We know defending the Warriors is nearly impossible. Buoyed by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors force defenses to cover more space on the court than any team in the league. Eventually, defenses stretch to their limit and break, like a rubber band tied around a bigger stack of papers than it can handle.
The Cleveland Cavaliers learned that harsh lesson in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Shutting Golden State down requires more than slowing Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. It also requires accounting for the cascading series of decisions the Warriors' offense forces upon teams at any spot on the floor, no matter how far from the basket. Defending Golden State is less about stopping individual stars and more about avoiding obvious breakdowns. Those breakdowns cost the Cavaliers more than a dozen points on Thursday night, which is especially excruciating because Curry and Thompson had off nights.
Communication is paramount against the Warriors, yet that communication was too slow on Cleveland's side in Game 1. Switching against Warrior actions is unavoidable. They layer too many screens, split cuts and general player movement to defend otherwise, and their own switching defense forces transition scrambling that requires their opponents to change assignments on the fly.
But there cannot be even a millisecond of indecision on those switches. Otherwise, this happens.
You might say that breakdown can simply be explained by Iman Shumpert slipping. He slipped. It happens. What's the big deal?
But why do you think Shumpert slipped? It's because he was running full speed to stop Curry's cut, then was forced to quickly change direction when LeBron James switched. For whatever reason, James' decision surprised Shumpert and caused a bit of indecision that proved costly. Take a closer look.
It's hard to know which player is at fault because we don't know the exact instructions Tyronn Lue gave, but it's clear Shumpert and James aren't immediately on the same page. It's not enough to think to switch and then react in the moment against the Warriors. Those switches must be second nature.
Otherwise, you risk running two players at one Warrior and leaving a second open. That's how Draymond Green got this open on a common Warriors split action.
Those two breakdowns can at least be explained by the Cavaliers worrying about the threat of Curry. This one, not so much.
The errors were even worse in transition, where the Warriors really stress opponents out. I get it. This is hard. The Warriors switch so much on defense, and that scrambles normal matchups on the other end.
But this still can't happen:
Nor can this:
These four plays alone cost the Cavaliers nine points in a 15-point loss, and there were more breakdowns that add to the tally. On a night where the Warriors' two stars were off, they sting even more.
A major adjustment in planning and execution is needed. In a literal sense, Cleveland was communicating in these examples, but they were communicating in stages. Stage 1 was recognizing the need to switch. Stage 2 was actually doing it. Against most teams, that's fine.
Against the Warriors, it just isn't. They recognize the indecision too quickly and make teams pay. The Cavaliers have to turn the act of switching into a single, automatic, immediate read, much like the Thunder did successfully in the Western Conference Finals. That requires a tighter game plan from Lue and more trust on the court by the players.
Because Cleveland learned a valuable lesson in Game 1: we're not in the Eastern Conference anymore.
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