MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 5 June) – Game 1 of the NBA Finals between Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors could have gone either way had Cleveland’s George Hill made his second free throw with just 4.7 seconds left and with the score tied. Teammate J.R. Smith got the rebound after the missed free throw, but instead of calling a timeout or making an attempt to shoot, he dribbled away from the basket as time expired. LeBron James could only outstretch both arms, mouth agape, as if to tell Smith “you’re such an idiot.”
I consider Smith one of NBA’s cunning guards, so I was surprised why his faculties failed him a few seconds away from a possible win. His endgame blunder proved once more that championship games require not just skills but also a good amount of mental toughness.
Talking about mental toughness, the Warriors appear to have a heavy dose of it. They never panicked each time the Cavaliers took the lead or mounted rallies. Although James scored 50 points in Game 1 to join the elite company of Michael Jordan, Jerry West and other NBA greats who tallied 50 or more in a playoff game, Golden State’s team effort spoiled that individual feat.
The reason for the Warriors’ confidence could be because they know the Cavaliers’ offense would often, if not always, revolve around James. In short, the Cavaliers are predictable. A look at Cleveland’s half court formation would show James handling the ball while the rest prepositioned themselves at the rainbow area waiting for the chance to launch a triple or make a layup from the weak side. Defenders would double-team him once he drove to the paint, a tactic they didn’t use on his teammates to prevent freeing up any shooter from the perimeter.
In contrast to the Cavaliers’ James-centered offense, the Warriors relied on team effort, resulting in more balanced scoring compared to the opponents. Besides, the Warriors showed more physicality, particularly in defending James, while Tristan Thompson and Cleveland’s other big men looked hesitant to bang bodies.
When the series shifts to Cleveland on Wednesday, it would be interesting to see if the home crowd can boost the Cavaliers’ performance. A shaky proposition, I should say, since the Cavaliers are only 4-4 against the Warriors at home in all finals. In addition, if they care about statistics, they know they have to win game 3, as no NBA team has come out of a 0-3 hole.
Again, it would be a tough mental job for the Cavaliers considering that momentum is on the side of the Warriors. Yes, they overcame the Boston Celtics who were ahead, 2-0, in the Eastern Conference finals. But the Celtics, aside from being an inexperienced team and missing the services of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving due to injuries, did not do well on the road this season.
Let’s see if the Cavaliers can muster enough tenacity to surmount analytics. (Body and Sole is the author’s column on sports and fitness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)