Playoff basketball slows down from the regular season. With days of preparation and piles of film to watch of your repeated opponent, coaches and players alike are able to dissect the game down to it’s purest form.
If the regular season is like eating burgers, the postseason is slow-cooked BBQ brisket. It takes time to prep and cook, but it’s worth it.
Because of this, match-ups become so much more vital. Teams in the playoffs look to attack weakness, hide their own flaws, and put themselves in the best position to win 4 of 7 games. Who plays, who they play with, and who they defend all become more crucial than ever,
Who Does Kevin Love Guard?
Love’s ability to stretch the floor on the offensive end can be lethal. His solid rebounding and court-vision make him a great piece for the Cavs. But on the defensive end of the floor, he’s an outright liability. Whoever he guards becomes the focal point of Golden State’s offensive attack.
He simply cannot guard Draymond Green. Green’s role in the Warriors’ pick and roll action means Love is stuck trying to hedge, trap, or switch on Steph Curry or Klay Thompson. He’s not quick enough to do any of the three options and is liable to give up bucket after bucket attempting to do so.
If Ty Lue chooses to slide Love onto Andrew Bogut, a far less vital part of the Dubs’ offensive strategy, Golden State is likely to counter. If they don’t, Love is still left in the paint to protect the rim (which he can’t). If they do, Bogut would screen more frequently, pulling Love into that action again. Bogut receiving a pass after a slip or roll is less dangerous than the quick thinking Green, but still leads to open space and quality looks for the Warriors.
There is, of course, a more drastic response from Steve Kerr…
What Happens When Golden State plays the “Death Lineup”?
For those unaware, the Warriors Death Lineup is their devilishly small but effective grouping of Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Barnes-Green. The versatility of Barnes and Green allows the Dubs to guard bigs, while making them run, chase, and flail on the defensive end.
Cleveland’s answer to Steve Kerr’s trump card isn’t so simple. Love would be hopeless guarding any of those five. Tristan Thompson can guard Green, but has no prayer on a switch. Would it be suicide to try to match Kerr’s small ball lineup with something like Irving-Smith-Shumpert-James-Frye?
The Death Lineup (and Cleveland’s response) won’t decide the series, but could absolutely swing a game.
Who Stays Healthy?
This may not be a “match-up”, but it will absolutely have a lasting impact. An injury to Curry, Green, or Thompson would be trouble for Golden State, but at least they have depth they can count on. The Cavs are a rolled ankle or two away from meaningful minutes for Richard Jefferson and James Jones.
We all saw that movie last year and no one, especially LeBron James, wants to slog through a re-run. If there’s an injury to either side, the scales could be tipped.
Until then, my pick is Warriors in 6.
Header image via Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.