The last meeting between the two teams gave us, what we can call, the best match of the season so far. The buildup, the physicality, the dunks, the comeback, the game winner and the controversial ending. It had everything a fan could ask for. Almost three weeks after that classic game, the two juggernauts meet again today at Oracle Arena this time.
Important Game for the Warriors
They have the best record in the NBA so far and another loss would make no difference to their record. But they need a win on a psychological level. The warriors have now lost 4 straight against the Cavs (including the Finals) and two of them have been on their home turf. Losing three straight games in the Finals after having a 3-1 lead and the way they collapsed has had a huge impact on the team.
There are very few litmus tests for the Warriors, and the Cavs are surely one of them. Many questions have been imposed regarding their rim protection, their size, and the inability to handle teams who play physical. The Warriors have been challenged several times, but have managed to clinch a victory due to their high powered offense and some late game defensive heroics from Green and Durant. But lately, we have seen poor execution down the stretch from them which has lead to them giving up huge leads in the 4th quarter, allowing opponents to come back, and more often than not defeat them. The Christmas game against the Cavs was no different. The Warriors had a 14 point lead with 9:20 mins left on the clock. They got too careless with the ball, turned it over 6 times and couldn’t even create decent looks on the offensive end similar to the game 7 of the NBA Finals of 2016. Now they have another opportunity to test themselves and get their confidence back by winning this game and defending their home court.
1.) Curry needs to play aggressively
Curry has certainly not had his best games against the Cavs. It is safe to say that he has had some of his worst games against them specially in the finals and therefore has suffered severe criticism from the media and fans for those performances. On Christmas day, we saw a Steph Curry identical to the one we saw in the Finals. He had 15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals on 4-11 shooting. The stats themselves are self – explanatory of his performance.
Credit goes to the Cavaliers. They play Curry physically, stay close to his body and make him work for every single shot, a tactic also used by the Spurs. Deandre Liggins did a great job of picking him up from 35 feet out and never let him get out of his sight. With Durant taking control of the offensive early on, Curry and the Warriors played selflessly and ran the offense through him. But Durant started to miss shots in the 4th quarter and ended up with 2 – 9. These are the moments when Curry needs to step up and hit some big shots. Although he hit a three late in the game, and almost made a game winning steal, he needs to assert himself early on the offensive end.
Obviously, Curry understands that and therefore has been aggressive since that game, taking more shots and getting more involved. Last five games he has scored 35, 40, 30, 24 and 24 while taking more than 20 shots per game. He will have to play in a similar fashion today and back himself up to win the match for his team. Its high time for Curry to show the Cavs that he is not afraid of them.
2.) The Bench
The Warriors, because of their all star caliber, have the liberty of trying different types of lineups during the course of a match against decent teams. Recently, the Dubs have been using Green, Livingston, Iguodala, West and Clark at the start of the second quarter, giving rest to their big three at the same time. This lineup gives them multiple scoring options on the floor and doesn’t expose them on the defensive end. It has seemed to work in the last few games and they would be hoping it work against the Cavs as well. They surely would require contributions from that bench to beat this team.
3.) Points in the paint
The Warriors are not known for their size and length and the other 29 teams know that. The opposition teams have had large number of points in the paint apart from some few occasions. Usually Green has the responsibility to guard the bigger players on the opposition team. But Green’s length has been a problem against some of the power forwards. Then the warriors try to put Durant to negate that, but he his not able to handle the physical nature of some of the players because of his size.The Cavs would definitely use their size to score more points in the paint.
Zaza Pachulia has shown great improvement on the defensive end of the floor. He has been taking shots willingly and his screening has also improved.
He needs to be attacking the boards reducing the number of offensive rebounds as he will be going up against Tristan Thompson.
The Curry-Durant pick-and -roll should be used more often as it creates an open look for Durant with a smaller guard guarding him, or allows Curry to attack the rim and kick it out to the open man as he draws attention.
With the addition of Kyle Korver, their bench has improved with and so has their three point shooting, which is a big weapon for the warriors.
Although the Cavs have lost 2 of their last 3 matches, the Cavs have absolutely no burden on their shoulders. They have defeated the Warriors four straight times now and are pretty confident that they can defeat them again.