LeBlueprint: What must happen for Cavaliers to upset Warriors
FILE - CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Cedi Osman #16 of the Cleveland Cavaliers cheer after the game in Game Five of Round One of the 2018 NBA Playoffs between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers on April 25, 2018 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have tumbled through the regular season and throughout the Playoffs, looking more like beneficiaries of Lady Luck rather than a product of supreme basketball engineering.
Nontheless, they have buckled down and defied the odds to make it back to their fourth straight NBA Finals against -- surprise -- the Golden State Warriors. The Dubs have bested the Cavs in two of the last three Finals, and if you ask your friendly neighborhood NBA fan, he/she will probably say the Warriors should have won in 2016 as well.
The question now, of course, is will Golden State romp to their third title in four years, or will we see a legacy-defining performance from the King as he aims for his fourth championship ring?
To be quite honest, the Cavs are extremely heavy underdogs. Most people I know have the Dubs winning in, at most, five games. The regular NBA fan probably wouldn't even be shocked to see a sweep, especially if Kevin Love continues to be sidelined by the concussion protocol and if he never returns to his All-Star-level form.
Still, there are a few things that can still go wrong for Golden State (e.g. Draymond getting thrown out/suspended, Curry re-injuring his ankle, etc.), but, more importantly, there is a handful of things that Cleveland can try to do to maximize their chances of springing an historic NBA Finals upset.
1) Cavs have to make > 35% of their threes.
Right now, Golden State is shooting 35.2% from beyond the arc, though the eye-ball test will probably give you the impression they're shooting in the high 50s. On the other end, Cleveland is shooting under 34% from rainbow country. Surprisingly, that's not too far off from the Dubs' clip, but the Cavs MUST shoot much better than the Warriors from long distance. That doesn't necessarily mean that Cleveland should engage Golden State in a shootout, but at the very least, coach Ty Lue's wards must make those open shots from the parking lot count no matter how many looks (or how few) they get.
2) Cavs have to average < 12 turnovers per game.
One key stat is turnovers. The Cavs actually average slightly fewer turnovers than the Dubs, and that's something LBJ and his posse have to maintain or build on. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that Cleveland is not as deep or explosive as Golden State, so the East champs have a much smaller margin of error. On the other side of the ball, if Cleveland, by doing #WhateverItTakes, can force a boat load of turnovers from the Warriors, that could level the playing field in a palpable way.
3) Cavs have to win every single home game.
One thing that Houston had going for them in their WCF series was homecourt advantage, but they could not capitalize on it as they lost 2 of their 4 home stands to the Dubs. The Cavs cannot afford to let that happen. Beating the Warriors in Oracle already requires nothing short of a minor miracle, and losing even one game at home will make things exponentially more difficult as the series progresses. If the Cavs win every game at the Q, then they will give themselves a puncher's chance at maybe stealing a pressure-packed winner-take-all Game 7.
4) Cavs need AT LEAST 2 supporting guys score in double-figures each game.
As good as LeBron is, it'll be nearly impossible even for him to will the Cavs to an improbable series win by his lonesome. He'll need Jeff Green to muster whatever magic he had in their Game 7 win over Boston. Kyle Korver will need to regain the defensive form and shooting consistency that made him an All-Star in 2015. Tristan Thompson needs to be a nightly double-double threat. JR Smith and George Hill need to be aggressive and smart at the same time (easier for Hill, much harder for JR). Kevin Love needs to recover fast and be a legitimate 20-10 (or at least 17-8) #2 guy. They don't have to be all those things all the time, but at least 2-3 of LBJ's supporting cast have to show up in each game.
5) LeBron has to put up a GOAT-worthy performance.
If LeBron manages to lead this particular Cavs squad to the title, it'll be an NBA Finals upset more historic than the Mavs beating the Heat in 2011, the Pistons beating the Lakers in 2004, or the Rockets blindsiding the Magic in 1995. To do that, Akron's favorite son needs to register numbers that even Thanos himself would envy -- maybe 38-40ppg, 10-12rpg, 9-10apg, and > 35% 3pt shooting. If LeBron James -- despite all the upheavals of the 2017-2018 regular season and Playoffs -- still ends up with the Larry O'Brien trophy when the smoke clears in this ultra-lopsided best-of-7, then he should be, by all indications and by the sheer implausibility of the task at hand, finally crowned, beyond any reasonable doubt, the Greatest of All Time.
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