The odds are stacked against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They trail the Golden State Warriors, 3-1, in the best-of-seven NBA Finals. The Warriors are at home. They’ve dominated the Cavs in their own building. They have Kevin Durant.
So do the Cavs have a chance?
Maybe. Here are five things that would likely help them keep their championship repeat dreams alive:
1. KEEP STEPH AND KLAY BUSY
We all know what Kyrie Irving is capable of for the Cavs, and if Klay Thompson is defending him, it means Thompson can’t entirely focus on offense. It’s been that way all series.
But in Game 4, J.R. Smith really came through, forcing Steph Curry to focus on trying to stop him. Smith was engaged, aggressive and looked for his shot. That made Curry work more than usual (and definitely more than the first two games).
The result? Curry scored 14 points, Thompson had 13, and the Cavs won by what seemed like 100. Usually, Curry or Thompson are scoring 27 points all by themselves. Or sometimes both of them hit that mark in the same game.
For them to combine for 27 in Game 4 … well, it was just one of the many things the Cavs did right, and one of the many things the Cavs likely will need to do again.
2. LIMIT TURNOVERS
This should be a no-brainer after Game 1, when the Cavs failed to take care of the ball and were blown out of the building.
Turnovers give the Warriors extra possessions. You don’t want to give a team with this much firepower extra possessions. You want to score at every opportunity, just to try to keep pace.
The Cavs don’t need to erupt for 86 points in the first half again. But they do need to control the tempo, and they will need to score — a lot. The first step is taking care of the doggone ball at all costs.
3. TRY TO RATTLE GREEN
Draymond Green is the Warriors’ spiritual leader, a hot-and-cold scorer who does everything very well. One of those things is play with a great deal of fire.
Most of the time, that’s a huge benefit. Sometimes, though, it can be a hindrance — as the Cavs have occasionally found a way to make Green come unhinged.
LeBron James did it last season, talking trash and angering Green to the point where he threw a swift kick to You Know Where. In Game 4, the Green instigator was Tristan Thompson — who just happened to play his best game of the series.
For all his emotion, Green doesn’t meltdown all that often. But when he does, sometimes, the rest of the Warriors go down with him. The Cavs will make every effort to get him to focus on anything but basketball.
The last thing they need is for him to get hot, too.
Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and LeBron James (and even the backups and guards) absolutely, positively must control the boards.
The worst games in this series are when the Cavs get one shot … miss … and that’s it. The Cavs have to pinch, scratch, claw, do whatever it takes, and dare the refs to make a call.
They cannot worry about being soft here. They cannot be “too nice,” as coach Tyronn Lue said they were early in the series. Instead, they must chase every rebound as if it’s a brick of gold.
If they don’t win the battle of the boards, they will not win this game.
5. FIND A HIDDEN TREASURE
James and Irving and even Love won’t be enough. The Cavs will highly likely need someone to come out of nowhere to win on the road against such a high-powered, focused, intelligent and athletic team.
Yeah, that’s high praise for the Warriors. But they have earned it.
Still, even the highest basketball powers hate it when they game plan for an opponent — and then everything gets thwarted by some role player.
Deron Williams. Kyle Korver. Iman Shumpert. Richard Jefferson. Or maybe it’s a huge game from Smith.
Somehow, someone that we don’t expect will likely need to play the Finals game of his life. Then, perhaps, the Cavs will live to defend their title for another day. And if so, hey, the next one is at home.