Indeed, the belief is that at best LeBron James and the Cavaliers will grab a Game 3 win in a series they lose in five games, as Bron has that one game where he plays completely out of his mind and the Warriors’ shooting isn’t enough on a team level to overcome the performance.
But how can the Cavs make this more like 2016 than 2017 in terms of the outcome? After all, two years ago, they beat a 73-9 Warriors team in the Finals when LeBron turned into 1980 Magic Johnson for three games facing elimination, and this year against both the Pacers and Celtics, LeBron played out of his mind with his back to the wall.
There are three keys to victory for Cleveland to give them a chance to win the series.
Force the Warriors into Isolations
Golden State nearly got outfoxed by the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals when Mike D’Antoni was able to control the matchup choices when the Warriors had the ball.
Kevin Durant shot 9-of-24 in Game 4 and 8-of-22 in Game 5 as the Rockets got back into the series after going down 2-1, and Steph was similarly forced into a lot of bad shots he had to create himself, especially in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors offense, when they’re allowed to ping the ball around, spread the open looks, and get their shooters going, are unstoppable. Cleveland’s 29th-in-Defensive-Rating defense is going to have to do to the Warriors what they did to the Celtics, forcing them to play Dark Ages basketball, settle for bad shots, and commit turnovers as they can’t get their motion offense into motion.
Kevin Love Needs To Step Up
Back in 2016, LeBron had 41 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists facing elimination in Game 5, 41/8/11 in Game 6, and 27/11/11 in Game 7.
Then again, back in 2016, LeBron had Kyrie Irving.
LeBron might be able to muster that sort of Super Saiyan performance again; no sane person would bet against it even as it seems crazy to bet on it.
But who’s going to replace the 90 points Irving scored in those three key games two years ago?
Unless the answer is Kevin Love, the only player on the Cleveland roster who has any kind of consistent offensive game, the Cavs are toast.
The Cavs Need Some Andre Iguodala Injury Luck
The Warriors are simply not the same team without Iggy. He is the spiritual leader of the Hamptons 5 Lineup, the guy who seems to be best able to get the Warriors to play “Warriors basketball”, the guy who you can easily see ending up as a coach when he hangs up his sneakers on his playing career.
No guy the Dubs can plug in, not Kevon Looney, not Shaun Livingston, and especially not Nick Young, has the same ability to light a fire under his teammates when the chips are down; not for nothing did Golden State struggle to hold fourth-quarter leads in the back half of the Houston series.
If Iguodala gets healthy, the Cavs will be lucky to win one game, never mind four. The 2015 Finals MVP might just be the same in 2018 just by being out there.
Even Cavs fans don’t believe their team has a chance. The general consensus is just by getting to his eighth straight Finals, LeBron has secured his legacy, the biggest “just happy to be here” Cavs moment in the Finals since 2007.
But the fact remains, never bet against the GOAT. Let the games begin.