The sounds you heard right after the game on Thursday night were the screeching, grinding gears of LeBron James’ publicity machine working to gain political advantage for future games in the series. Just like in 2016 when Lebron James wielded his influence to get Draymond Green suspended, he again set out to paint an embellished picture of an injustice that must be addressed. He and Tyrone Lue, interviewed after the game, were livid about the reversal of the Kevin Durant charging call that took place in the crucial closing minutes of regulation. They were working the systmem again. ESPN and NBA TV elevated the issue, repeatedly dissecting the play during and after the game, questioning the officials’ decision to review the play. The changed call continued to breath life in the Friday news cycle, and by Saturday morning the newest concern was that Draymond Green had a lane violation during George Hill’s missed free throw. Considering that lane violations are not called in the NBA, this was indeed news.
It’s one thing for James and Lue to make noise about a reversed call. But it’s entirely another thing for the media, fully equipped with the rules and the benefit of replay to make an issue out of the reversal. Since when is it “controversial” that a wrong call gets corrected? That’s a good thing, right? We know that the officials were within the scope of the rules to review the play. Two of the officials saw the play differently as it unfolded, and so they conferenced and decided to review the play on replay. They also needed to know if James was outside the restricted area. It was within the rules for them to review where James was and if he was in legal guarding position, and the replay showed that he wasn’t because he was turning his body and moving into Durant when contact occurred. The officials called the play right, and it was not a turning point in the game as the narrative suggested. It was nothing other than a correct call.
Interestingly, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson will not be suspended for Game 2. Kevin Love was on the floor when the skirmish broke out at the end of overtime. Love obviously was not on the floor with the intention of getting involved in the altercation, but the NBA has a strict rule about leaving the bench, and it set a controversial series-changing precedent with Amare Stoudemire when he was suspended for stepping away from the bench and onto the floor in a 2007 playoff game between his Suns and the Spurs. The rule is black and white and is strictly enforced without discretion to ensure that players do not go on the floor. Allowing discretion in this instance contradicts the 2007 Stoudemire precedent. Tristian Thompson was also not suspended. Yet, as soon as he was ejected from the game because of hard foul on Shaun Livingston, he should have immediately left the floor. He didn’t and wound up striking Draymond Green. Yes, Green baited Thompson. But staying on the floor after the ejection is a violation that warranted a suspension.
Should Love and Thompson have been suspended? Technically, yes. Had the NBA actually done so, though, it would have been a shame. And yet, in the final analysis, the League has taken a discretion that is inconsistent with past rulings and that favors the Cavaliers, and this isn’t the first time. Draymond Green was suspended for much less in 2016 Finals. He was called for a technical foul for striking the air after James pushed him to the ground and stepped and stood over him.
James instigated the play, and Green’s response (striking the air behind James) did not warrant the technical foul that led to his suspension. Somehow James received no penalty, even though it was he who instigated the play by shoving Green to the ground and standing over him, ostinsbably tea-bagging him. In one of the NBA’s darker moments, James pulled Kiki Vandeweghe's strings in order to get Green suspended, but that’s not how it was reported. Often, what the media doesn’t report is the biggest story of all. As the Warriors head into Game 2, Steve Kerr will need to be as outspoken as James was on Thursday night and do his part to fill space in the ongoing PR battle that takes place off the basketball court.
The Warriors have been the NBA’s best team since they broke through in 2015, and during their run the narrative has been dominated by the media’s obsession with Lebron James. The Warriors are for some reason the anti-establishment team, and that’s okay. But it’s strange because most other recent dynastic teams–the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls–were well ensconced by the press in their glory, while the Warriors have been regarded as lucky or dismissed as a super team. On the occassions I listen to sports talk radio, the national coverage often mutes the identity of the Warriors. There is practically a facelessness in how they are portrayed, and I find that odd given how beautifully and successfully they play the game. But I also perceived that the Spurs were similarly covered.
In the grand scheme, it doesn't matter how the Warriors are covered by the media. The Warriors aren’t going to pander to anyone, and their fans enjoy the beautiful, unselfish, competitive joy that they bring to the game regardlessof anyone else's narrative. Like Jack Dawson having dinner with old money on board the Titanic, the Warriors are just happy to be here, and they aren’t asking anyone for acceptance. Take one minute and enjoy this dialog, because I think it’s how a lot of Warriors fans feel about the journey they’re on.
