The 2017 NBA Finals are starting to feel a little bit like deja vu.
No, Kevin Durant wasn't in Golden State the last time the Warriors held a 3-1 Finals lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs weren't facing a 3-0 deficit, either, looking to become the first team in NBA history to come back from that such a playoff hole.
After Friday night's Game 4, you can't help but wonder if the Cavaliers might pull this one off, despite all that's changed from last year.
They probably won't, of course. The Warriors haven't lost four straight games since 2013, when Draymond Green was still just a second-round pick and Stephen Curry's ankles were a cause of concern in the Bay.
Yet if the Cavs are going to shock the world, here's what they'll need to do the rest of this Finals series — however long that might last.
Keep turning the game into an ugly slugfest
Game 4 got out of hand, to say the least.
There were flagrant fouls, a technical kerfuffle that ended with Draymond Green somehow not getting ejected, and enough whistles to give you a headache for the next six months.
That's just the way the Cavaliers like it. They thrive in the muck, while the Warriors get stuck in their own heads.
When this series is a free-flowing, back-and-forth affair, Cleveland doesn't stand a chance. The Cavs can't keep up with a Golden State team that's chucking 3s and getting out in transition; we have two-and-a-half Finals' worth of games to prove that hypothesis.
If the Cavaliers are going to make NBA history, they'll need to keep grabbing on every screen, forcing the officials to call every violation, and generally making a mess of these basketball games.
Win the rebounding battle, but more importantly, dominate the interior。
It's not rocket science. The Warriors want to go small, and the Cavaliers need to exploit that preference.
Cleveland managed to outrebound Golden State in Game 4, but just barely, by a margin of 41-40. That difference is marginally important, though; the real key is that the Cavs don't let the smaller Warriors beat them on the glass. A stalemate is acceptable for our purposes.
Even more important than maintaining rebounding supremacy, however, is continuing to force the issue at the rim. As the larger team, the Cavaliers should be expected to draw more fouls — if they're going out of their way to draw contact, that is.
Getting a couple early fouls on Curry and Green was crucial to Cleveland's Game 4 win. They'll need to keep up that aggression the rest of the way to keep things interesting, let alone complete the comeback.
Keep attacking Stephen Curry whenever possible
If Curry isn't the best point guard in this series, the Warriors have problems — and in Game 4, the battle between the two-time MVP and Kyrie Irving wasn't particularly close.
Curry finished with 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting, while Irving poured in 40 points from all over the court — including his typical offensive wizardry at the basket.
Irving outplaying Curry by such a significant margin has a compouding effect on this series. It demoralizes Golden State, for starters. The Warriors start pointing fingers on both ends of the court, trying to get their own point guard free for a bucket while they try to slow Irving.
Furthermore, every bit of energy Curry has to expend guarding Irving, even when he's not the primary defender, takes away from what Curry can do on offense.
KD is the Warriors' best player. Green is their most important. Without Curry humming as the offensive engine in Golden State, though, this beautiful scoring machine starts to backfire like an old jalopy.
Cheat off of Draymond Green to shut down Steph (and maybe KD)
It took them three whole games, but the Cavaliers finally realized that Green can't beat them — not on offense.
That "Eureka!" moment resulted in Game 4 plays in which LeBron James ostensibly was guarding Green but was actually 10 feet away from the Warriors forward, sagging to help on Durant or Curry and gunking up Golden State's offense.
As well as that strategy worked on Friday night — Cleveland held Curry to just 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting, including 2-for-9 from downtown — the Cavaliers tried the same approach on KD with less success. Durant had 35 points on 9-for-22 shooting, but that's fine.
Cleveland has to trust the process. The Cavs can survive one scoring outburst from the Warriors; they just can't have both Curry and KD roast them on the same night.
Control the pace, which doesn't necessarily mean playing slow
The Cavaliers found their tempo in Game 4 — by changing pace just when the Warriors started to get comfortable.
Really, when people say Cleveland needs to slow down, what they mean is that the Cavs need to make good decisions. There's nothing wrong with a quick 3-pointer if the whole team is ready to get back on defense following the shot.
Pace becomes an issue when, say, Irving decides to pull up for a 3 early in the shot clock before LeBron has had a chance to touch the ball. But as long as the Cavaliers aren't giving the Warriors chances to run, they can add a little speed to the game and be just fine.
And you want to introduce some chaos against Golden State — to try to goad Green into yelling at his teammates and the officials, to encourage Curry to get sloppy with the ball, and to watch as the Warriors forget about Durant and Klay Thompson waiting to score on the wings.
So there you go, Cleveland. Execute each of these steps to near-perfection, and you'll be able to continue calling yourselves defending NBA champions.
Good luck. You're going to need it.
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