It’s been an odd few weeks for the Golden State Warriors. After getting through the opening rounds of the playoffs, they faced an uphill battle against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western conference Finals, at one point staring at a 1-3 deficit.
After battling back to become just the 10th team in NBA history to progress from such a position, they’ve flown through the gates in the Finals, pummelling the Cavaliers into submission in the Oracle Arena twice, before falling to a heavy 30-point loss in Cleveland themselves in game three.
Despite the defeat, the Dubs still hold a 2-1 series lead and can put one hand on the trophy with a win in Ohio tonight.
After a tough series against OKC, how have Golden State reasserted themselves against a Cavs team who only lost twice in the postseason prior to the Finals?
Draymond Green’s back to himself
One player who wasn’t at his best during the series against the Thunder was Draymond Green.
After game one, Green only managed to score a high of 12 points against the Durant-led team. However, in the first two games against Cleveland, he was one of the focal points for the Warriors offence, scoring 16 in game one and 28 in game two, shooting 50% from the three point line in the process.
This is arguably thanks to the defence that the Cavaliers were playing – as they focused the majority of their efforts on stopping Steph Curry and Klay Thompson getting their shots. This normally leaves Draymond unguarded, letting him shoot from range or dictate the offence otherwise.
This has put Draymond in a position to win the Finals MVP award if he continues to perform like he did in games one and two.
The All-Star forward, however, struggled mightily in game three in Cleveland and has found it hard going on the road recently. He will need to rectify that if they are to repeat.
The Bench is beasting
One area of the Golden State team which has gone to work on the Cavs with little response is the bench. Game one was where the glaringly obvious chasm between the two sets of role players shone through.
During the game, the Splash Brothers managed just 20 points between them. They had their bench backing them up with 45 points from the pine, topped by Shaun Livingston’s team-high 20.
The Cavaliers, on the other hand, managed just 10 points from their non-starters in that contest.
In game two, we didn’t see quite the same bench explosion, but the second unit was still far superior for the Warriors. Leandro Barbosa was a spark, whilst Andre Iguodala’s defence slowed LeBron James to a snail's pace.
Given that the Cavaliers players have struggled for bench support so far, you’d imagine that it would have to change if they’re to have any chance of tackling the men from Oakland for the rest of the series.
The Bay Area franchise's "Strength in Numbers" has really shown in this series, and despite that mark dropping to 33 points in the game three loss, they will still be a deciding factor between the two teams.
LeBron needs help
When the series started, it was billed as a battle between Steph Curry and LeBron James. Their supporting players were also being tallied up against one another, with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green going up against Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, Irving and Love were ineffective in games one and two which led to the Warriors coming out of the blocks.
With Love missing in game three, though, Kyrie came out of his slump in spectacular fashion. The point guard was in constant attack mode and put up 16 points in the first quarter and ended with 30.
James has definitely done his utmost to help get his team victories, but without the help of his best teammates, he stands little chance of claiming the series so will need performances like this from Irving in the remaining games.
The stats don’t disprove this either, with LeBron leading the team’s scoring with 21ppg against Golden State. Outside of the big three, the rest of the roster racks up just 31ppg – this leaves Cleveland drastically short of scoring outside of their big players.
J.R. Smith finally came back to life in game three too as he poured in 20 points. The others need to continue to show up for the Wine and Gold or they won’t have enough to get the better of the reigning champs.
The East is weak
It seems right now that Golden State’s real test came against Oklahoma City, who pushed them to seven games and several close scorelines. Before then the Trailblazers also provided some tough games.
However, Cleveland went relatively unchallenged as they swept their first two series. Following that, their 4-2 conference finals series never looked out of touch – even when they were tied with the Raptors at 2-2.
Simply put, the Cavaliers have missed out on a true ‘warm-up’ by getting through a weakened Eastern Conference.
Whilst teams like Toronto and Detroit are good, they’re not quite at the level as Portland and Oklahoma City are. This might have seemed like a good thing when Cleveland were flying high, but now they’re up against a stingier defence and can't show more signs of weakness.
Kerr has Lue’s number
There were serious reservations regarding Tyronn Lue’s coaching abilities when he was first hired as the Cavaliers head coach. Those fears were all but killed off when they topped the east and won their first ten postseason games – but they soon re-emerged when the Finals got underway.
Kerr’s been here before and he’s done terrifically well to react to line-up changes throughout the series so far. Whether it’s minor tweaks like keeping one of Curry, Thompson or Green on the floor or going to his smaller line-up sooner than normal.
To Lue's credit, he flipped the script in game three and showed his credentials. By inserting Richard Jefferson into the starting lineup, the Cavs went small from the offset which led to a first quarter explosion that set the tone for the huge victory.
Going big hasn’t been particularly useful for other teams, but it seems that Cleveland was prepared to slow the game down, get extra rebounds and restrict the number of Golden State possessions as there was a Timofey Mozgov sighting on the floor at the Quicken Loans Arena.
Having both played their hand and enjoyed blowout wins, game four will be a game of chess and will come down to small details. Which coach will make the right move?