Don’t dismiss the Cavaliers.
Forget J.R. Smith’s mistake at the end of regulation, and forget the fight in overtime. Look past the distractions. What did we really learn from Game 1?
We learned the Cavaliers are better than last year. We learned they’re a real threat to the Warriors. We saw the beginning of a series that probably will go the full seven games. Not to say the Cavs will beat the Warriors. But this is a serious series.
1. The Cavaliers showed they can play well in Oakland.
They should feel good about where they stand, even though they gave away Game 1. They had the Warriors beaten at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just one playoff game since Kevin Durant joined the team.
Friday afternoon, the NBA announced Draymond Green committed a lane violation the officials didn’t call when George Hill missed the final free throw during regulation, the one he missed when the game was tied. Hill should have shot another free throw. The officials owe the Cavs a major makeup call down the line. Not that I’m advocating makeup calls.
The Cavaliers are in great shape. Game 1 was meaningless for them — they didn’t have to win their first game on the road. A team isn’t in trouble until it loses at home in a seven-game series. Game 1 was a must-win for the Warriors, just as Game 2 will be for them.
The Cavaliers have to win just one of the four games in Oakland to win the championship. They came close Thursday night.
2. The Cavaliers are better without Kyrie Irving.
Everyone assumed the Cavaliers were dead when Irving demanded a trade and they sent him to the Celtics. Then, everyone assumed the Celtics were dead when Irving injured his knee and missed the playoffs.
Those teams did just fine without him.
Irving is not a winning player. He’s a small shooting guard who can’t guard anybody. He’s one of the worst defenders in the NBA.
Last season when Irving was on the court during the Finals, the Cavaliers’ defensive rating was 109, which would have ranked 25th out of 30 teams in the regular season. They could not defend well enough to beat the Warriors.
This season, the Cavaliers point guard is George Hill, a much better defender than Irving. With Hill on the court during the playoffs, the Cavaliers’ defensive rating is 104.9, which would rank 12th during the regular season. To compare, the Warriors’ defensive rating was 104.2 — only slightly better.
Now, the Cavaliers can defend. And they still can score. They don’t miss Irving’s offense. They don’t need him taking 20 shots a game away from LeBron James. James might be the greatest player of all time — the ball should be in his hands as much as possible.
3. The Cavaliers have a big advantage on the offensive glass.
Teams can’t outshoot or outrun the Warriors in a seven-game series. The Warriors have the best shooters and the best fast-break offense in the NBA.
The only way to beat the Warriors is to slow down the game by dominating the offensive glass, so the opponent has more possessions and opportunities to score than the Warriors.