Throughout the season, there have been two main critiques of LeBron James’ current game. One of them was his sometimes lackluster defense, and the other his rapidly declining jumpshot. And in one of the biggest games of his career, James shined in those two categories brightest, turning this series on its head as a result.
There were obviously many changes made in the preparation and execution of the two teams between games 2 and 3, but the one that stood out the most was the Cavs’ buckling down on defense, and the easy, open looks that the Warriors were accustomed to finding in the first two games were few and far between. That can be contributed to mainly one factor; LeBron’s defense on Draymond Green.
With Kevin Love not playing because of a concussion, it forced James to play the power forward position and guard Green. The importance of Draymond Green to this Warriors team cannot be understated, as he’s the catalyst on offense and they’re at their worst when he’s not on the floor. The stat of the Warriors’ -10.7 plus/minus per 48 without Draymond is telling enough, but when compared to their +10.8 without Steph Curry on the floor, its significance is taken to a whole different level.
After a 28-point outburst in game 2, Draymond was silenced and humbled by the league’s best player, as he was strapped to just 7 points on 2/8 shooting. But LeBron’s buckling down of Draymond goes far beyond the stats.
In games 1 and 2, Draymond was able to manhandle any defender that Cleveland threw his way, whether through power or speed, and that’s what got the Golden State offense going. But LBJ’s unhuman-like combination of size, strength and quickness made it nearly impossible for
Draymond and Steph to properly execute their lethal pick-n-rolls, a strategy that the Thunder implemented with Kevin Durant, to much success.
The Cavs made Golden State’s offense look like a row of dominoes last night; knock over one, and the rest go toppling down.
The other weakness turned strength that we witnessed from the King last night was his jumper. Throughout the Eastern Conference Finals and Finals, the Raptors and Warriors were giving LeBron such a cushion that they were daring him to shoot. Giving him all the time and space in the world to just let it fly. And he still wouldn’t. But should that really come as a surprise from someone who shot under 34% from outside the paint this season?
But last night was a different story completely. LeBron looked like his Miami self, lining up j’s with confidence and stroking them with ease. Aside from the obvious, this is a series-changing development because the Warriors will have to stop playing the cushion defense they’ve been implementing and start playing up on him. This leads to more layups, free throws, and kick-outs to 3-point specialists JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.
All hope was lost for the Cavs after game 2, but just when his team needs him most, LeBron is pulling something out of the hat that most of us didn’t think he still had. And just in time to go out and win Cleveland its first ever NBA title.