Despite playing well enough to win, the Cleveland Cavaliers dropped game one of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors by a score of 108-100 in overtime. To make matters worse, Kyrie Irving left last night’s game with a knee injury and was seen leaving the locker room after the game on crutches.
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 5, 2015
Despite this bad ending to the game, it should be noted that the Cavs played well enough to win and had a chance to do so with the game tied and Cleveland having the last possession. Many will point to that final possession as a major reason why they lost the game, and there is some truth to that. After all, why wouldn’t LeBron James attack the basket for a higher percentage shot or a possible foul instead of “settling” for an outside shot? While that debate rages on, it is my opinion that the game shouldn’t have even reached that point.
Consider the following.
Before the series started, I highlighted several keys for the Cavs to have a successful NBA Finals. You can read those here, but in short the Cavs needed to do three things – control the glass, make free throws and score points off turnovers. Last night, the Golden State Warriors out rebounded the Cavs 48-45, Cleveland shot just 68.4 percent on their free throws and only managed 10 points off of 12 Golden State turnovers.
Despite having success on the offensive glass (13 offensive rebounds to Golden State’s 11) Cleveland lost the overall rebounding battle. While Golden State is a solid rebounding team, Cleveland had a playoff best +6.5 rebound differential coming into the series, so getting out rebounded in game one was a major reason why Golden State was able to come away with a win. As well as Cleveland rebounded at times last night they will have to do a better job moving forward.
The biggest concern for the Cavs (aside from Irving’s injury) should be their free throw shooting.
During the Eastern Conference Finals they only made 64.7 percent of their free throws as a team, leaving 37 points on the floor over the course of four games against Atlanta. Last night the Cavs left six points on the floor as they went 13-of-19 from the foul line. If the Cavs had even just made three of those missed six shots we could be talking about a Cavs win instead of a heartbreaking loss. The Cavs were shooting 75.5 percent from the foul line coming into the Finals, and they must return to that form as the series progresses.
Lastly, the Cavs must do a better job cashing in on turnovers. Forcing a turnover is a great accomplishment for the defense – and for a team like Golden State not allowing them a shot due to a turnover on an offensive possession is huge because of how many points they average per night and how well they shoot the ball. Still, it’s not enough to just force a turnover. Cleveland needs to turn those turnovers into points.
While game one was a heartbreaking loss, there were some positives for Cleveland.
James seemed to have a better feel for his jump shot, a trend that hopefully continues because Golden State will make him work extremely hard every time he tries to attack the basket or gets in the paint. Also, the perimeter defense for Cleveland was solid. While Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shot a respectable 44.1 percent combined, they were only a combined 5-of-15 on their three point shots (33 percent) while Draymond Green was 0-of-3 from long distance.
Also Cleveland can, and should, improve their offensive production. Whether or not Irving misses time due to his injury (but especially if he does), J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert need to (and should) shoot better for Cleveland. Combined, Smith and Shumpert were 5-of-19 from the field (26.3 percent). If that number improves and Cleveland is able to do a better job on the glass and with their foul shots, they have a real shot of winning game two and, at the end of the day, a split is all they needed in these first two away games. That possibility still exists.