In 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 Finals deficit. In 2017, however, they were unable to become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 Finals deficit.
The Cavs took Game 4 in Cleveland, yes, but they fell in Game 5, 129-120, in Oakland.
In hindsight, it’s easy to assess why one comeback was feasible but another wasn’t.
“(In 2016), they throw the ball inside, they extend the shot clock, they shorten the number of possessions in a game, they try to shoot the basketball at a high percentage, they try to not turn the basketball over – and when you do that, at least you can stay in games with the Golden State Warriors, even when they shoot the ball well,” NBA-TV analyst Stu Jackson said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “And to me, that’s the only way that you can play them. It’s the only way that you can build your team as a franchise in hopes of beating them at some point. But playing the way the Cavaliers played – up and down, trying to play faster – that’s the wrong approach, I think, to beating the Golden State Warriors.”
Tyronn Lue said multiple times during the Finals that the Cavs wouldn’t deviate from the style or pace with which they played all season. That was a mistake – and the Cavs need to learn from it.
How do they do that? By adding a versatile big guy, for starters.
“I think you need to beat them in the paint,” Jackson said. “It’s probably not one big guy; it’s multiple big guys in an effort to try to counter their strength. If you’re going to counter their strength, you’ve got to dominate the paint to take over the perimeter. The way you do that is you try to force them into low-percentage shots in that mid-range and short-range area, you’ve got to rebound the basketball like a mad man, and you’ve got to run selectively. But more importantly, when you insert the ball into the post on the drive, it extends possessions. It slows pace. And then you have an opportunity, I think, to possibly beat them.”
Easier said than done. Jackson, admittedly, doesn’t know who the Cavs should try to acquire, but he does think it should be someone with the skill set of an in-his-prime Pau Gasol: someone who can slow the game and dominate in the low- and high-post.
And if the Cavs need to move Tristan Thompson to make that happen, so be it. That’s right. Tristan Thompson, not Kevin Love.
“Kevin Love is still a skilled guy,” Jackson said. “Tristan Thompson is not a skilled player in today’s NBA in these rules. So maybe it’s just trying to deal somebody like Tristan Thompson in and effort to get a more skilled big guy.”