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Warriors bench erupts in Finals for two-game lead on Cavs

livingston.jpg
livingstonIn the first two games of the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors surprised the basketball world with their landslide wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In both games, they brought the Cavaliers to their surrender, even with little contribution from Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors stars known for their tremendous shooting success. This was especially true in Game 1, in which the duo combined for only 20 points on 8-of-27 shooting, their lowest combined scoring in a game all season. Nonetheless, the Warriors still won by 15, boosted by great performances from their bench players, who ended Game 1 with a 45-10 advantage in bench scoring over the Cavaliers. Off the bench, Shaun Livingston stepped up for the Warriors to help win Game 1, scoring 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting. In both games, starting forward Draymond Green was excellent, with a double-double of 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in the first game, and later the star of Game 2 with his shooting. Not normally a very good three-point shooter, Green finished 5-for-8 from behind the arc, and was 11- for-20 overall from the field for a total of 28 points. Last year’s Finals’ MVP Andre Iguodala complimented his offen-sive contribution with outstanding defensive play on Lebron James. The Cavaliers desperately tried to screen Iguodala off of James so he could have an easier chance at scoring. The team’s motto of “Strength in Numbers,” was especially true, implying that if Curry and Thompson are not playing well, then someone like Green, Iguodala or Livingston could step up and the team could still come out with a win in critical games. After the Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in last year’s finals with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love out due to injury, the Cavaliers hoped that they would have a better chance with them back on the team. The Cavaliers also replaced former coach David Blatt, who coached the Cavaliers in last year’s match- up, with current coach Tyronn Lue. Before the finals, the Cavaliers were playing great offensively but were weak defensively—the Warriors took advantage of this weakness. In the finals, the Cavaliers have had no offense as they had been held to less than 100 points in both games and much of it had to do with the effectiveness of the Warriors’ defense. In Games 1 and 2, the Warriors held the Cavaliers to 38 percent and 35 percent shooting, respectively. Many wondered how the Cavaliers could beat the Warriors if they could not even beat them when their two best players were down. In Game 2, when Curry and Thompson played better, a whopping 33-point differential put the Cavaliers away early. James has been the only one to provide any meaningful scoring over both games, though he scored about 20 points less than he did in Games 1 and 2 of last year’s finals. Irving scored 26 points in Game 1 but shot poorly from the field and was nowhere to be seen in Game 2 with a 10-point performance. Love, while having a nice outing in Game 1 with 17 points and 13 rebounds, left in the middle of Game 2 with dizziness after Harrison Barnes ac- cidentally hit him in the head with his elbow while going up for a re- bound. Many expected J.R. Smith and Channing Frye to give the Cavaliers a nice scoring boost, but in both games they combined for only 10 points. James is scoring a lot less because he is taking almost half as many shots as he did in last year’s finals and is not attempting as many free throws. His 19 points in Game 2 ended his streak of 16 straight games in the finals with 20 points or more. Part of the problem is the Warriors’ stifling defense. More importantly, James’ jump shot has significantly worsened at this point in his career, allowing the Warriors to back off of him to defend against a drive to the hoop. Also, when he attacks the rim, he has been looking to pass instead of aiming to shoot. Many have said that he does not look like he wants to nor feels the urgency to win. The Cavaliers’ plan of attack against the Warriors—to play faster with a smaller lineup—unsurprisingly failed, considering that this is exactly what the Warriors succeed at doing. With these two wins, the Warriors set an NBA Finals record for the highest total point differential, 48, in the first two games of the finals. If James and the Cavaliers cannot win this series, then James will have a lot to answer for as he constructed the team the way he wanted it to be. If it fails, it will fall squarely on James’ shoulders. The Cavaliers have a long way to go if they want to win this series given that the Warriors have dominated the Cavaliers thus far. They are the 32nd team in history to go down 2-0 in the finals, and of the previous 31, only three were able to come back. As for the Warriors, it is important that the team remains humble despite recent success. With such dominating wins in the first two games, the Warriors are vulnerable of losing sight of the championship. Going up against LeBron James leaves little room for error, as the Cavaliers are capable of quickly turning this series around. Nonetheless, if the Warriors do indeed clinch the championship, they will undoubtedly go down as one of the best teams in NBA history.

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