Christmas day, #1 in the West meets #1 in the East! Only a few games a year deserve an in depth preview and this is one of them, both teams should be rested, mostly healthy and with time to prepare. In last seasons finals the Cavs were forced to go to what was essentially a 7 man rotation after Kyrie Irving's knee cap fractured. The Cavs managed to hang on and make the series far more competitive than anyone expected after that injury so I want to start with how a team down two all star starters and playing 2 guys on minimum contracts managed to squeeze out two wins verses a healthy 67 win team with a 10 pt differential.
#1- Turnovers. The Cavs went ultra conservative on offense, focused heavily on Lebron iso. Their 11.1 TO% was 3.2 percentage points lower than the Warriors regular season rate. Over the course of the full season that 11.1 number would have been the best team in the league in 14/15, impressive when faced against the #8 defense in forcing turnovers.
#2- Offensive rebounding. A smaller gap, but the Warriors were 18th in the league in defensive rebounding last season, but their production in the finals was on par with the 28th spot.
#3- Fouls. The Cavs drew 2 more fouls a game, and out took 3. 67 more FTs per game. This gap was unremarkable compared to the regular season because the Warriors were below average at preventing and FTs and in the bottom 6 at generating them, while the Cavs were the 7th best at generating, and the best at preventing FTs in the league. That the Cavs could force FTs at a high rate while missing their 2nd and 3rd best FT generating players. While Lebron was the driving force behind the raw number of FTs, two other Cavs (Moz and Tristan) had significantly higher FTrs.
There are two ways of looking at Kevin Love's absence through these stats. The first is that even though has excelled in each of these areas during his career the Cavs managed just fine without him and his addition would have been muted. The other is that if Golden State struggled in these areas the adding Love is going to put pressure on the Dubs in ways that few other teams can. I am of the latter opinion. While the temptation to start plays off with a Kyrie/Lebron PnR is there the Warriors can counter by switching heavily and using Thompson/Green/Igoudala as the primary defenders while relying on help D near the rim to help contain. With a K/L PnR Love will spend a lot of time on the perimeter as a shooter as Tristan Thompson can't draw a defender out more than a few feet. If Love is setting the pick with Lebron handling the Warriors will still switch, but at least one of their "bigs" will be out on the pick and roll and sometimes both. At the finish the Cavs will have a better 3 pt shooter (Kyrie) on the perimeter and a better O rebounder (Love) near the hoop. The Cavs can also isolate Love on Igoudala on a switch and have a 4 inch and 40 pound advantage with limited help options.
By focusing early on Love offensively the Cavs can constantly put pressure on one of the few weak spots in the Warriors defense. In future installments I will be going into how the Cavs can try to contain the Warriors offense, how the Warriors can fight back against this basic Love-centric plan and ultimately display my homerism by declaring Cleveland the better team.