On June 9, the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors, 96-91, to take a surprising, if not stunning, 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. Seven days and three losses later, however, the Cavs are still waiting for their first title in franchise history.
What happened? Was Steve Kerr’s lineup tweak the only difference in the series, or did other factors cause Cleveland to lose three straight by a combined 42 points?
“That was the first big move in the chess match between the two teams,” former Cavs coach and current NBA-TV analyst Mike Fratello said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Who was going to back down to the other? Was Cleveland going to stay big, or were they going to try to match up with the small-ball team of Golden State? Early on, it was a matter of the defensive presence – or what the media made out of it – of Dellavedova having an effect on Curry when, in fact, Curry was missing some open shots that he makes normally on a couple instances. If you look at the numbers, there were still some times where he had really decent numbers, but they wind up losing some very close games. If Cleveland could keep it close, they had a chance. Anything over 100, they were out of it.”
The Cavs were 0-4 when allowing 100+ points and 2-0 when they didn’t.
“They had no chance because they had no supporting cast to make shots around LeBron James,” Fratello said. “As magnificent as LeBron was, he needed a little bit of help, and he just couldn’t get it.”
James averaged 34.2 points, 14.4 rebounds, 9.4 assists and 1.6 steals in the series. He was seeking to become the first Finals MVP on a losing team since Jerry West in 1969, but the honor instead went to Andre Iguodala, who became the first player to win the award without starting every game. Iguodala averaged 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals in the series.
Iguodala, with seven votes, and James, with four, were the only players to receive MVP votes. That means that Stephen Curry, the regular-season MVP, received none.
“(That’s) kind of amazing to me,” Fratello said. “I’m not saying Iguodala didn’t have an outstanding series. When they inserted him into the lineup, he made big jumpers – critical jumpers – when he had to. . . . I guess he did a decent job on LeBron, but the fact that Curry did not get a vote? Check out his numbers. (Look at) what he did and what he averaged.”
Curry averaged 26.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.8 steals, out-producing Iguodala across the board. He was also double-teamed throughout the series, played just 3.3 minutes fewer than James, shot 88.5 percent from the foul line – as compared to Iguodala’s 35.7 percent – and scored 62 points in the final two games.
“I’m wondering if I was watching the same series as the people who voted,” said a befuddled Fratello. “But Iguodala had a good one. He helped them win a title, and that’s the most important thing.”