Time to cut the cute from Warriors' game

ByJ.A. Adande ESPN logo
Wednesday, June 10, 2015

CLEVELAND -- After the Cleveland Cavaliers spent the first three games of the NBA Finals defining the playing conditions, the Golden State Warriors are finally coming to grips with them.

Remember when LeBron James said the Cavs weren't going to be sexy or cute? That now applies to both teams. The Cavaliers are up 2-1, and the only reason the Warriors even made it close after falling behind by 20 points in Game 3 was they stopped being so pretty. The only way they can halt Cleveland's momentum and climb back into this series is to get comfortable playing a way they're not accustomed to.

The Western Conference finals became known for Riley Curry scampering around the podium. In the NBA Finals, it's time to put the children to bed -- and maybe apologize to all the adults staying up late for not putting on a better display. The Warriors have yet to score 100 points in regulation so far this series, and in the first overtime-free game, they managed only 91 points to the Cavaliers' 96.

For the Warriors, no more falling behind by double digits while confident they can shoot their way out of it.

No more pulling up for 3-pointers in the short-handed transition game.

No more maintaining the game plan on defense when the key to their comeback was making plays, such as the six fourth-quarter turnovers they forced.

No more using the customary personnel combinations. (Hello, David Lee.)

No more cute.

New approach: "Be the aggressors," Stephen Curry said.

"You have to make every possession like it's your last possession,"Andre Iguodalasaid. "I feel like that's the energy Cleveland's playing with."

Later he added, "Focus on the little things: cutting hard, back screens, sacrificing for one another."

Yeah, in other words, do what Cleveland is doing.

"It's not just making shots," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Obviously that helps, but it's fighting and competing, and we've got to do that for 48 minutes."

The Warriors Way can't be applied to this series. Not with Curry in a prolonged shooting slump that spanned three games and three quarters until he made 6 of 9 shots in the fourth quarter Tuesday night. His final stat line of 27 points on 10-for-20 shooting and 7-for-13 on 3s masks how debilitating his 1-for-6 start was for Golden State. This was the 10th time in the 2014-15 regular season and playoffs he has made at least seven 3-pointers; it's the first one of those games the Warriors have lost.

The formulas and previous assumptions have been thrown out of whack, unless you really thought Cleveland's path to winning was to have Matthew Dellavedova single-handedly keep pace with the Splash Brothers' combined scoring output for 2 quarters, as he did Tuesday night.

It might be time to send a second defender at LeBron earlier to stop him from conducting the offense where he wants, as long as he wants, and stop him from making stat lines like Game 3's 40 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists look so routine.

And speaking of time, expect more minutes to go to Lee -- the forgotten $15 million-a-year former All-Star who languished on the bench for the first two games of the Finals. The Warriors were worried about his defense -- particularly with a switching scheme that could often leave him guarding LeBron -- and they didn't think his preferred operating spots in the 15-20 foot range fit with their spread-the-court, 3-point-heavy offense.

But with Harrison Barnes missing all eight of his shots and Draymond Green getting into foul trouble, Kerr wound up playing Lee for 13 minutes. Lee had 11 points, four rebounds and two assists. He kept the ball moving when teammates were in better spots; he managed to work his way to the rim, to the free throw line and even to the podium.

"My biggest concern was to go out there and play as hard as I can, bring some toughness, and just really be as active as possible and aggressive," Lee said.

When you think of David Lee, "toughness" isn't one of the first attributes that comes to mind. But that's the way the Warriors will have to do this, adopting new personas as needed.

"Vibrant" was the term Curry used for his new role, after Kerr remarked how Curry's drooping energy levels brought the team down.

"If it's not going our way, or not going my way specifically, I've got to find different ways to get us going," Curry said.

You can't assume he's going to do it with the usual backbreaking 3s. Even amid his hottest stretch in the fourth quarter, he still missed two 3-pointers in the final minute. And he added an inexcusable turnover when he tried to throw a behind-the-back bounce pass to Green out of a double-team, only to watch the ball skip out of bounds.

"I've got to stay sound fundamentally in that situation," Curry said. "That's one that you just make a simple pivot move and throw it to him."

In other words, don't get cute.

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