Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals is in the books and the game is being dissected by millions. The Cavs directed so much attention to Steph and Klay that the “others” killed them. Each team came in with a game plan and because the Golden State won, most people feel the Cavs screwed up. Due to the fact that basketball is a continuous action game (until the league decided to review referees’ calls, anyway) and there are so many possessions, everybody screws up – players, coaches and, as reviews have shown us, occasionally, refs. So there is much discussion to be had when dissecting game plans after games end.
Because the Warriors’ offense was such an aberration of its normal self, people are talking about what the Cavs did and why it didn’t work. Let’s take a deep breath and give some thought before we go down that road. Prior to the game, had someone from the Cavs’ staff told “The All-Knowing One” (obviously a fictional character) what their defensive game plan was and the wise sage told them that, if they employed that strategy, Curry and Thompson would shoot 8-27 from the floor (that the former would have more TOs than FGMs), that neither guy would make a free throw and they’d combine for 20 points, do you think they would consider changing it?
Two things that were natural for me were numbers (eventually I would major in and teach math) and look at (any) game from the coaching perspective (I was the “coach” when we were kids, e.g. when somebody was needed to organize games and make sure everyone was there, then I coached various sports from high school days until I retired from coaching 50 years later). As my coaching philosophy began to take shape, numbers (my own form of analytics) began an integral part. One theory I came up with was based on the two teams that were competing. Seldom are they equal, meaning one has a better chance to win, all factors being the same. Essentially, that’s what home court advantage is all about.
As far as putting together a game plan, here’s where I would begin. “If both teams play to 100% of their effectiveness, which would win?” The point spread for Game 1 (which the wise guys who set it have a goal of evening the money bet either way) had the Warriors as six-point favorites. This meant that, not only did they consider the Warriors the better team, but that playing at home would favor them even more. Therefore, it was up to Cleveland to do something to make Golden State inefficient, while making certain their own level of play didn’t shrink too low, i.e. they had to play at a higher level than their opponent - something that was the exact opposite of every playoff series they had to date.
The Cavaliers coaching staff, in putting together a game plan probably asked themselves what was it that made Oracle Arena really rock? Obviously, the answer is when the Dubs score but, beyond that, when did the building shake more than any other time? If you’ve seen Golden State’s home games like I have (living in Fresno, we get the Bay Area sports station – meaning we get every Warriors’ game, home and away), the decibel level is way up there but never so loud as when Steph or Klay knock down one of their insanely quick “now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t” three pointers. Can anyone blame the staff for thinking items #1 & 2 on the to-do list was find those two – and limit their shot attempts (at the very least, contest every shot they take).
However, the wise old sage said, using that strategy will leave others open. Someone like Shaun Livingston could score 20 points, Andre Igudola could score double figures and even a bench player like Leandro Barbarso could come in and go 5-5 from the floor. In fact, their bench could outscore yours to the tune of 45-10. That’s a huge deficit – but even that could be overcome as long as you limit the points they get off turnovers. Just make sure you’re not so careless that you give up 25 points off 17 TOs.
Armed with all that knowledge, imagine how strongly hearing hold Curry and Thompson to 20 points would resonate with them. Don’t think they might not try to run a similar game plan, of course with a few adjustments, again. The question they need answered following their Game 1 defeat is:
“How do we score more than 89?”