San Antonio put a quick end to the media frenzy around LeBron James with a 85-76win to take Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night. The combination of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili scored a total of 67 points and went a collective 27-of-52 from the floor. What could Cleveland really have done?
It is true. LeBron James played quite poorly. There’s no other way to spin 4-of-16 from the field and 6 turnovers. But Cleveland’s problems were not just limited to their star. Zydrunas Ilgauskas? He was 1-of-8, never touched the free throw line, and only pulled down 6 boards to boot. Horrible for a center. Larry Hughes? He was just 1-of-5, and also never got to the charity stripe. No other Cavaliers positioned themselves as offensive threats except for Daniel Gibson, (7-of-9 for 16 points), and the lack of legitimate scoring options allowed San Antonio to focus more on James.
If you can believe it, it even goes further than just Cleveland not hitting shots. True, they were only about 43% from the floor and were really under 40% until some buckets started to fall near the end. But despite all these misses, Cleveland managed to get only 9 offensive rebounds and didn’t give themselves many opportunities for second chance points. Considering how good Cleveland usually is at rebounding, it’s worrisome to see them so outworked on the boards. For the sake of comparison, it should be noted that San Antonio had 13 offensive rebounds of their own, resulting in 19 second chance points. All that despite shooting over 45% from the floor themselves.
Cleveland also didn’t do a very good job working within the context of the offense and using ball movement to get open looks. Of their 30 field goals made, only 9 had corresponding assists. This says to me that Cleveland was trying to work the Spurs one on one and create shots for themselves. Again, compare that to the Spurs excellent running of offensive sets and using good ball movement to get high percentage shots for their big scorers. San Antonio had 18 assists amongst their 34 made field goals, and this increased distribution is a big reason for why Cleveland came up short.
In their post game remarks after the fact, both LeBron James and his coach were up front about James’ uninspiring night, and they are correct in assuming that James getting on track is absolutely essential for Cleveland having any chance whatsoever in this series.
But it’d be a lot easier for James to get something going if Cleveland didn’t spend so much time just holding the ball and waiting for things to happen and actually ran more crisp offensive sets like the Spurs did all night. There were way too many jump shots going up at the Cleveland end of the floor. Ilgauskas and Hughes need to attack the rim more. Neither should come away from a game without having taken a single free throw, and both of them did just that in Game 1.
But, as has been said many times before, there is just something about San Antonio that makes them almost unbeatable when their main parts are working in harmony. That was the case last night, with Tony Parker in particular playing great hoops. He handed out 7 assists to only 4 turnovers and used his speed to get numerous uncontested lay-ups. Tim Duncan was just Tim Duncan, and late in the game Ginobili got a few open 3′s that helped put Cleveland away. When these three come to play, I don’t think there’s many teams in the NBA that stand much of a chance against San Antonio.
It’s quite simple, really. If Cleveland wants to take a couple games in this series, they’ll need to play more like the Spurs do. They’ll have to adjust when things aren’t working and learn how to exploit the things that are yielding fruit. It was almost frustrating to watch Cleveland run roughly the same offense all game after it becoming terribly obvious that their first solution wasn’t working. The Cavaliers that took the court last night looked just happy to be there. San Antonio’s big guns showed up and performed up to their reputations. Cleveland’s did not. With that in mind, it’s surprising that Cleveland only lost by the margin they did.
Game 2 will be in San Antonio on Sunday.