CLEVELAND -- The Golden State Warriors have made it their new mantra – “We’ve been here before.” Somehow one time, against Memphis in the Western Conference Semifinals, makes them experts on adversity.
But Draymond Green, he of the wonky back and wonkier numbers, said it isn’t just that they were two games to one to the bad to the Grizzlies that gives them renewed hope of evening the Finals, but that they felt a lot worse being down 2-1 in Tennessee than they do now.
“It felt like we lost those games by 20,” he said Wednesday. “That’s the thing that’s drastically different between that series and this one. This one, it’s been a possession here or a possession there. That one, it felt like we were getting . . . just . . . beaten up.”
The Grizz won those games by nine and 10 points, respectively, and in both games the Warriors managed a paltry 74 shots, and were also 6-for-26 from three. Stephen Curry was 7-for-19 and 8-for-21, and the supporting cast was, well, meh in the extreme.
In this series, the Cavs have won by two in overtime and five in regulation in Games 2 and 3. They shot better than Cleveland but the Cavs weren’t trying to win the shooting percentage battle. They were fighting to keep Curry and Klay Thompson from harming them, and Curry in particular was horrific for seven of those eight quarters.
Plus, this is the biggest stage there is. Back then, the Warriors were a nightly doubleheader with Atlanta and Washington and were blending into the woodwork much more easily.
But Green persisted, especially when the talk turned to the turgid pace of games and how few possessions the Warriors were working with here (about 91).
“But Memphis is the model for the grind-it-out team,” Green protested. “We changed the pace in that series, and if we can change the pace in that series, we can change the pace in this one.”
There is a difference, though. Memphis had to use several passes to grind out a shot clock, and had nobody who could singlehanded dominate possession and distribution. Cleveland has LeBron James.
That should be sufficient to rest our case, but we’ll go on for the benefit of you who choose not to believe.
Having LeBron James is better than having the top Grizzlies in this respect, because he is more efficient. He is not on pace to break the Finals record for missed shots (he is at 64 through three games, and the record is 141, set by Rick Barry in the 1967 series against Philadelphia), but it isn’t the misses that matter, but the time it takes to run the plays, whatever their outcomes.
Unless Steve Kerr has a secret plan in mind to remove James, or at least his dominant hand, from play, it ought to be a hell of a lot harder than getting the ball out of Mike Conley’s, or Marc Gasol’s, or our beloved Z-Bo’s.
“This is the way Cleveland has played throughout the playoffs,” Kerr said. “Their pace has been pretty slow. Their pace has actually been faster when LeBron's been out of the game in the playoffs overall. So he's controlling the tempo. He's doing a great job of it. Yeah, that's what we're looking at. How can we speed the game up? Is it by changing our defense? Is it by what we're doing offensively? In my mind it's always a combination of things. It's never one thing. But we've got to look at all that, and we are. We've watched the tape already. We'll watch it again, and we'll figure some things out. But that's something that we have to get done. We've got to be able to get a little more pace to the game.”
Because, after all, They’ve Been Here Before. That’s what they keep telling us, anyway. But “here” is a whole lot different than “here” was last month. They are coming to understand that, the hard way.