While watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals, my youngest son Canyon said the following to me in the third quarter, “Dad, this isn't much fun to watch with all of the one-on-one.” I couldn't have agreed more. Just to verify my son's comment, I viewed the game again and took notes. I was shocked at the results.
What I did was chart the number of times LeBron James either went one-on-one after receiving a pass from a teammate or went solo having brought the ball up the court with no pass ever being made. Understand that these numbers do not include the times when LeBron received a pass and took an immediate shot or when he went one-on-one then passed to a teammate.
In the first half, James attempted 16 shots. Of those, eight came with him bringing the ball up the court and never making a pass prior him shooting. Six of the shots had him going one-on-one after receiving a pass from a teammate. There were very few times that multiple passes were made prior to the ball going to James, meaning the Cavaliers rarely ran an offensive set.
In the second half, LeBron went totally on his own with no passes eight times and one-on-one after receiving a pass 11 times. In the overtime, both of those scenarios occurred twice. Sure, the game was exciting because of the score. And, yes, LeBron set his Finals record for points, but the bottom line is that the brand of basketball being played by Cleveland is not the style of basketball that I enjoy watching. Nor is it the way to play if the Cavaliers hope to become the NBA champions.
The statistics I charted are actually even worse, because on numerous occasions, teammate Kyrie Irving also went one-on-one without ever making a pass. Yes, great players are capable of doing amazing things, but this reliance on one-on-one plays is just not good team basketball.
I was a bit surprised when former Warriors head coach Mark Jackson, who is doing color commentary for the games on television, said in response to fellow analyst Jeff Van Gundy's comment about how much isolation was taking place. Jackson said he would do the same thing if had the “baddest” player on the planet. Really? Obviously, that strategy didn't work, as the “baddest” player was unable to deliver the best results.
I know from first-hand experience that one player cannot win a championship, or in this case, a game. Great players need their teammates to help even when they are playing well. In this case, one of the players who helped the Cavaliers get to the Finals was J.R. Smith, who can either win games or hurt his team with his shooting. Unfortunately for Cleveland and LeBron, Smith went 3-13 from the field, 3-10 from beyond the arc and didn't score in the second half or overtime.
Even the Warriors got caught up with too much one-on-one play at times. They are so much better as a team when they are moving the ball on offense, which creates easy baskets inside or wide-open perimeter shots. In the five minutes of overtime, passing was almost non-existent for both teams. Once over half court, the Cavaliers passed the ball just eight times. The Warriors weren't much better with only 11 passes, three of those coming on one possession with less than a minute to play and the game basically over.
Everyone knows Cleveland is in trouble, especially with Irving out for the remainder of the season. In Game 2, the Warriors may con themselves into believing that there is no way they can lose. I am confident that coach Steve Kerr will not allow that to happen. I am also hopeful that team basketball will triumph once again.
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.