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NBA Finals 2017: 5 improvements the Cavaliers must make for Game 2

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Cleveland played average basketball and was waxed by Golden State in Game 1. Here’s how the Cavs can improve.

NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t bad against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, despite a 113-91 Game 1 defeat. The game wasn’t close, and we’ll get to what that means about Golden State later. They only hit one fewer three-pointer than the Warriors, outrebounded them by nine, and shot more free throws. It just didn’t matter.

The Cavaliers have to be better in Game 2. Merely not being bad isn’t a sustainable strategy in the NBA Finals, and especially not against the Warriors.

  • The Cavs must limit fast breaks: We’ll talk about this further in a minute, but the reason Kevin Durant and others kept getting wide open dunks is because the Cavaliers kept sticking on the shooters. And the moment they started clogging the lane, those shooters started hitting shots. It’s a no-win scenario. Somehow, Cleveland has to cut into those chances.
  • They need Tristan Thompson to get it together: I thought, at first, that Thompson and Love both needed to terrorize Golden State on the offensive glass. The Cavaliers tried that a bit and they did get eight offensive rebounds from those two (15 total), but it didn’t result in more offensive possessions. That’s a huge, huge problem. Cleveland won’t be as efficient as Golden State, so they need more possessions, and they also need to cut down those fast break layups. The answer has to be Kevin Love getting back quicker and Thompson alone crashing the glass. But then for that to work, Thompson has to be way better than he was in Game 1. His zero-point, four-rebound game in 22 minutes simply won’t cut it.
  • Cleveland should slow things way down: Iman Shumpert pulling up for long twos with 16 seconds on the shot clock isn’t going to beat the Warriors. If every possession needs to be worked until there’s five seconds left, so be it. The Cavaliers have to get their best possible shots and limit Golden State’s chances.
  • The bench has to find its moments: Richard Jefferson scored nine points, Dahntay Jones had seven points (all in garbage time), and Iman Shumpert managed five points. That was it for the bench — zero from Kyle Korver, nothing from Deron Williams, and nada from Channing Frye (who was a DNP-CD). Some timely offense buoying the offense in LeBron’s brief absences is crucial.
  • LeBron James has to be better: We live in a world where James can record this line — 28 points, 9-of-20 shooting, 15 rebounds, eight assists, and two blocks — and it’s not nearly enough. But in this world, things aren’t fair for James, who finally brought Cleveland a championship and now is being thrown even tougher challenges. James put up stats, but even the eye test will verify he was not at his best. That’s where James will need to be the rest of the series — his best, and not a smidgen less.

The Warriors at their best might be impossible to beat

Once in the first half, despite seven days off coming into Thursday, the camera lingered on James after something went against the Cavaliers. He actually looked tired, which is the furthest thing you’d expect from someone we basically view as a superhuman basketball playing machine at this point. He actually looked exhausted.

It probably wasn’t physical exhaustion, no more than he usually faces. James was just tired because for the third straight year, he remembered how impossible it is to play against this team. When the Warriors are playing their best, you can do the same and still lose. When they’re good, you still can’t make mistakes to win. When they’re bad, you still might lose, just because they have several players who can hit half a dozen threes in just three minutes if everything goes right.

The Warriors are overwhelming, and James is remembering it again.

Of course he’s already tired by the thought.

Three more games of *that* Warriors team, and we’re going home in a sweep. Now, we may not get that Warriors team three more times — in fact, we probably won’t. But that specific Warriors team we saw on Thursday? And Klay Thompson didn’t even shoot well, either? I don’t know how Cleveland or anyone else beats it.

Here’s the rest of this article.

Why Kevin Durant had 2 dunks so wide open it looked like a layup line

You have to leave open three-point shooters. You have to. Defenders make calculated decisions to help into the paint defensively in exchange for their man possibly getting an open three-pointer.

But the Golden State Warriors are the first team that is really changing that dynamic.

Here’s the problem: The Warriors don’t just have a single sharpshooter you have to cover, like the Kyle Korver and Steve Novak types of the past decade. They have three of them, all in the starting rotation, and a fourth player who can handle the ball while they spot up. When Draymond Green’s initiating the offense at the top of the key, can you blame the Cavaliers for sticking to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant like glue?

It’s an understandable reaction. It has also led to ... uh, this:

For more gifs of Kevin Durant in the wide open court, here’s the article.

Mike Brown, Warriors head coach, is also getting paid by the Cavs.

In 2013, Mike Brown was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers on a five-year deal reportedly worth $20 million. Brown was fired one year later and replaced with David Blatt, who lasted only a season-and-a-half. Due to Brown’s guaranteed contract, though, he is still being paid by the Cavs.

Brown took two years off from coaching basketball before signing as the lead assistant for the Golden State Warriors in 2016. He replaced the outgoing Luke Walton and was hired with the knowledge that he might need to fill in for Steve Kerr, who continues to face health problems after complications from back surgery.

Those complications arose again, and Brown has been the acting head coach for the Warriors since Game 3 of the first round. While Kerr could return in the finals, Brown is leading on the sidelines in Game 1. And while under contract for the Golden State Warriors, he’s still getting money from the Cavaliers as part of his 2013 deal.

3 more lessons from Game 1

How Draymond Green and Kevin Durant protect Stephen Curry on defense

One of the biggest keys to the the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals 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).

Rihanna was the best part of Game 1

The game never got better of course, as the Cavaliers lost 113-91. But Rihanna’s ballin’ ass night wasn’t over — it’s never over until she says it’s over.

The best way to watch Game 1 was following along with our live blog.

KIZITO MADU 11:24:15 PM EDT

This is like Ivan Drago losing once and coming back with his friends to beat up Rocky.

Every other Game 1 moment worth noting

That’s it. That’s everything that happened in Game 1 that you should know about.

Game 1 final score

Warriors 113, Cavaliers 91 (Golden State of Mind recap | Fear the Sword recap)