After the Cleveland Cavaliers breezed and blitzed their way through the Eastern Conference, they were on top of the world. They were in line for another lengthy rest, had lost just 2 of 14 playoff games and the decision to promote Tyronn Lue seemed to have finally paid off, as the Cavs were playing like a team that were ready to take home the Larry O'Brien trophy.
But then something happened. The Cavaliers left the ultra cozy confines of the Eastern Conference, entered the Roaracle and are now heading back to Cleveland, heads down, facing a task that 90% of teams that have attempted it in the Finals have failed at. It's pretty clear that the Eastern Conference is incredibly weak in comparison to the gauntlet of the West. Many have made the assumption that the Cavs are just products of the East and they aren't as good as their placing in the NBA hierarchy suggests.
I happen to have a different theory as to why the Cavs have been absolutely destroyed through two games by the Warriors. I believe that the Cavs are more than talented enough to beat the Dubs, that the Cavs may even have the pieces to win this series and that Golden State haven't played well enough to win both games so far. I also believe that the man responsible for this dramatic collapse so far is Tyronn Lue.
Lue was hired at mid-season, taking over from David Blatt for a variety of reasons, but mainly because Blatt wasn't able to connect with the locker room. For all of his criticism, his Xs-and-Os were sound, as were his lineups and various other things of this nature. But still, Cleveland made the decision to turn over the reigns from a man that was 30-11 mid-way thru his second season, to an unproven assistant.
In comparison to Blatt's 30-11, Lue went a 27-14, ever so slightly worse, but still a decrease nevertheless. There were some question marks raised, but the NBA world avoided these and gave him the benefit of the doubt -- something David Blatt never got by the way. In the playoffs the Cavs' decision seemed brilliant, they swept through the first two rounds, before disposing of Toronto in six. During those 14 games, Lue was at his peak. He got the ball moving in a largely static offense, had the Cavs playing better defense and finally seemed to have Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and LeBron all playing together.
But these Finals have proven to be too much and a massive step up from the pitifully weak East.
Unlike the previous three rounds, Lue has been shown stuff by Golden State he has never seen as coach. He has been forced to make adjustments that the Raptors, Hawks and Pistons never forced him to make. Above all, he has actually been forced to coach, once again, something the East has protected him from.
Lue has been destroyed in this series, with Steve Kerr eating him for breakfast lunch and tea. Coach Lue has been caught out under-thinking highly complex in-game adjustments, while the rest of the time, he has over-thought everything else. Basically, everything that could've gone wrong for Lue has and now he faces the toughest job of all: climbing out of the whole he has dug, while doing it on the NBA's biggest stage, while leaving no room for error. One more slip-up -- especially at home -- could cost them the title for good. Something this franchise will try desperately to avoid.
I'm sure the Cavs aren't going to roll over, but my goodness, with Ty Lue in charge anything could happen.
For those of you now wondering what the hell he did wrong, I'll explain exactly what he did wrong in 4 concise categories:
When I said concise, I should've also said broad, because Lue got every single thing wrong in this game.
But I'll start out with the crown jewels: defense.
The saying, 'defense wins championships', is always true. You won't find too many instances in which a team wins a championship without a good to great defense. The Cavs obviously haven't taken any look back into NBA history, because their defense has been atrocious. You can blame the players' effort and intelligence all you want, but the ultimate blame lies on the shoulders of Tyronn Lue.
As I illustrated in my series preview, there have been two successful defensive strategies against the Warriors in the Steve Kerr era. There is the switch everything strategy as employed by Oklahoma City which is there to remove as much space as possible and there is the old 'rough up Curry' strategy, that involves blitzing, double-teaming and doing whatever you can to stop Steph Curry from attacking the rim and in theory, stunting the Golden State offense in its tracks. The latter was used by last year's Cavs team during the finals.
So what did Cleveland choose to do this time? Well, they used a combination of both. You'll notice that in both games 1 and 2, the Cavs have switched whenever they've had an opportunity to do so and blitzed every pick and roll that has been ran. As I wrote in my preview, neither of those strategies are viable for this Cavs team. With key players like Kevin Love and Channing Frye, they can't afford to bring their bigs out high on the pick and roll. In addition, those same bigs are too slow to keep up with guards on the switch.
