CLEVELAND -- The almost too-rapid-to-absorb expansion of analytics in basketball has explained in almost minute detail why the Golden State Warriors have been able to jam multiple fingers in the collective eyes of the Cleveland Cavaliers – starting with the fact that Cavs have failed miserably at trying to out-Warrior the Warriors.
However, the statistics-behind-the-statistics fail in the area of the utterly trivial and non-revealing areas – like, for example, why Steve Kerr can’t win the third one.
The Warriors’ coach and his miserable 131-30 record (that is, if you rightfully award Luke Walton the 39-4 record that helped get him the Los Angeles Lakers’ job) if not, Kerr is 170-34. That is the difference between .813 and .833, which ranks him either first among all NBA and ABA coaches, or first among all NBA and ABA coaches.
But then there is the matter of his horrendous record after playoff plane rides, where he is a porous 4-5, and 2-5 in Game 3's. Now I don’t know how you evaluate the best coaches in NBA history (or even why you should bother), but I know this:
Phil Jackson was 43-20 in Game Threes. Gregg Popovich is 31-18. On the other hand, Red Auerbach was 11-14, including some years when series were only best-of-three and never saw the light of a third game.
In short, Kerr is not getting it done in this monumentally un-key component, and it undermines our ability to make 800 words on this subject stretch beyond . . . well, this point here.
But screw it. We have two off-days, and there are only so many “Nick U’Ren – The Power Behind The Throne” stories we can plow through before our eyes start to cross.
The problem, you see, is that the Warriors have shrink-wrapped the Cavaliers in the first two games of this series, and the last seven times the two teams have met; the average score is 106-88, which even allowing for the odd 30-plus-point blowout is a fairly massive number.
Moreover, the number of Cavaliers who have to be dramatically better in Games 3 and 4 is greater than the number of Warriors who have to be worse. By that, we mean that LeBron James alone isn’t getting this done any more than he did a year ago, when we didn’t have the substandard play of Kyrie Irving and the hesitant-before-injured Kevin Love to serve as explainers. The Cavs can't find J.R. Smith at all, and have struggled to find those telling minutes for Channing Frye. Hell, they even broke out Timofey Mozgov for a few minutes in what-else-do-you-want-me-to-do time Sunday, even though that was an avenue that didn’t work for Cleveland last year,
In sum, if Richard Jefferson is your second-best player through two games, you are neck-deep in it against these guys.
As for the Warriors, they have reached back to their best selves to beat the Cavs with waves of performers and performances. As day dawned, the likeliest Playoff Most Valuable Player candidates do not include either Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, but do include Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston and, because the ghost of Auerbach has a sense of humor, Leandro Barbosa.
Okay, Barbosa’s a stretch, but in his new role as fan darling/’Dro Buckets he is charming the pants off people with his sheer Barbosity, so why not give him a bit of run for an award 10-minute players would never get otherwise?
So we’re already down to seeds and stems with this series, which brings us back to Game 3. It is the hardest game for a superior team to capture, because it is the first road game of a series, and the home team has either angry, hopeful or ecstatic fans on hand – in addition to the unfamiliar shooting background and the rigors of luxury hotel life upon which to deal.
So yes, for the Warriors, it’s probably the damned turn-down service that undermines their collective will. The mint on the pillow must contain Demerol.
It would explain their being 13-3 in Games 1 and 2 of a series in the past two years, 7-7 in Games 3 and 4, and 10-0 in Games 5 through 7. It would certainly explain the home record of 20-3 (and the road record of 8-7).
So maybe another way of looking at this is that the Warriors establish a tone, take a deep and sometimes troublesome breath, and then finish the boa constrictor’s job.
So, in an attempt to inject some drama into this mystery novel where the murderer is revealed in the table of contents, Wednesday’s game is Cleveland’s big chance – the one hole in Kerr’s shield, one that almost certainly burns down to the pit of his tortured soul.
Or maybe not. He is almost singular in knowing he has never coached the inferior team, at least since the middle of two Novembers ago, and probably sleeps the sleep of the just knowing that he goes to work every day with more useful players than any other team. Plus, Curry and Thompson are pocket aces on every single hand, which would suck the fun out of poker if raking in the chips weren’t so much enjoyable aerobic exercise.
So maybe not. Maybe Kerr is pure zen, confident beyond any rational Eeyore-plagued coach’s right to be. But for today, it’s all we have to go on, so play with us a little on this. We’re bordering on desperation here.