The NBA Finals have n0t gone as planned for the Cleveland Cavaliers. When the season began, hope sprung eternal that they would be able to stay healthy and make it back to the NBA Finals. Well, they made it back to the NBA Finals and so did their opponent from last year, the Golden State Warriors. But things were thought to be different this year for the Cavs. They were full strength this time, having the services of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. And with those two, many expected the Cavaliers to give Golden State more of a run for their money. After all, they went up 2-1 in last year's NBA Finals with just LeBron healthy. But unfortunately for Cleveland, things have not worked out as planned. The Cavaliers have been on the receiving end of two blowouts and head home with not many having hope that they can make this a series. The Cavaliers have been dominated in every facet of the game and many have spoke on the adjustments they can make to be competitive in this series. All of those adjustments that have been mentioned sound good, but one player has to step up and play better and his name is LeBron James.
To his credit, he acknowledged that he has to be better for the Cavaliers in the press conference after Game 2. But in being better, there are a few adjustments that he has to make. In last year's NBA Finals, he knew that he had to score and that made him a more aggressive player. He may not have shot the ball as well as he wanted, but his aggressiveness opened up a lot more things for his teammates. But with everyone back this season, it seems that aggressiveness has been dialed back in favor of him trying to be a facilitator and get everyone involved. When catching the ball in the post or at the top of the key, it seems like he is trying to look for teammates more. And while being a good teammate is fine, LeBron would be better served being more aggressive. For example, in Game 2, he had some switches happen to where he got Steph Curry in the post one-on-one. In those switches, he has to punish Curry in the post. But instead, he is looking around to see where the mismatch is around him. He ended up passing the ball back out with that mismatch happened. There is no way he should ever kick the ball back out in that situation at all unless he is trying to repost on Curry after the first time of trying him in there. This is just one example of him being passive instead of relentlessly aggressive. For the Cavs to win, he has to be that aggressive guy he was last NBA Finals instead of the guy he has been to start this season. If he continues to play this way, then the Cavs stand absolutely no chance. If he is aggressive and attacks the Warriors, that will open up more things for his teammates because of the attention he will receive from Golden State. And that ultimately will be better for them than him playing like he wants to be a facilitator out there.
But there LeBron not only needs to make an adjustment offensively, but defensively as well. LeBron is a good defender on the court. His size, speed and length make LeBron a guy that is capable of guarding multiple positions. And in this series, the Cavaliers have been switching on a lot of screens and he has had to guard multiple positions. But in doing so, it has put some of his teammates in some interesting positions. And yes, that has allowed them to get taken advantage of defensively at times. But at other times, it is LeBron that is the guilty party defensively. The first mistake is made by his teammates sometimes in regards to allowing someone to penetrate down the middle of the lane. But the next mistake is all on LeBron. He goes down and helps his teammates, but in doing so he leaves someone wide-open for a three pointer or a layup. LeBron has overhelped in this series time and time again and along with the miscommunications on defense, he has helped contribute to the points Cleveland is giving up. For him defensively, he has to realize who he is helping off of. The Warriors cut to the rim better than any team they have faced so far in the playoffs and they move the ball better too. LeBron has to realize that he cannot only not overhelp, but he should not overhelp at all. That is just bad defense when he does so. On one play, he completely left his man to help on a drive by Andre Iguodala after Iman Shumpert allowed him a drive down the middle of the lane. Shumpert was in good position and could have recovered, so he really did not need LeBron to help at that point in time. But instead, LeBron overhelped and left Draymond Green wide open for an easy three-pointer. That kind of defensive play is hurting the Cavs as much as the missed assignments are.
The Cavaliers are in the hole, down two games. And no matter if that is fair or not, the onus falls on LeBron James to lead his team back. For Cleveland, the offense needs to begin and end with LeBron James. And when it does, he needs to set the tone by attacking Golden State relentlessly and allowing everyone else to follow his lead. Defensively, he needs to trust his teammates to be able to do their jobs and not feel he has to be Superman for them all the time there. When he overhelps, that allows Golden State to get wide open layups or three-pointers. The Cavs need LeBron to play to the level he did in Game 6 versus Boston in 2012. LeBron scored 45 points that night and was extremely efficient. He probably cannot be as efficient as he was in that game (shot 73% in that game), but he can be that aggressive again. But does he show up with that type of mentality is the question. For Cleveland's sake, they better hope so.
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