2017 NBA Finals: Strengths, weaknesses and myths for the Cavs and Warriors
How they match up with what each team does well, and poorly, headed into the big battle for the title
The 2017 NBA Finals tip off Thursday with Game 1, and by now you know what both of these teams bring to the table. But how do their strengths and weaknesses match up? Here are two strengths, two weaknesses, and two myths for the Cavaliers and Warriors, and how the other team fairs against them.
Strength: Cavs' 3-point shooting
You tend to think of the Warriors as this jump-shooting, splashtastic 3-point barrage squad, and for good reason. They've completely redefined "acceptable range" in the NBA, they have what are probably the three best shooters in NBA history, and have a system designed to empower them to shoot without conscience.
Except the Cavs are that team this year. They have the second-highest percentage of field goals that are 3-pointers, and lead the playoffs in 3-pointers made per game and per 100 possessions. They are No. 1 in 3-point percentage as well. They have revamped the team to be able to hang with the Warriors' offensive output, and the result is this monster 3-point shooting team with not only Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and LeBron James (shooting 42 percent in the playoffs from deep), but J.R. Smith, Channing Frye, and especially Kyle Korver.
The Warriors are eighth in 3-pointers allowed per 100 possessions, middle of the pack in the playoffs but fourth in opponent 3-point percentage allowed, allowing just a 32 percent mark from deep. That said, they have faced the two-trick pony Blazers, the weapons-limited Jazz and the Kawhi-less (and offensive-threat-limited) Spurs. They just haven't faced a team like Cleveland, just like Cleveland hasn't faced anything like what the Warriors bring to the table.
The Warriors' rotations are amazing, however. They can seamlessly help the helper and just keep rotating and challenging, which slows the ball enough for them to get back into position. You almost have to be willing to take a less-than-great look because if you don't it will likely lead to a bad one. That's not an issue with the Cavs who are trigger happy.
Strength: Warriors' slice and dice
Golden State is the No. 1 team on cuts in the playoffs, averaging 16.1 points per game on 12.3 cut possessions per game in the postseason, per Synergy Sports. They move constantly, and find easy buckets all the time. Compare this with their individual offense, and it's stunning. Golden State is one of the worst teams in the playoffs at generating offense on drives, with the second-worst number of made field goals off drives per game and the second-highest turnover percentage on drives.
But get them on cuts, and it's easy money over and over. For comparison, the Warriors average nearly twice as many points off cuts per game in the playoffs than the Cavs do (6.7). Meanwhile, the Cavs give up the sixth-most points per game of all playoff squads off cuts. They just lose guys, still, routinely, even when they were tearing through the Eastern Conference. However, despite giving up all those cuts, they do defend them well, they just give up too many of them. They have the second-best points-per-possession mark on cuts in the playoffs.
What does this mean? It means Cleveland is losing guys routinely, but have a great rim protector in Tristan Thompson and collapse on them. But they give up a ton of duck-ins off drop-off passes where Thompson steps up to contest the driver, and then Kevin Love is unable to protect the rim. This could give Draymond Green and JaVale McGee easy points routinely.
Myth: Warriors' glass jaws
"Crash the glass" has always been an easy area to point to against the Warriors. They play small and have a bunch of skilled wing guys, and even when Green is at power forward, he's undersized. So the idea goes to punish them with second-chance points.
Yeah, that's not happening this year. The Warriors have the second-best contested defensive rebound rate. They are ninth in opponent second-chance points per 100 possessions in the playoffs, not great, but also right next to what the Cavaliers give up. The other thing is that the Cavs have been just an average offensive rebounding team in the playoffs. They're ranked eighth in both defensive rebound percentage and offensive rebounds given up. They're just not in a great position to take advantage of any perceived weakness from Golden State, and the Warriors have been better than the perception anyway.
Now, that doesn't mean it's all fine for the Warriors. If Thompson does damage in those areas, it's going to catch up with the Warriors and tick away at their advantages in other areas. They have to remain sharp in this area.
Myth: Cavs' transition issues
Now, this is kind of a half-myth. The Cavaliers were a horrible transition defensive team in the regular season. They were literally worst in points allowed per possession in the regular season, and 15th in opponent fast-break points per 100 possessions. In the playoffs? They have the third-best transition defensive performance, and the fifth-best opponent mark in fast-break points per 100 possessions allowed.
Meanwhile, you think of the Warriors as this elite transition team, right? And they have the most possessions in transition in the playoffs. But the weird thing? They've been ... bad. They're 12th in transition points per possession, shooting less that 48 percent from the field and even factoring the 3-point attack, their effective field goal percentage (54.8 percent) isn't great.
Is that a small sample issue? A fluke? A weird trend? It's something to watch, but for right now, the Cavs aren't in as much trouble as you'd think when it comes to the Warriors on the break.
Weakness: Cavs' defensive lapses
If you watch the Cavs, you notice that they give up a ton of open looks. It just stands out to you. Celtics fans were aghast at how many good looks they just missed, and not just shots from guys the Cavs wanted to give them to.
The Cavaliers have surrendered the second-most unguarded catch-and-shoot plays per game in the playoffs, according to Synergy Sports. And yet, opponents shot just sixth-worst on them, just a 52.1 effective field goal percentage. So either the Cavs were absolutely masterful at forcing open shots from bad shooters who shouldn't take them, or there was some underperformance from the Cavs' opponents in shooting, or a mix of both. Probably the latter.
Look, some of this has to do with gameplanning. Some of this is related to garbage time. You can find a lot of ways to try and acquit the defense, and there were certainly times when their defensive rotations and effort was great. But there is enough smoke here to frighten you. The Warriors are obviously a fantastic offensive team. They ranked second on shots with a defender four-to-six feet away, and 64.3 percent (eFG) on unguarded catch-and-shoot situations in the playoffs.
By the way, Stephen Curry, widely regarded as the human being best at shooting a basketball to have ever lived, has the fifth-most shots with a defender four-to-six feet away in the playoffs, and has a 62 percent effective field goal percentage. This could go very badly for the Cavs.
Weakness: Golden State's clutch time offense
The Warriors haven't played hardly any minutes in what is regarded clutch time, a five-point game inside five minutes ... when they've been behind. They're so good, they just never trail. They only had one of those games in the playoffs -- Game 1 against San Antonio when they finished off blitzing the Spurs after Kawhi Leonard went down, and we can throw that out of the window. In the regular season, they only trailed in a five-point game inside five minutes 13 times.
Here's where it gets interesting. In those games, needing a comeback, the Cavaliers had the best net rating, points per 100 possessions. The Warriors were 20th, outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions.
This echoes as an ongoing issue for the Warriors. They don't value possessions, and that opens the door to failures in those situations. How does this apply to the Finals?
That behind-the-back turnover from Curry in Game 7? That's an example.
The big takeaway here is that if the Warriors are going to win, it's probably going to be in a blowout. The Cavs, on the other hand are comfortable winning those close games, they're well equipped.
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