Klay Thompson Udate
Klay Thompson has been diagnosed with high ankle sprain with serious bruising. He expects to play in Game 2 though he is listed as questionable. He woke up very sore, and he stated that he was unsure if he would have been able to play had the game been scheduled for today. That is really bad news for the Warriors who are already without Andre Iguodala. Klay was able to play through the pain on Thursday, but he looked a little hobbled. He was not happy with JR Smith’s recklessness on the play he was injured, and said, “When I watched the replay, it pissed me off. That's a tough play on the ball, and just to tumble into somebody's legs like that…You gotta move past it, but it's life…It's just a minor setback. I don't think it was intentional."
Since Thompson is not 100% the Warriors lose at full capacity another key defender, and they also lose one of their most critical pieces in terms of pace and space. But Klay is the Warriors’ Iron Man. He will still most likely log key minutes, and even injured he is the best two guard on the floor. Still, because of Thompson's injury, the Warriors will need steady minutes from Nick Young in Game 2 and the rest of the series. All of the good things Steve Kerr and Green saw in Young in the off season must be realized in the remaining games of the season. With Patrick McCaw a shell of himself, and with Livingston serving as a designated play-maker point guard, any drop off in scoring from Klay becomes Young’s responsibility to compensate. That’s a scary thought, but at the same time, without him on the roster, the Warriors would simply have to concede perimeter scoring. So Young suddenly becomes a positive. He is no longer a luxury, but an important piece of the puzzle. Sounding a note of optimism, I’m glad they have him to fill the void. No one else can fill in for some of the things the Warriors depend on Klay for the way Young can, and ever since Dennis Rodman visited him in his sleep his defense has been improved. Of course, Young is not close to being a replacement for Thompson, but he's the best the Warriors have to fill in minutes that Klay may lose due to his sprained ankle.
Coming into Game 2, the Cavaliers are angry, and they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Make no mistake that James and Lue are aware of the fully stoked furnace the events of Game 1 have handed them. And I’ve heard pundits suggest that this will be the advantage the Cavs need to take Game 2. But the Warriors should also be angry. The Cavs’ response to the Warriors at the end of Game 1 was an affront that should motivate the Warriors just as much. James, once again, dissed Steph Curry under the basket and had fighting words that were not ignored by the Warriors. The fireworks and the whining after the game will help the Warriors to find the fire that they have been in search of all season. Maybe Steve Kerr should be send the Cavs cards and flowers for handing the Warriors the ignition switch. Keep talking Lebron, Tyrone, and Triston. You might have just awoken the sleeping giant that you faced last year at this time.
Still, the Warriors are in for a dogfight. I did not head into this series buying the theory that the Warriors would sweep the Cavs. James slows down the game and makes each contest a possession-by-possession affair. He’s shown in the three previous series against Indiana, Toronto, and Boston how a force of one can defeat a force of 5. But if the Warriors find their A game–and the Cavs may have helped them with that at the end of Thursday’s game–then the Warriors won’t be contained. The Cavs think that they have the moral high ground and impetus entering the next game. The Warriors can’t surrender that to them. The Cavs have lobbied for extra help which should concern the Warriors. But if the Warriors are indeed reanimated, and if they unleash the best version of themselves, they can overcome James and any other external force that comes their way.
James is playing better than he ever has, and that’s saying something. The Warriors aren’t going to solve that. But the Cavs can’t solve the entirety of the Warriors either, and as good as James is, I doubt we are going to see him go 19 for 32 and score 51 points every game. If he does, the Warriors are in for a long series.
Keys for the Game
The Keys for the Warriors will be containing James' drives to the basket, and adjusting their timing on the double teams or meeting him at the basket. In the past, Iguodala would pester James and slow him down. Draymond would be wating for him at the basket or Steph would steal the ball from behind James. James' forrays to the hoop are creating all of Cleveland's offensive rebounding opportunities. Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. can just hang around the paint and board while the Warriors other defenders either help on James' penetration or cover Love on the wing not allowing the 3 point shot. Draymond Green is going to have to make his adusments and decide when to help and when to seal. If Love is his responsibility he will get pulled out of the key, so better to put Looney on Love or Nance, and instruct him to seal every time and stay home.
The Warriors, meanwhile, need to continue to exploit the Cavs defense. They are not as good as Houston and they haven't played together long. While James' 51 points were the sexy stat of the game, the biggest take-away moving forward might have been that Curry was able to run the team, unincumbered by another great guard like Kyrie Irvin, and control the flow on offense. The only real issue on offense was Kevin Durant taking poor shots and frittering away possessions with heavy dribbling. The Warriors need to set him up for shots. Once the floor opens up–and only after that has been established–he can start creating off more off the dribble. The Cavs are not going to gum up the Warriors passing lanes like the Rockets were able to. Make them pay by moving the ball and engaging player movement off the ball.