With the Warriors’ straightforward 122-103 over the Cavaliers in Game 2, Golden State are well on their way to the sweep many people saw coming.
Through the two games, we’ve seen the star players for both sides perform at a high level. LeBron James efficiently toying with triple-doubles, Steph Curry hitting threes you can’t even make in video games and Draymond Green playing destructive defence.
Even Kevin Love has shrugged off a concussion and a poor Eastern Conference Finals series to chip in a pair of 20/10 games.
While Golden State obviously has the better core group of players, there is also a stark difference in the performances of the role players on both sides. The Warriors have been able to call on a host of bench players to come in a make meaningful contributions.
Shaun Livingston has been excellent in around 16 minutes a game and is yet to miss a shot in the series – he’s currently 9-9. He’s provided solid defence with an ever-reliable midrange jumper that adds a useful dimension to the Warriors’ offence when some of their stars are sitting.
Their bigs – JaVale McGee, Jordan Bell and Kevon Looney – have all given Steve Kerr quality minutes. While their playtime is always in flux, each one of them provides a burst of energy and capitalise when they get set up for easy baskets. Sure, they each have some obvious weaknesses, but they’ve made up for it by knowing their roles, executing the scheme and hustling on each possession.
Speaking of knowing your role, someone needs to remind the Cavaliers’ Jordan Clarkson that he’s not a good basketball player and shouldn’t be shooting every single time he gets the ball. He’s had a horrible playoff run plagued by inefficiency.
Indeed, he is the very definition of an offensive black hole – all ball movement ceases once he gains possession, and a bricked, highly contested shot invariably follows.
Jeff Green, one of the heroes against the Celtics, was always going to be a key part of this series for better or worse. As one of the few Cavs who has the potential to put up decent offensive numbers, he needed to be firing for them to have a chance.
Unfortunately, he’s responded to the challenge by putting up 7 and 6 points in the two games on poor shooting percentages.
Notably, he continues to miss his threes, shooting 1-8 from the series. The sad part is that a lot of them are good catch-and-shoot looks on the end of James’ passes. If a couple of those open shots go down in Game 1, we’re probably looking at a tied match-up heading back to Cleveland.
Then there’s JR Smith. His blunder in Game 1 has been talked to death and will continue to be discussed until the end of time, but aside from that, he’s given the Cavaliers next to nothing offensively. His three-point shot needed to be falling to make him a useful player, but he’s another guy that just can’t find his touch when he needs it most.
It’s tough to justify giving him playing time, but then again, they don’t have many better options, particularly on defence.
As for the other Cleveland players, Kyle Korver is too poor defensively to see much court time against Golden State, Larry Nance Jr is providing good hustle but is literally useless on offence and I don’t think Rodney Hood even exists anymore.
At this point, Cleveland’s trades are looking bad. George Hill has been a solid if unspectacular piece, but the rest of the players (Clarkson, Nance and Hood) are just so flawed. With only the eighth pick in the draft to go along with this mess, I can’t blame LeBron when he skips town in the offseason.
Of all the bench guys in the series, I’d like to see the Cavs’ Cedi Osman see some more minutes. He got a brief appearance in Game 2, but in theory should provide some solid defence with the ability to at least take advantage of open opportunities on offence, something the Cavs are missing.
Ty Lue doesn’t seem to like playing Osman, though, as the rookie has barely seen the court during the playoffs after a decent regular season. I’m guessing that he just doesn’t have faith that Osman can execute their schemes.
If things continue like this, this series is coming to a very quick and boring end. Heading into Game 3, Cleveland is desperately looking for a couple of role players to hit their stride and start contributing on the scoreboard.
Green and Smith need to combine for at least 30 points for the team to have a chance, as the odds that James drops another 50 points while Kevin Durant struggles from the field (the scenario in Game 1) are slim.
I just can’t see it happening, though. There’s a reason that the Cavaliers have struggled so much in a playoff world without Kyrie Irving: the team just isn’t that good outside of their top two guys. Inconsistency has plagued them every step of the way, and James’ magic isn’t enough at this stage.