(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)
Dubs Deep Dives
Analyzing the First Two Games of the Warriors-Cavs Series With the Help of MOCAP Analytics
Analyzing the first two games of the NBA Finals with the help of MOCAP Analytics.
Having prevailed in the first two games of the NBA Finals, the Warriors now own the longest postseason winning streak in NBA history. They have yet to lose a game (14-0 in the playoffs) and are now two wins away from a second championship in three years. Of their 14 postseason victories, 12 have come by double-digits; that's tied for the most double-digit wins in a single postseason in NBA history.
Both of Golden State's wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Games 1 and 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals have been of the double-digit variety. The Warriors have led for 86 of the 96 minutes played in the series, the most time spent in the lead in the first two games of the Finals since the 2007 San Antonio Spurs, who went on to sweep – ironically – the Cavaliers in four games.
Golden State is averaging 122.5 points per game so far in the series, and their 132 points in Game 2 were the most points scored in a Finals game since the Los Angeles Lakers notched 141 against the Celtics in 1987. But while the Warriors have been supremely effective offensively, it's quite possible their team defense has been the real story thus far.
The Warriors have limited Cleveland to just 97.4 points per 100 possessions, a mark that would have ranked more than three full points worse than the least efficient offensive team in the regular season (Philadelphia, 100.7). For comparison's sake, the Cavaliers averaged 120.7 points per 100 possessions against their three Eastern Conference opponents on their way to these Finals. Including Games 1 and 2, Golden State has allowed only 98.8 points per 100 possessions in the 2017 playoffs, 9.2 fewer points allowed than the league average over the course of the postseason. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that is easily the largest such gap ever among teams that have made the Finals under the current playoff format (since 1983-84).
With those staggering numbers in mind, let's take a closer look at how and why Games 1 and 2 played out the way they did.
Turnover differential played a huge role in Game 1. Neither team shot the ball very well, but the Cavaliers committed 20 turnovers (a playoff-high), while the Warriors turned it over just four times, tying an NBA Finals record. That was the largest turnover differential in an NBA Finals game since turnovers were first recorded in 1970-71, and as a result, Golden State attempted 20 more shots than the Cavs (106 to 86).
The Warriors' 42.5 percent shooting from the field was their worst performance of the postseason, but by getting 20 more attempts than the opposition, they were able to overcome their poor shot making. Many of those additional shot attempts were long drives to the basket from the backcourt or transition threes, as the Dubs capitalized on Cleveland's defensive shortcomings in the midst of transition chaos. Golden State outscored the Cavs 30-9 in sprint offense in Game 1.
Kevin Durant, in particular, was the beneficiary of several sprint buckets, taking full advantage of the additional spacing in transition to lead the way in scoring for Golden State.
While the Cavaliers were on the wrong side of a massive turnover differential in Game 1, the shoe was on the other foot in Game 2. Golden State totaled 20 turnovers in Game 2 compared to just nine for Cleveland, including eight miscues in the first quarter alone. The Warriors' lackluster ball control permitted the Cavaliers to take five more shots than the Dubs in the first half and keep it a close game going into halftime, trailing by just three points. In the second half, however, Golden State broke the game open to earn a 132-113 victory. It was the Warriors' second 130-point and fourth 125-point game of the postseason, as they once again parlayed great shot taking with great shot making.
Golden State averaged 1.35 points per shooting play in the victory, resulting in a final outcome of 16 more points than would be expected if they were to take those same shots again. The Warriors outperformed at every level of their offense, making more two-pointers, three-pointers and free throws than expected.
Golden State knocked down 18 three-pointers in the victory, which broke their own team record for the most treys in a Finals game. The Warriors' proficiency from the three-point line resulted in an effective field goal percentage of 61.8 percent, their fourth-best shooting performance of the playoffs.
Two-thirds of the Warriors' Game 2 three-pointers came from their sharp-shooting trio of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, who splashed in four treys apiece. They all capitalized on great shooting looks; Curry led the way with 1.34 expected points per shooting play, and it didn't hurt that he converted all 14 of his attempts from the free throw line.
After struggling to find a shooting groove throughout much of the postseason, Thompson bounced back in a big way in Game 2, scoring 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field. After posting a minus-nine shot-making performance in Game 1, his six more points than expected in Game 2 ranked second among all shot-makers on the team. The plus-15 turnaround from Game 1 to Game 2 marked the largest positive swing for any Warriors player this postseason.
While Thompson's offense reappeared in Game 2, his stellar defense has been a constant throughout the postseason, and in particular through the first two games of the Finals. He has done a tremendous job against Kyrie Irving, limiting the Cavs' All-Star guard to just 11 points on 4-of-13 shooting while forcing three turnovers in the 69 half court possessions that have ended with Thompson as Irving's primary defender.
With Thompson doing a great job clamping down on Irving, it has placed an added onus on LeBron James to provide needed scoring, and James has not disappointed. James has been a constant downhill threat, and looked to attack the rim at every opportunity in Game 2 (see long, orange streaks), in which Cleveland outscored Golden State 60-40 in points in the paint.
James is averaging a triple-double through the first two games of the series, and in typical fashion he's also been great as a playmaker and rebounder.
Coming into the series, it was readily apparent that neither side lacked for star power, and the individual matchup of two of the top players in the world in James and Durant has proven to be one of the treats of the series thus far. The old basketball adage that great offense beats great defense has often proven to be true within that matchup, as James has shot well (5-of-7 FG) when guarded by Durant, although Durant has forced him into six turnovers in 64 half court possessions. On the other end of the floor, Durant is 10-of-17 from the field for 23 points and only one turnover in 74 half court possessions when guarded by James.
Through the first two games of the Finals, the Warriors have had advantages all across the board. The individual matchups between the star players have worked in their favor, they've been more productive and more efficient from three-point range, and Golden State has done a better job capitalizing on fast break opportunities, despite similar turnover totals. Those will be three areas to keep an eye on as the series transitions to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4, where the Cavaliers' season could be on the line.