Three keys to watch in Game 7 between Cavaliers, Warriors
OAKLAND — Game 7s are unpredictable.
It’s one game and odd, random things can happen for a night as they often do in one basketball game. Leandro Barbosa or J.R. Smith could be the best player — or at least the most crucial player — for a night. Call it small sample size theater, call it a reaction to intense pressure, call it the will of God, call it whatever you want, the beauty of a Game 7 is that anything can happen.
However, after seven games of strategy, of ups and downs, we know the strategies both teams are trying to employ. We know what they want to do, and while there may be last-second tweaks, we largely know how the other side wants to counter them. It comes down to execution.
Here are three questions, and how they are answered will go a long way to determining who wins.
1) Is LeBron James’ jumper falling? We have all rightfully marveled at LeBron’s brilliant back-to-back games, he has reasserted his claim for best player on the planet in lifting up the Cavaliers to force this Game 7. But the unsung part of this has been his jump shot — it was so bad the first four games that the Warriors were going under picks, playing off him and daring him to shoot jumpers. In the last two games, he is 7-of-14 from three. When his jump shot is falling and defenders have to come out and defend him, it opens up room to drive, it opens up passing lanes for one of the most gifted passers in the game. If LeBron hits a couple of threes in the first quarter, Warriors fans should be worried.
2) Is Harrison Barnes (or Shaun Livingston, or Leandro Barbosa, or anyone not named Curry or Thompson) hitting their jump shots? It can’t just be the Stephen Curry show. At one point during Game 6 he was 4-of-8 from three, the rest of the Warriors were 1-of-18. Eventually Klay Thompson hit a few, but by then the damage was done and the Warriors could not get out of the hole. Golden State needs Harrison Barnes, and he is in such a shooting slump that the Cavaliers are giving him the Tony Allen treatment — they are not even closing out on him anymore. Barnes is going to get chances early in Game 7, and he’s either going to hit them or be on the bench quickly.
“Shot felt good today,” Barnes said after practice Saturday. “Came in last night and did some work as well. I feel good coming into the game.”
If his jumper isn’t falling Steve Kerr will have a quick hook, then it will be up to Barnes’ replacement to hit those shots. The Warriors got 73 wins based on depth — that depth needs to show up Sunday night.
3) How do the Warriors handle the Cavaliers hunting out Curry and attacking defensive mismatches? Cleveland the last couple games has executed what coach Tyronn Lue has preached since the series tipped off — if the Warriors switch everything, find the mismatch and beat it. The goal the last couple games has been to get Curry switched defensively onto LeBron or Tristan Thompson, then go right at him. Curry is not a bad defender, but he is the guy teams most want to attack out of the Warriors starters — especially if they can get a bigger, stronger guy on him that can back Curry down and overpower him. The result is foul trouble for Curry, or he gets worn down a little physically. Does Kerr have one final adjustment to remedy this (like maybe not switching those picks)? What the Cavaliers have done the past couple of games has worked well, it’s up to the Warriors to find a counter.