A week into making that bold prediction that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the NBA Finals in seven games over the Golden State Warriors, I’m back with a bruised ego—not really—and a table full of humble pie staring right at me. The first three games went about as expected, that is if I had picked the Warriors to run the table on its way to a 16-0 postseason record and a second NBA championship in three years. But no, I picked LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the Cleveland Cavaliers to win this year and I have a lot to be accountable for.
So what exactly has gone wrong for the Cavs in the first three games of the Finals? Do you have some time? It’s a very long and frustrating list.
Cold on those threes
It’s hard to win a game against the Golden State Warriors even if you’re making your threes. Imagine how difficult it is if you go cold from the three-point line, shooting at less than 30 percent while averaging more than 30 attempts per game. Oh, wait. You don’t have to imagine it because that’s what’s been happening to the Cavs. For a team that’s supposed to be stockpiled with shooters, they picked an awfully bad time to go cold from long distance.
What happened to crashing the boards?
I touched on this as one of the keys to a Cavs win, and I certainly don’t take solace in being proven right here because the Cavs have been getting beaten on the boards throughout the first three games of the Finals. If Steph Curry is averaging close to 10 rebounds per game and Tristan Thompson has 11 for the entire series, that doesn’t equate to winning the battle of the boards.
Tristan Thompson = MIA
I refuse to acknowledge the outright ridiculousness of the Kardashian Kurse (or whatever the hell it’s called), but whatever Thompson’s doing these days, he’s not doing enough on the court. This is the same guy who averaged a double-double in last year’s Finals and was seen as one of the most important players for the Cavs heading into this Finals. So what has he done to validate those claims? He’s gone scoreless in two of the three games and has yet to grab more than five rebounds in a game. While we’re here, let’s get to the really messy part about Thompson’s Finals outing so far. The dude is averaging 2.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game while playing 22 minutes per game. If that doesn’t qualify as MIA, I don’t know that will.
Supporting guys have contributed little to the cause
A big part of Cleveland’s comeback against the Warriors last season was helped in large part by steady contributions from the other guys. JR Smith was instrumental. Iman Shumpert supplied good minutes guarding Steph Curry. Richard Jefferson was useful for long stretches. This year, none of those guys have made consistent contributions, and even the mid-season pick-ups by GM LeBron James—Deron Williams and Kyle Korver—have not risen to expectations.
Defensive lapses left and right
The Cavs are being written off because of how bad their defense has been throughout the Finals. They’ve had some stretches where they’ve been able to slow down the Warriors, but by and large, we’ve seen too many open back-door cuts, going under on screens, and confused switching. All in all, there was a general defensive carelessness. They could survive with these lapses against any other team, but not against the Golden State Warriors, because the results have been downright disastrous.
Kevin Durant is on a mission
Sometimes, even if you’re on your A-game, there comes a point in time where a great player validates his greatness in the biggest stage imaginable. We’re at that point now with Kevin Durant. Say what you will about his decision to join the Warriors, but from a purely basketball point of view, it’s hard to argue that he made the wrong decision leaving Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder for the basketball nirvana in the Bay. This is Kevin Durant in full bloom, folks. He’s turning in one of the most impressive NBA Finals runs in recent memory, and he’s doing it through a mix of efficient shot-making, all-world defense, and a seamless transition to Golden State’s juggernaut of an offense. If we thought that we had seen the best of KD, we were wrong. What we’re seeing now is the best version of Kevin Durant we’ve ever seen. And that’s just plain scary.