This offseason the Golden State Warriors added superstar forward Kevin Durant to their team. Theoretically, this made last season’s historically great squad virtually unbeatable, as they added one of the three best players in the sport.
“Unbeatable” against 28 of their 29 opponents that is.
There is simply no plausible way to stop a team with not only the three best shooters in the game, but also possibly three of the 10 best shooters of all time. Durant replaced Harrison Barnes from last year’s team, who was just a role player. Durant has made the Warriors an offensive juggernaut that can score 120 points on a nightly basis, and beat teams by more than 20 points on their off-days. There are nights I watch this team and think that there is no way a team can beat them in a seven game series.
When adding Durant though the Warriors had to sacrifice one of their greatest assets, their bench. After the Warriors added Durant the team had to part ways with bench-players Leandro Barbosa, Maresse Speights, Festus Ezeli and Brandon Rush; all of which played a key role during last season’s 73-9 regular season, or during their run to the NBA Finals. The Warriors also had to let go of starters Barnes, who was replaced by Durant, and Andrew Bogut, who’s impact on the team went way beyond the numbers on the stat sheet. Bogut was really the team’s lone capable rim protector, and the Warriors lacked on defense when his services weren’t available in games six and seven of the Finals last year.
With that being said, there is one team that matches up perfectly with them; that team is the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
I know that the Warriors just blew out the Cavs on national T.V. back on Jan. 16, but in my opinion that game meant nothing. In fact, most games in the regular season mean nothing. There were rumors that the Cavs’ main players were going to sit out that game to rest, but when they did end up playing they certainly did not bring their true focus or intensity. The entire Cavs team looked like I thought they were sleep walking. Despite that, this Cavaliers team is the perfect matchup for Golden State.
Most of the numbers point to the Warriors being a better team than last year, and in a lot of ways they are. The Warriors actually lead the league in defensive efficiency this season (points allowed per 100 possessions) with a rating of 101.1. The Warriors also lead the league in offensive efficiency as well with 113.4 rating. Replacing Barnes with Durant has not only made the Warriors a better team offensively, but it has also made the Warriors better as a defensive unit. Durant’s length and athleticism makes the Warriors team defense downright scary. They can play their death lineup, which is known for its small ball while having the 6’11” Durant on the floor. Durant is a big reason the Warriors not only lead in defensive efficiency, but they lead in steals and blocks per game. The trio of Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green has terrorized teams all season long.
With all of that being said, Cleveland does negate nearly every one of Golden State’s strengths.
Reason #1: Negating the Warriors’ team defense
While Golden State is a good at rotating and playing good team defense, you can take advantage of individual matchups, particularly the matchup at point guard with Stephen Curry having to guard Kyrie Irving, who is the best isolation scorer in the game. Even if the Warriors try to avoid this matchup, they can’t. The Warriors switch every ball screen not involving their center, so Curry will end up guarding either Irving or James for long stretches of the game like he did last year when the Cavs simply abused him on that end of the floor. The Cavs isolation heavy attack also takes away the Warriors great team defense because it limits the amount of opportunities there are to force a turnover in the possession. The Cavs simply attack matchups when playing Golden State and they don’t run many designed offensive plays that the Warriors can disrupt; and if the Warriors try to help Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson and the newly acquired Kyle Korver, they are more than capable of hitting catch and shoot threes consistently. The Cavs should be able to attack the Warriors defense with great success.
Reason #2: Slowing down the Warriors’ fast-paced offense
The Cavs isolation heavy attack also impacts how the Warriors run their own offense. When the Cavs are isolating Curry and scoring on him it wears him down throughout the game and the series, and it also takes Golden State out of what they do best, running their offense in transition. The Warriors are the best in the league at capitalizing off of their opponents’ turnovers. They also do a great job of getting into their fast break offense after a missed shot because the defense is usually out of position. When the Cavs are just isolating certain matchups they take away the transition game because everyone is in position to defend against the fast break since they’ll usually have three players already running back on defense as the shot goes up. The Warriors do not have the players to guard LeBron or Irving throughout a seven game series. Last year, we watched Irving abuse Curry possession after possession. What makes you think this year will be any different?
Reason #3: Winning the battle on the boards
Lastly, the Cavs can manhandle the Warriors on the glass and get second chance points. The Warriors are not one of the league’s biggest teams, and they do give up some height against virtually every team, but not every team has Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love attacking the glass. With Bogut and Ezeli last year the Warriors couldn’t keep Cleveland off the glass, and now with Zaza Pachulia manning the middle along with “Shaqtin’ a Fool” star JaVale McGee it’s going to be a far greater challenge. Love and Thompson are not only two of the best rebounders in the game, but they are also very physical players who can bully the Warriors small front line. Thompson averaged 10 rebounds per game in last year’s series, and Love grabbed 14 rebounds in the all-important game seven, which was a very big part of why the Cavs were able to win that game.
I’m not saying you should just give the Cavs the title; the Warriors are the most talented basketball team I’ve ever seen. In basketball though matchups can often dictate the outcome of a series, and I believe that the Cavs are the perfect matchup for this Warriors team. They have the tools to expose the Warriors’ weaknesses in a way no other team can. Negating their team defense, slowing down the game’s pace and winning the rebound battle is the way to beat this team. I think this series will go seven games in June and I can’t wait to see it, and if it does go seven games, one team has LeBron and the other team doesn’t. I’ll take LeBron in a game seven over anyone.