Now, if I, a 15 year old amateur basketball writer, was able to dicipher this before the series even started, surely a professional NBA coach with more than 10 years of NBA playing experience would be able to see this too.
What's even worse is that Lue hasn't even thought to consider that his team is completely unfamiliar with this strategy. Throughout the playoffs and regular season, the Cavs have kept the trapping and switching to a minimum, yet when it comes to the NBA's biggest stage, he decides to fire-test it. The lack of familiarity has come back to bite them in the ass, as time and time again, they have been demolished with far too much ease. Golden State have sliced open their poor communication and inconsistent rotations, mainly because the Cavs have barely had to defend like this at all. Here are a few highlights:
Pretty simple on this one, no one knows who the hell was supposed to rotate on to Barbosa.
Kyrie clearly thought a switch was coming, playing to the gameplan, but LeBron so no reason to. Resulting in a Curry three.
On that one, LeBron wasn't supposed to rotate, Love was, meaning he had to rush over to contest Dray's three but he was like 10 minutes too late. But even then, Irving probably should've rotated over to Draymond to prevent the three due to him being just 5 feet away compared to Love's 20.
Coach Nick got it perfectly with his caption.
Hey, Ty Lue, if you want to win the finals, you should probably employ a defensive strategy that your players know how to carry out.
Here's a thought: LeBron James prior to tonight played just 7 minutes at center all season long. Tonight he played 10 minutes in the role and in that time, the Cavs went at just 0.89 points per possession, while they conceeded 1.5 PPP to the Dubs, according to NBAWowy.com.
Couple of opinions...
1. Why on Earth are you playing a lineup in the finals that you have only tested for 7 minutes before this???
2. Why did they use him there for 10 freaking minutes, when he should've realized after one that it wasn't working!
This is without even considering that Lue played this lineup against the Dubs' lineup of death. Yep, they tried to out-Warrior the Warriors. They used LeBron in the Draymond Green role against Draymond and it back fired horribly. Why on Earth would you try to beat someone at something that they are clearly better than you at? I've used this before, but it's like trying to outduel Gordon Ramsay in a cook off, if you didn't know how to make an omelet.
Why Lue was willing to experiment this wildly, is beyond me. Especially when he wasn't willing to release Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov from their bench coffins until it was far too late in the fourth quarter.
After game one, Ty Lue said that he wanted to jack up the pace in game two, to improve the offense.
Who the hell thinks of this stuff?
Sure, it makes sense that to improve a struggling offense, you'd increase the pace to create quicker looks, with more quality offense. Especially when your offense is as stagnant as the Cavs. But this is without considering the consequences.
He completely failed to realize that the Warriors are far too good at playing fast. They've made a living from being so good at it for two straight years now. Only OKC has been able to out-pace them for any extended period of time and they only did that because they have some incredible athletes on their team.
The Cavs are in no position to play fast against a team like the Dubs. Their key players outside of LeBron are all better suited to playing at a lower pace. While being athletic, Kyrie loves to slow it down, while their glut of bigs make it impossible for them to go small for long stretches without going back to another double-barreled big lineup, because their fours and fives out-number the rest of the roster.
Having that massive group of bigs on the roster playing fast is asking for trouble. Just imagine Kevin Love and Channing Frye having to sprint up and down the court on every single possession. That's brutal on a big team like the Cavs.
With all of these bigs, their defense would suffer with that pace. Their bigs would be almost always out of position, if they even got back in time and they would get killed in transition (which they already have, thanks to the pace).
By increasing the pace, all you are doing is increasing the mayhem. In case you didn't know, the Warriors thrive on mayhem. Their best games this season have been played at a frantic pace in which nobody on either team knows what game they are playing.
This isn't what you want to do Tyronn Lue, trust me.
Plus, although Lue said he wanted to play fast, the Cavs still played at a pretty lethargic pace in game 2. Showing that he can't even get his players to carry out his gameplan, regardless of how faulty it was.
I could talk about offense, but I don't think that's too much of Lue's fault, rather than Golden State's super impressive D. Plus, I need something to write about for tomorrow's article. *Hint* *Hint*.
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