I have been known to be a bit vocal and opinionated over the years. My wife admires my honesty but says that being “brutally” honest is not always in my best interests. She says some people would like me better if I softened my approach and said things a bit more tactfully. But as the Warriors prepare for Game 4 of the NBA Finals tonight, this is not the time to mince words.
Let's face it, the Warriors are fortunate to be down 2-1 in the series, possibly even three games to none.
The Warriors could easily have lost Game 1 and be facing the almost impossible task of overcoming a 3-0 deficit. I also realize that they could have won Games 2 and 3 had a few plays gone their way. For example, Marreese Speights missed an uncontested two-handed dunk in Game 2, while Leandro Barbosa missed a driving layup in Game 3 and David Lee missed a couple of free throws in the same game. Unfortunately, those misses did happen.
There are other circumstances, however, that have had tremendous impact on the series. First, the officials seem to have taken the expression “playoff basketball” to mean that the game should be played by a new set of rules. Increased intensity is one thing, out and out grabbing, holding, banging and shoving are quite another.
The overt physical contact that is being allowed is absurd. Twice in Game 3, Draymond Green drove hard into the lane and collided with Cleveland center Timofey Mozgov. On neither occasion was a whistle blown. That's ludicrous! Either a charge or a block had to be called on those plays.
The officials have bought into the saying, “Let the players determine the outcome of the game.” Well, gentlemen, that doesn't mean that you, as the men in charge of enforcing the rules, should swallow your whistles and not penalize any player who breaks those rules. Your job is to call the game according to the rule book — period. By not enforcing the rules as they are written, you actually are determining the outcome of the games instead of the players.
This physical brand of basketball that is being allowed has definitely affected the Warriors' offense much more so than that of their opponents. Everyone knows the Eastern Conference style of play is much more physical than that of the Western Conference. The Cavaliers are using this to their advantage as they have locked up Stephen Curry on the perimeter and absolutely hammered any player who has dared to enter the lane.
Give the Cavaliers credit for the way they have played in the first three games. They have created problems for the Dubs with their aggressive defense. Not only are the Warriors shooting poorly from 2- and 3-point range, but they are not moving the ball as well as they have in the past. During the regular season, the Warriors averaged 25 assists per game. In the Finals, they are averaging just 18 per contest.
Meanwhile, Curry, who has not shot well overall, needs to elevate his play. The way he turned up his intensity level on offense in the fourth quarter is how he needs to play all the time. No one, especially Matthew Dellavedova, can stop him when he plays with that kind of energy and confidence. Yet, he has to make certain that he doesn't commit foolish and costly turnovers like he did late in Game 3.
So, can the Warriors win the Championship? Yes, but they need to do the following:
1. Focus on defense without any extended mental lapses.
2. Move the ball without making ill-advised, risky passes that lead to turnovers.
3. Avoid forced shots.
4. Strategically utilize the bench. Game 1 was won in part due to bench play. In the Game 2 loss, the bench did not play as aggressively as needed. In Game 3, the reserves helped Steph in the late comeback.
As I told the players when I spoke to them in the locker room just before the playoffs began, “You can beat any team in the league in a seven-game series if you play your best basketball.” Now is the time to see it.
Rick Barry played eight seasons for the Warriors and was the captain of their only Bay Area NBA championship team. In 1987, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. His commentary will appear exclusively in The San Francisco Examiner throughout the playoffs.