Numbers don’t lie.
Yes, they don’t. They tell the truth more times than the ball does (Sorry, Sheed). And in the 2018 NBA Finals, looking at the numbers has become as important and interesting as watching the game itself. What do the stats tell us? What do they mean for the upcoming games? Let’s break down the first two NBA games by the numbers.
That’s the total basketball time LeBron James rested throughout the Oakland leg of the finals. In the 101 total minutes that was played in the first two games, James didn’t even stay on the bench for at least a quarter of game time. He could’ve listened to Frank Ocean’s ‘Pyramids’ throughout the length of his rest and still not finish the song!
I get it: the Cleveland Cavaliers needs The King to play for as long as he can for them to even have a chance to win. Tyronn probably knows that. That’s why he burns timeouts instead of pulling James out of the game completely. And the stats justify the need to do so.
James led the Cavs in both points and assists—both by a mile. He was responsible for more than half of his team’s offensive output, and every minute without him on the floor was a risk that Cleveland was taking.
But with the two road losses, the Cavs will now have to take the long route—at least six games—to take home the title. This situation begs to ask this queation: how long can James take this kind of beating? He leads the team on both ends of the floor (yes, on defense, too) for almost the entire game. Yes, this is not James’ postseason where he played the most minutes (maybe not yet), but his usage rate is reminiscent of the times when he had to carry The Land on his back (the first Cleveland era, the 2015 Herculean finals series).
And it’s not just in this series. Throughout the postseason, he played at least 46 minutes in at least five games, three of which happened in the last 11 days. As strong as he is now, he’s only human. Someway, somehow, he will get exhausted after doing all the superhuman stuff that he does for Cleveland.
Or maybe he’s really superhuman, and he’s really out to defy human logic in this Finals series.
If there’s one stat which Cleveland has taken the lead, it’s in the boards. The Cavaliers have a 16-rebound advantage after the first two games of the series. While the Golden State Warriors hold the advantage in defensive rebounding (68-60), the Cavaliers more than tripled the output of the Dubs (35-11) on the offensive boards. The 24 extra possessions resulted to 17 more field goal attempts for the team. So far, Kevin Love leads the series in rebounding (11.5), while Larry Nance has been crashing the boards relentlessly (8.5) in the limited time that he’s been playing (16 minutes per game).
The one who controls the rebound controls the game, right? Well, apparently not in this series so far. The Cavs outrebounded the Dubs on both games, yet they didn’t win any of the two. The disparity in field goal shooting was just too huge for the Cavs to cope up.
But if Cleveland wants to have a remote chance of winning, they have to maintain that big lead in the boards.
At the end of the day, the one who scores more will win, and that’s where Cleveland came up short in the opening games. Their shooting clip is 11.4% less than the Warriors. The Cavs had 17 more shot attempts than the Warriors, but still ended up converting 12 shots less than their opponents. No wonder that +24 in offensive rebounding was all for naught.
LeBron James (40 PPG, 55.8% FG, 5/11 3P) was a monster during that two-game stretch (especially in game 1). But outside of him, only Kevin Love (21.5 PPG, 16/38 FG) reached double digits in scoring for both finals games. There was really no consistent help from the other guys on the offensive end.
Tristan Thompson and George Hill were no-shows in Game 1 before they combined for 26 points in Game 2. JR Smith, Jeff Green and Jordan Clarkson were shooting bricks with a combined 13-of-48 clip in the first two games. And Kyle Korver? That guy who shot over six attempts and made two triples per game in the Eastern Conference Finals? He disappeared. He only had one made triple on four attempts, and was limited to a total of four points (a triple and a technical free throw), far from his 8.6 points per game in the series against Boston.
On the other end of the floor, Kevin Durant is scoring a clean 26 points on 50% shooting. He shot 71% from the field, missing only four shots in Game 2. Curry is averaging a team-high 31 points, hitting seven (!!!) three-pointers per game at a 50% clip. It isn’t just the stars that are shining for Golden State. JaVale McGee contributed 12 points on 6/6 shooting and Shaun Livingston is averaging 10 points in the first two games without missing a single shot (9/9 total). That’s not just great offense. That’s borderline unfair.
That’s why Cleveland has to fight fire with fire. Great offense for great offense. Or at least have some decent shooting. This subpar showing on the offensive end just won’t cut it for the Cavs if they want to beat one of the best offensive teams in the league.
Steph Curry broke the NBA Finals record for most threes in a Finals game last weekend. He made it rain down in Oakland with nine triples, passing Ray Allen’s eight in 2010. Performances like that from arguably the best shooter in NBA history had almost always put Golden State in a position to win the game.
Coincidentally, that’s also the difference between the number of threes made by the Warriors and the Cavaliers through the first two games. The Warriors built an offense that revolved around pace and space, and they were able to take the lead early in the finals from beyond the arc.
What’s even scarier? Golden State was not even shooting close to the point of complete dominance from deep. Yes, Steph was shooting like it’s 2016 again. Klay was Klay. But outside the two, the Other Warriors were pedestrian at best. KD (Yes! KD!) converted only three out of his 10 attempts. Draymond only made two of his seven shots. Nick Young, a guy who averaged 1.5 triples per game in the regular season, missed all his six shots from deep.
Most of the three-point shooting came from the Splash Brothers (22 out of 28). If the rest of the Warriors can find a way to click from beyond the arc, then a sweep might just be within reach for Golden State.
The Cavs are now down by two games in the Finals. It could have been 1-1, but that’s not a story to tell anymore. Should Cleveland feel uncomfortable? Yeah sure. Should they panic? Absolutely not. If there’s anything that they can get from that Game 1 mishap, it’s that they can win against Golden State.
But The Chosen One can’t do it alone. He had 51 and they still lost the series opener. It just won’t work. Just like what they did in Boston, the Cavs should start the revolution with LeBron.Then, the rest of the roster should follow the lead of The King. If that happens, only then can we have a dogfight for the crown.
Photos from Getty Images, Stats from Basketball-Reference.com