LeBron James struggles to solve puzzle of Golden State
OAKLAND — Every time LeBron James would look down at the stat sheet in front of him, he would shake his head. It was involuntary.
LeBron and his Cavaliers had just been thrashed by the Golden State Warriors by 33, getting beat in every aspect of the game. The stat sheet was ugly — the 35.4 percent shooting by the entire Cavaliers team, the 17 turnovers (seven by him), the 33-point deficit in the score.
LeBron had seemed frustrated during the third quarter. He pounded the ball into the ground with his dribbles. He’s usually the guy figuring the other team out, exploiting weaknesses, and making them pay. Through two games he has been unable to find answers to anything the Warriors were doing. Golden State is quick to bring help defenders to him when he drives, trying to make LeBron a jump shooter and he is not that anymore — he was 6-of-8 in the restricted area in Game 2, 1-of-9 from everywhere else. Plus, LeBron is getting little help from the finally healthy Cavaliers — Richard Jefferson was Cleveland’s second-best player in Game 2.
After the game, LeBron the PR guy was at the podium saying all the right things, he just couldn’t help but shake his head when he looked down.
“I’m not disappointed in our guys or frustrated,” LeBron said. “We’ve just got to do a better job. We’ve got to be better at all facets of the game both offensively and defensively, both physically and mentally. They just beat us at every -- we didn’t win anything. No points of the game did we beat them in anything. Even when we had an early lead, they beat us to 50-50 balls, they got extra possessions, they got extra tip-ins. They beat us pretty good tonight.”
They’ve beaten them pretty good for two games, winning by a combined 48 points. That is without Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson having a breakout game yet.
Part of the Warriors’ success has been keeping LeBron in relative check. The Warriors contested 11 of LeBron’s 17 shots, and he shot just 36.4 percent with a hand in his face. He shot 1-of-6 outside the paint.
“You just try to make everything tough,” Draymond Green said of defending LeBron. “Some of the shots LeBron missed, I mean, you’ve got to give a little credit to our defense. But some of them he missed, he just missed. It happens like that sometimes in the game of basketball. That’s why none of us is perfect. But I think we’ve got a good game plan that we’ve stuck to and that we have to continue to do throughout the rest of this series.”
“I’ve got to be better,” LeBron said, shouldering the blame, as he tends to do after losses. “I’ve got to be better with the ball. You know, trying to play make for myself and play make for my teammates at the same time, I’ve just got to be more solid.”
LeBron is struggling against the Warriors’ defense, but he also isn’t getting much help. Kyrie Irving is shooting 12-of-36 overall and 1-of-7 from three, with just five assists, through two games. Kevin Love has been a virtual non-factor and now may miss at least the next game due to a concussion.
It will lead to calls from some for LeBron to revert to his Finals form from last year and take over the offense. To run everything through himself as he did in last year’s Game 2 win by the Cavaliers (39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists). To be more selfish.
“Selfish is probably the wrong term,” LeBron said. “I got myself in a lot of trouble tonight personally. Turned the ball over way too much. And I said after Game 1 we just can’t turn the ball over against a great team and expect to win, and I had basically half of the turnovers.”
The problem is even when LeBron does take on more of the offense, the Cavaliers still lose to the Warriors. For reference, check out how last year’s Finals ended. Basketball remains a team game and the Warriors are the better team right now. The deeper team. The higher IQ team. The more locked in team. And they are focused on defending LeBron.
“We just tried to be as active as possible,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We have a lot of speed on our team and like-sized players who we can kind of help and recover and switch. And it’s a very difficult job because LeBron is so smart that he sees everything before it happens, and sometimes if you switch, he’ll read that and find somebody for a lay-up or he’ll attack at the exact right time to expose our defense. And I just thought our guys did as good a job as we possibly could in terms of trying to cover him in penetration and stay with shooters at the same time....
“We’re not comfortable playing against LeBron, to be honest with you.... And I would say we’re confident that we can beat anybody. But we’re definitely not comfortable playing against LeBron. He’s obviously one of the great players in the history of this game, and we’ve had success the first two games, but there’s a lot of basketball left.”
What can LeBron and Cleveland do differently? LeBron’s not completely sure of the answers. Which is part of what frustrates him.
“We’ve got to get back to the film and we all have to figure out ways we can help the team be successful....” LeBron said. “Internally we have to figure out how we can be better. We have to figure out how we can help one another. We definitely have to figure out how we can get more guys involved. Fifteen assists, it’s not winning basketball, especially versus this team. We’ve just got to figure it out.”
They need to figure it out fast or this series will be over.didn’t