

Even the scheduling favored the Warriors

Game 4 will be the only game with one day of rest beforehand, which further hurts the Cavaliers chances. Short rest lowers the chance of the Cavaliers winning because of their sole-reliance on James being available to play the entire game. It’s even worse at home where they really could not afford to lose.

The recovery time is especially important with James appearing to play hurt for most of Game 3. Without that injury, the Cavaliers are looking at a very possible chance of getting back to Oakland tied 2-2. The severity of that injury could be the number one factor for Game 4. Sometimes, athletes are able to play thru an injury the day of, before the inflammation hits the next day.

The Warriors are winning but not surpassing expectations like the Cavs

You cannot really knock James ability or durability on an individual level. It shows how much winning and losing depends on upper management being able to put together a team as competitive as the Warriors.

There is little doubt that the Warriors are the best team in the NBA and way better than the Cavaliers. It took a lot of bad luck for the 73-9 Warriors to collapse in the 2016 finals, and if title-favorites was not already enough, adding Kevin Durant certainly would be.

However, the Cavaliers have proven to be more resilient than expected and the Warriors a little less invincible. Both teams had to win Game 6 and 7 in their respective conference finals, but for the Cavaliers, it was much more of a blue-collar journey.

The same can be said about last year with the Cavaliers one overtime loss in the ECFs being the only playoff loss between both teams leading up to the finals. The Warriors are clearly the better team, but the Cavaliers seem to over-achieve more based on their expectations.

The series has actually been closer without Kyrie Irving

People tend to remember a series by the number of wins and losses, but it does not tell the full story without knowing if a game was close. Game 3 was fairly similar to last year’s result, but Games 1 and 2 were a lot closer.

Last year, it could have been 1-2 instead of 0-3, but this year it could have been 2-1 in favor of the Cavaliers. The most likely difference is actually on the Warriors, but the Cavaliers new-look team deserves some credit for over-achieving.

People will ironically point to the absence of Irving as the key difference between the Cavs losing close games this series, or not escaping with at least one win. The Cavaliers are weaker at the top and still newly assembled, but they are deeper and may match up defensively better against the Warriors with their assortment of new additions.

Sure, depth means more injury insurance, as the Rockets found out this year, but it also requires more maintenance from upper management to resign multiple players.

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The truth is likely that it has been a closer series because the Warriors have been more vulnerable due to injuries and being more isolation-heavy thru Durant. The Cavaliers are less dominant without Irving but more resilient with their depth as a trade-off.

Anyone beyond LeBron James is replaceable, including Irving. With Irving in place of James, the Cavaliers likely do not get past the first round of the playoffs this year, if they even make it at all.

Winners get the benefit of the doubt. The only thing Kyrie Irving has on a comparable player like John Wall is playing on a better team with James. The same applies if the Warriors replaced Klay Thompson with Paul George. And that’s a knock against either of them.

The Rodney Hood showcase

It’s hard to gauge who won the Kyrie trade from this series because the Cavaliers clearly failed to get the most out of Rodney Hood. While with the Utah Jazz, Hood had a 27-point performance against the Warriors this season.

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Hood’s 15-point performance in Game 3 was better than any Irving-replacement (one-trade removed) in the finals so far. Lue had not played him any significant minutes since he refused to enter a game in garbage time against the Raptors.

Despite Hood’s sincere apology saving him from a team fine and general praise of his character. If Lue had not held him out until this point, the series could be entirely different, as could the tune on the Irving trade.

Even the Warriors could use the addition of Hood this summer in free agency to strengthen their array of mid-size talent.

This is not the first player under-utilized in the Cavaliers’ upset bids against the Warriors — Shawn Marion, Channing Fyre, Derrick Williams — but it will be the first time Lue gave them a chance to prove him wrong.

And even if that’s the right thing to do, it could ironically cost Lue his job this summer.

An anti-climatic rivalry

So the NBA world was obviously unhappy by the outcome of Game 1. The Cavaliers felt deserving to win the game in regulation, and the entire landscape of the finals would have shifted.

The Warriors may not have been out of their comfort zone just from the loss alone, but they would have been with striking distance from getting there. It took any pressure off of them for both Game 2 and 3.

And while Durant has continued to hold steady in the finals MVP race, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, who have both been injured this post-season, combined for just 21 points in Game 3. Curry has actually been golfing during the NBA Finals and seemed pretty comfortable about the series en route to a bathroom break during a close Game 3.

The Warriors will have to lose Game 4 and then be playing very poorly at home in Game 5 for them to feel any build-up of the pressure beyond that 4th quarter of Game 1. Because turning around Game 4 and then Game 5 would make the possibility of blowing a 3-0 lead in the finals begin to linger, still fresh from blown 3-1 lead auras.

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But obviously, Game 5 would be a very tall task for the Cavaliers to steal if Iguodala is active now and the Warriors significant injury woes stay behind them.