One of the biggest keys to
the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals the Cavaliers winning the 2016 championship was how they put Stephen Curry through the ringer on defense. Cleveland targeted Curry in pick-and-rolls, forcing him to switch onto LeBron James (not happening) or Kyrie Irving (not great either).
Naturally, the Cavaliers came out in Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals by employing the same strategy. But it failed miserably this time around, and the Warriors came away with a 113-91 Game 1 win.
These two plays from late in the second quarter show why. Golden State shut down Cleveland’s attempts to involve Curry other times, but these two plays were most instructive.
Watch Draymond Green on this first one.
Green is a savant that knows your play before you do.
NEW PRADA'S PICTURES FOR NBA FINALS NIGHT: Draymond Green is a defensive genius unlike we've ever seen. pic.twitter.com/OUIaEoPj11— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) June 1, 2017
And he knew what the Cavaliers were doing here. That’s why he ordered Curry to switch onto Kevin Love and Kevin Durant to tag J.R. Smith. That ruined the Cavaliers’ chances of getting Curry onto LeBron James. Then, when James inevitably threw the lob pass to Love on the mismatch, Green laid in the weeds, helped off Tristan Thompson, and picked it off. It was a textbook example of him thinking several steps ahead.
Golden State can also stop the play more conventionally, too. Watch this sequence from a few possessions earlier.
As Cleveland unleashed their pick-and-roll, Green slid over to help and Durant immediately moved to Green’s man, Thompson. Green was directing traffic before making his move, so the two were perfectly in sync. And because Green and Durant have so much collective length, James wasn’t able to sling the crosscourt pass to an open Love like he normally could.
The Warriors have waited a year to address this major weakness from last year’s Finals. Game 1 shows the fruits of their labor. The Cavaliers may need to find a new strategy.