By Mark Deeks
He hasn’t played much but Javal McGee’s brief burts of action have provided us with electric bursts of activity throughout the finals. In Golden State’s game one win, McGee played only five minutes. Yet in that time, he recorded four points, five rebounds, one block and one assist. It is hard to be better than that in five minutes, and it is a wonder why he only played five.
In game two, he played only three minutes, yet still recorded 2 points and 3 rebounds in that time. Conceivably, both games would have seen him play more if the games was closer, which tonight likely will be.
McGee never plays a ton, averaging only 9.6 minutes per game on the season despite how ridiculously effective he has been within them. Suffering from asthma and often looking winded. McGee is best at these short bursts of playing time, yet he normally gets at least two such spurts. In games one and two, it was only one.
Nevertheless, McGee’s impact in those eight combined minutes was phenomenal, as he ran an older, slower and considerably less athletic Cavaliers team off the court.
The match-ups haven’t changed any; there will therefore remain tonight absolutely no one on the Cavaliers team who can compete with McGee’s length, springiness and relentless pursuit of the rim. Expect him to have the same sort of night again, then, and with a cost of only $6.4 million, he is an absolute must-pick.
Clark played 18 minutes in game one, and had only four points, missing all three of his three pointers. Regardless of this, however, he played the second most bench minutes of any Warriors besides Andre Iguodala, and improved upon that in game two with 10 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in game two. Aside from McGee’s eclectic efficiency, Clark is the main bench scorer for the Warriors at this point – when he comes in, he is both looking to score and very much allowed to try. He is a good shooter and scorer whose 0-3 shooting night in game one is not the norm. With the Cavaliers always struggling in transition defence, and with their active ball movement in the half-court, there are plenty of opportunities for a shooter to spot up on the wing and make them pay. Clark is that shooter, and at only $6.5 million, he too is one of the cheapest players available and a recommended pick.
The Best In The World
Even in defeats, LeBron James had big nights, recording 22 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 blocks in 40 minutes of game one and an even more impressive 29 points, 14 assist, 11 rebound, 3 steal night in game two. He will have to do that sort of thing again for the rest of this series; indeed, he will have to do even more than that.
His opposite number Kevin Durant has been even better, recording 38 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists and unstoppable (or rather, not stopped) in transition all night, then being absolutely dominant defensively in game two (13 rebounds, 3 steals and 5 blocks) while still doing his usual offensively (33 points on 22 shots, 6 assists). Durant’s combination of smooth athleticism and ball handling skills make him a match-up nightmare for the Cavaliers, who just do not have the athleticism in their forward rotation to be able to keep up with him in pick-and-roll action. Pick whichever of the two you’d rather, but personally, I’m picking both.
Tristan Thompson’s Impact Has Been Minimal
Up front, Tristan Thompson had an extremely quiet night in game one, recording 0 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists, improving to only 8 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in game two. Given the swarming defence the Warriors play around the basket, this might not be the series for Thompson, a limited finisher whose main offensive virtue is the offensive rebounding, something he will be taken away from more often the more screens he sets out on the perimeter. And thus far, that has been a lot of screens.
McGee and Zaza Pachulia (8 points and 6 rebounds in 14 minutes, albeit 2 points and 2 rebounds in game two) can cover the centre spot on your team for a combined $16.4 million, as opposed to Thompson’s cost of $17.3 million, and unless the Cavaliers demonstrate a fundamental shift in their offensive scheme going forward in which Thompson is less required to come out and set screens – which, as the team’s best screener, they cannot really afford to have happen – then his value going forward is very limited.
Love Steps Up
Conversely, power forward Kevin Love had a strong game one showing overall. He recorded 15 points, 21 rebounds and 3 blocks, with tough rebounds in traffic included amongst that total rather in it being 21 chippies. He then followed it up with an offensive night in game two, shooting 12-23 from the floor for 27 points, along with 7 more rebounds. Love should lead this series in rebounding, and be good for some threes along the way; they might not be the most efficient double doubles he will ever record due to the stymieing Warriors defence combined with his own lack of explosion, yet Love should be good for one of these every game. And if the blocks keep up as well, that’s a bonus.
Outside of Clark (and McCaw if you’d like, although he has featured little thus far), the guard picks are less easy to spot. Amidst a poor year due to injuries and the extremely premature birth of his child, J.R. Smith has been barely recognisable from his former self; this continued in a game one performance in which he recorded 3 points, 0 rebounds and 0 assists in 28 minutes, along with some disastrous defensive rotations, and worsened to a 0 point outing in game two. On the other end, while Klay Thompson has been absolutely fantastic defensively in game one, his shot was awry, scoring only 6 points on 16 shots. Improving to 22 points on 12 shots in game two yet continuing a very streaky 2017 playoffs for him.
Ultimately, then, it comes down to Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving. Curry has had by far the better of that match-up thus far, with 28 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals in 34 minutes compared to Irving’s 24/2/3/0 in 35 minutes in game one, and with a 32 point triple-double (his first playoff triple double) in game two compared to Kyrie’s 8-23 shooting performance. With all of the momentum in the series and the beneficiary of having a rotation with far more weapons in it, Curry should be expected to win the battle again.