The Golden State Warriors achieved one of the most difficult feats in sports, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals to win the series in seven games and advance to their second consecutive NBA Finals.
The defending champs battled the Thunder, who played their bigs, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, to offset the Warriors' fast-paced style. The big lineups were often effective for OKC, forcing the Warriors to expend a lot of energy, as when 6-foot-7 Draymond Green had to battle the 7-foot Adams down low. When the Thunder used a lineup with Adams, Kanter, Kevin Durant, Dion Waiters and Russell Westbrook, they had a +.169 field goal percentage per 100 possessions.
But although the Thunder's length and height bothered the Warriors on offense early on, Steph Curry and Co. adapted and shot over them near the end of the series, resuming the 3-point barrage that characterized the Warriors' record-breaking, 73-win regular season. During the fifth, sixth and seventh games of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors shot 43.3 percent from 3; during the first four games they shot 35.8 percent.
As the Cleveland Cavaliers prepare to play the Warriors in a rematch of the 2015 Finals, they should use big lineups whenever possible. Trying to keep up with the Warriors' lethal small ball style would likely result in a second consecutive NBA Finals loss for Cleveland.
Start Channing Frye At Center
Channing Frye has only played 15.7 minutes per game for the Cavs this post-season, but he needs more court time in the Finals to increase the Cavs' chances of winning a title. Against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, Frye showed how he could space the floor, averaging 59.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc. At 6-feet-11, Frye is able to pull his opponent away from the rim because of his elite shooting ability, creating space for players like LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to get to the hoop. With Frye's solid 3-point shooting skills keeping the defense honest, the Cavs could score a lot of points in the paint against a Warriors team that thrives on creating turnovers to get easy buckets in transition.
Bring Tristan Thompson Off the Bench, Start Kevin Love at the Four
Kevin Love isn't exactly a defensive specialist. The Cavs star struggles to defend the pick and roll, a play the Warriors will inevitably use to exploit him. But if the Cavs start Love at power forward, he won't be as exposed. Love's defense is poor when he has to play center, as opposing teams drive to the rim at will without worrying about Love blocking their shots. In the playoffs Love has a 105 defensive rating, a stat that measures the amount of points a player allows per 100 possessions. In addition to Love's woes on defense, his offense has been spotty as well. He has shot 41 percent from the field this post-season.
Thompson would be better coming off the bench. If he started, he would likely have to guard Green, a matchup that would tilt in Green's favor. Frye is not known as a shot blocker either, but with a playoff defensive rating of 103, he'll be better able to clog the paint and protect the rim.
The Warriors Play Better with a Small Lineup
The Warriors have thrived using their "death lineup," a small ball group consisting of Green at center, along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes. They also play "big" at times, using Andrew Bogut as their center to provide rim protection, with Curry, Thompson, Barnes and Green. When the Warriors use their small lineup, an opponent can offset it by using a bigger lineup. The main key to beating the Warriors is to use a style of play that works for a team's personnel. Try to play their style and they'll shoot you out of the Oracle. If the Cavs use big lineups with Love and Frye down low, they can keep their offense well spaced enough to defeat the defending champs.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock