The Golden State Warriors are the 2015 NBA Champions, they closed the deal last night on the road in Cleveland despite another herculean effort from one LeBron James. As a member of the Miami Heat, LeBron was huge part of small ball and knew what it was capable of on his way to two titles. Steve Kerr used his version of small ball during this title run and his decision to stick with it changed the series. The Warriors won their first title in the last 40 years by outlasting the desperate Cavaliers 105-97. Winning the series four games to two.
The Warriors version is scary not only because all five players on the floor can handle the ball and pass, but they can all hit the long ball. That really puts added stress on any defense, even more so when you have one of the best three point shooters to have ever played the game on the floor. Andrew Bogut started the first three games of the series before going to the bench in place of Andre Iguodala. Golden State used the lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Iggy, and Draymond Green to get the job done.
While the Cavaliers were missing two of their better players in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, they still had a size advantage over the Warriors. They also had the best player in the world on their side in James. He played up to that title during this series, turning in gargantuan efforts every night just to keep the games competitive let alone win them. He shouldered a huge load on those broad shoulders of his, still he tried to will his bunch to victory. He did lead them to two big wins and carried them to that point in several other games, but he nor his team as a whole could get it done.
Of all the gifts and skills he possesses as a player, his greatest may be the ability to elevate the play of his teammates. He had to shoulder more of a scoring load than in past years due to the injuries and partly to the Warriors game plan. The goal was to make the best player in the game today take tough shots, limit the ‘others’ and live with the result. While he wasn’t his usual efficient self, Lebron put up outstanding numbers in a losing effort this series.
One of the main reasons for the change to Golden State’s lineups if not the reason, was because Iggy did the best job of guarding James or at least making it tough for him of all the Warriors. When you look at those numbers in the table above, it’s very easy to dismiss that any defense or resistance was extended towards LeBron. It’s all about the efficiency, this is a player who is shoots 49.6% from the floor for his career. Limiting or harassing him enough into shooting just 39% went a long way for Golden State.
Outside of the talent issue between the two teams (with the Cavs missing Irving & Love), sheer depth played a pivotal role in this series. One team could only really good seven players deep, while the other could legitimately get production going 10 deep.
The Warriors used that depth to their advantage, often surging ahead in the latter games in the series when their second unit was on the floor. Last night, Festus Ezeli gave good production in his time as did Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa. Steve Kerr could pick and choose players as needed, more importantly giving Steph and Klay rest as needed.
As for Cleveland, they could ill afford for James to get rest. He did a great job through the course of the series finding creative ways to steal a quick breather, during play reviews or other stoppages. The load he had to carry was not only big, but necessary as Cleveland needed him to do everything he was capable of every night to be in the game.
Back to Iggy, the veteran wing’s defense wasn’t all he brought to the party. He brought his versatile offensive game as well, his ability to make plays for others, knock down open shots and run the floor. He upped his regular season average of seven points a game to 16.3 points a game on his way to winning Finals MVP. It seemed that Cleveland’s gameplan on the defensive end was to harass Steph and Klay. Ideally if Golden State was to beat them, it would be Iggy and Draymond Green to do it. Unfortunately for the Cavs, the plan backfired as Iggy and Green were able to make plays when needed.
As for the newly crowned NBA MVP, his mere presence opened up space for his teammates. The Cavaliers had a tough decision to make, just as the Warriors did when their best player had the ball. Curry is arguably the greatest three point bomber off the dribble ever, the fact that it’s off the dribble is what makes it such a tall task to defend him. He doesn’t have an average handle, but an elite handle so it’s hard enough to stay in front of him let alone get a good contest In pick-and-roll situations, Curry was outstanding in this series. Always drawing at least two defenders, with the way his teammates moved the ball, that first pass out of the double team was key.
He started the series slow, some thought it was because of the defense of Matthew Delladova. In a couple of interviews after the game, Curry mentioned the importance of just ‘playing his game’ and ‘impacting the game whether he scores 15 or 50’. While most will look at his scoring numbers, his ability to just run his team and not forcing the issue was key at times as well. Especially when he’s the focal point of the defense, his team is just a couple of passes away from high quality shots.
Lastly, the defense played by both teams in this series was impressive. The Cavs had to slow the game down and play good defense just to stay in it, the Warriors used their number one ranked defense to key runs that changed several games. Couple their tough defense with the fact that they play basketball by threes and it’s easy to see just how tall that task was for Cleveland, no matter who was on the floor.
The Warriors were able to finish the job, they won 67 games in the regular season and another 16 in the post season for a total of 83 wins. Only two teams in NBA history surpassed that total, both of which were Chicago Bulls teams in the 90’s. Steve Kerr was on both of those teams and he coached this one, not bad at all for a rookie coach. It’s Kerr’s sixth ring total and the Warriors fourth as a franchise.
The 2015 NBA season has come to a close, but don’t worry, we’re just a week away from the draft and a month away from Free Agency.