The Golden State Warriors rolled into the playoffs after setting the regular season record with 73 wins with extreme confidence – the playoffs were a mere formality to take part in before the coronation of arguably, the Greatest Team in the history of the NBA. No opponent could handle their “Death Lineup”, a lineup that stretched teams’ defenses paper-thin when trying and failing to cover multiple, quality three-point shooters. Warriors majority owner Joe Lacob boasted that as an organization, the Warriors were light years ahead of everyone, and even though his comment overstepped the bounds of reasonable analysis, the results seemed to back up his claim. Well, that was until the Cleveland Cavaliers doused champagne all over their 73-win season by overcoming a historic 3-1 deficit, featuring two wins in Oracle Arena. Anyone else hear LeBron James’ voice in the style of Samuel Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction saying, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did my champagne splash on your 73 win season? Did I ruin your victory parade?”
What happened? Why did the Warriors record-setting season end in defeat? Well, here are five reasons.
Richard Jefferson provided quality minutes defending Golden State’s lineup of death.
The same Richard Jefferson who couldn’t play against the Atlanta Hawks was somehow able to contribute against the more talented Golden State Warriors. I witnessed Richard Jefferson playing in Game 4 against the Atlanta Hawks, and the results were not good for Cleveland. Atlanta immediately gave the ball to Paul Millsap. Millsap backed Jefferson down in the paint and scored…again…and again…until Cavaliers’ coach, Tyronn Lue, was forced to take Jefferson out. Yet, somehow, Jefferson gave the Cavaliers options against Golden State’s famed Death Lineup. How good was Jefferson? After Jefferson played in Kevin Love’s absence in Game 3, many people openly questioned whether or not Love should even play. Cleveland greatly benefited from the play of Jefferson; especially, on the defensive end. Unbelievable, yet true.
Harrison Barnes was a train wreck the last three games.
For Harrison Barnes’ sake, teams will overlook his performance in the last three games of the NBA Finals when evaluating his earning potential during the upcoming NBA free agency, because he was the main reason why Cleveland got away with playing a 36-year-old Richard Jefferson. Take a look at these numbers.
|FG A/M||3 PT FG A/M||PTS|
Obviously, those performances were not good enough to unleash the full potential of Golden State’s lineup of death, which was the roadmap for Golden State’s success during the record-setting regular season.
Draymond Green’s suspension for Game 5 paved the lane for Kyrie Irving and LeBron James.
We can all argue that the suspension did not matter because Golden State still lost with Draymond on the court in Game 7, but does anyone minus the fans in Cleveland really believe that the Warriors team that played in Game 4 would not beat the Cavaliers in Game 5 in Oracle Arena? Remember the Warriors had just demoralized the Cavaliers at Quick Loans Arena, giving the Cavs a sound beating, 108-97. Draymond’s defense in the paint and overall presence on the court was vital to Golden State’s success – he was their emotional leader during the season. Without Draymond playing in Game 5, LeBron and Kyrie found their paths to the basket less cluttered. This pivotal game was decided without one of Golden State’s best players available, and as we all know, no team can afford to give away NBA Finals games.
Size and physical play was more consistent than three-point shooting.
Golden State’s offense thrives on spacing the floor with three-point shooting. When teams switch on pick-and-rolls, Golden State takes advantage of the switch because no big man can (normally) stay with the two-time MVP, Stephen Curry. However, during the playoffs; especially, the NBA Finals, referees tend to swallow their whistles, which helps the big guys in the form of Tristan Thompson “guard” Curry. The term “guard” is used loosely here, because guarding a player usually doesn’t include blocking the guy out-of-bounds, but alas, the playoffs suddenly christen this as real basketball. While this doesn’t mean that the NBA is rigged as people claim, it does provide a problem for Golden State, a team that set the record for wins during the regular season where fouls were probably called when a big man decided to display football skills and block Curry out-of-bounds. In other words, the inconsistency of the NBA officiating is the problem, and it’s a problem that has existed for a long time where games were called one way during the season, only to then get called differently during the playoffs; as a result, jump-shooting teams, even record-setting jump-shooting teams, without the ability to respond in kind suffer. Ya know, rebounding and beating the daylights out of a smaller person is more reliable than shooting three’s. Simple physics.
Stephen Curry, along with Golden State did not make enough three’s.
With the season on the line, Stephen Curry had the ball against Kevin Love with 30 seconds remaining in the game. The Warriors were down by three. Curry desperately tried to free himself from Love to shoot the game-tying three. Love didn’t bite on any of Curry’s fakes – his defensive presence was significant as Curry’s three-point attempt missed, and with that miss, Golden State’s bid for back-to-back NBA Championships was over. Despite Cleveland’s size advantage, the inconsistent officiating in Game 6, namely the dubious fouls called on Curry, and Draymond’s suspension in Game 5, the Warriors had plenty of chances to win the series during Game 7 with their vaunted three-point shooting. Would anyone have bet on the Warriors not scoring with a three given the Curry against Kevin Love scenario? How about the other damning evidence that with the score knotted at 89 and 4:39 left to play, Golden State failed to score against Cleveland? Golden State missed seven three-point shots, and Curry missed three of those attempts. For the game, Curry was 4-14 from the three-point arc, which was well below his season average. What Golden State did best this season failed them in Game 7.
There’s nothing left to do but to watch the champagne flow in Cleveland. Congratulations Cleveland.