The long-awaited NBA Finals series has finally started. From the NBA’s Eastern Conference you have the Cleveland Cavaliers led by superstar forward LeBron James. The King has carried them so far in the playoffs, averaging 28 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists a game. He has made it happen whenever the team needed something to happen on their way to making the NBA Finals. But not to be outdone, the Golden State Warriors carried their regular season momentum over to the postseason. And despite having a momentary glitch in the matrix against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Warriors put it all back together and continued to roll on their way to the NBA Finals. Golden State was led there by the NBA MVP, Steph Curry. The Chef was cooking in the playoff as he put up 29.6 points per game and hit timely shots each and every series. The components in this one had everything to make it a classic. And Game 1 was not a letdown at all. Both teams slugged it out and we even got some an extra five minutes with overtime. But in the end, the Warriors showed their strength in numbers as they outlasted the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-100, outscoring them 10-2 in the overtime period. The Warriors also debuted their gameplan to stop the Cavs and LeBron James.
All postseason long, LeBron James has been a man on a mission. In the Conference Finals, James averaged 30 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. The man was pretty much unstoppable against the Atlanta Hawks. The Golden State Warriors were apparently watching the series and did their homework. The Warriors coaches saw the domination he exhibited in that series and knew that it was impossible to stop LeBron from putting up points. But the main thing the Warriors committed to in Game 1 was playing him in single-coverage. Early on in the game, Golden State was getting torched by LeBron. He was going in the post and scoring on anyone they put in front of him. He ended up getting 44 points. But the big number was not the amount of points he achieved, but the number of assists he got. James only had 6 assists for the game. LeBron can be a dominant scorer if he wants to be, but he is even more dangerous when he can get his teammates involved in the game. When guys like JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are hitting shots, then the floor gets even more wide-open and that can make things even more treacherous for an opponent of the Cavaliers. But by guarding LeBron honestly and not giving any help towards LeBron, it made the rest of the Cavs innocent bystanders in the carnage LeBron left on the court. And it also made LeBron a scorer and not a playmaker. When LeBron gets roughly 8-10 assists, the Cavs are moving the ball better and teams are at their mercy. But when he is scoring and shooting the ball as many times as he did (38 shots), the offense becomes stagnant and that is basically putting it in the hands of LeBron James to beat an entire team. And in the end, James ran out of gas. His teammates were less engaged in the offense because of the isolation basketball that happened over the course of the game. And finally, the gameplan of the Warriors took effect and allowed them to cruise to a win in overtime.
But not only was the gameplan to single-cover LeBron, but it was to also rotate bodies on him all game long. The moniker of the Warriors was “Strength In Numbers” and it certainly was the thing that wore down LeBron the entire game. Instead of the Warriors having one player on LeBron James all game, they used a combination of Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes to guard the best player in the NBA. And over time, the combinations wore on him. The Warriors players may have been getting lit up for a while by LeBron, but they made him work hard for every basket. Pretty much all of his baskets were contested the entire game. LeBron was hitting those shots with regularity at the beginning of the game as he went in the post and would also drive to the basket and hit some floaters. But as the game went on, the gas in his tank was waning down. The shots that he was hitting earlier in the game began to fall short and the layups he was getting at times began to turn into tough jump shots that were wide left, wide right and coming up short. LeBron just looked like the gas meter was on empty as he went to work in overtime. His lift seemed to not be the same on any of his shots and he just could not get it going for whatever reason. And with Kyrie out of the game in the overtime period, there was not another player that could make anything happen out there. The Cavs were sunk and there was not anything Cleveland could do to fight that ending they were about to be a part of. The strength of the numbers weighed heavy on the crown of The King.
Going forward, expect the Warriors to continue to stand pat with the single-coverage on LeBron. If he gets his points taking it at them, then the Warriors are willing to live with that. But like any game in a series, it takes on its own identity and pattern. The Warriors flexed their depth on the Cavs and Cleveland could not stand up to it. There will be adjustments made but the depth and single-coverage on LeBron James will be something to continue to monitor as the series wears on. And the biggest thing to keep up with come Sunday will be the adjustments made for Cleveland to get LeBron James not only on point scoring but in the playmaker department as well.