"Low" margin for error killing Cavs against Warriors

LeBron: trying to beat Golden State is like trying to beat the Patriots

Daryl Ruiter
June 07, 2018 - 3:27 am
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game three of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – There’s a fine line between winning and losing.

At least that’s how the cliché goes, but when it comes to trying to beat the Golden State Warriors there is no greater truth and it’s a lesson the Cavaliers have learned the hard way.

“The margin of error is very low,” LeBron James, who tallied the 10th triple-double of his NBA Finals career in Wednesday night’s 110-102 loss in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, said. “You can't -- I mean, it's almost like playing the Patriots, you can't have mistakes. They're not going to beat themselves.”

James scored 51 in Game 1 and the Cavs lost in overtime. He had 29 to go with 13 assists and 9 rebounds in a 19-pont loss in Game 2 and dropped 33, 11 assists and 10 rebounds Wednesday night in yet another loss. 

He is averaging 37.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 10.7 assists and the Cavs are about to get swept. 

The margin for error in these Finals has been eliminated and it seems like the Cavs will be lucky just to force a Game 5.

“We did it for three quarters at a high level,” Tristan Thompson, who had 8 points and 7 rebounds, said. “Had a couple of slips and breakdowns on the defensive end, which we know with this team is going to cost you.”  

Miss a shot, Golden State turns it into points. Miss a rebound, the Warriors turn it into points. Blow a defensive assignment, you guessed it, points. A bad pass, yep, more points.

Case in point – 14 Cavalier turnovers were turned into 19 Warrior points Wednesday night. In the series 34 turnovers have gifted Golden State 46 points and their combined margin of victory is 37 points in this series.

“When you're able to either force a miscue on them, you have to be able to capitalize and you have to be so in tuned and razor sharp and focused every single possession,” James said. “You can't have miscommunication, you can't have flaws, you can't have ‘my faults’ or ‘my bads’ or things like that, because they're going to make you pay. When they make you pay, it's a 3-0 or 6-0 or 9-0 run, and it comes in bunches. The room for error, you just can't have it.

“We know throughout the course of a 48-minute game there are going to be plays where, you know, it was a miscue there, it was a miscue there. But for the most part throughout 48 minutes you just can't have a bunch of those, not especially against this team.”

The Cavs couldn’t have asked for a better start in the first half that saw them build a 13-point lead in the second quarter.

But they couldn’t expand it and paid dearly because of it.

“I just think the margin of error against them is so little,” Love said. “I think that we fought very hard. Our schemes have been there. I know that K.D. had a -- had one of his games that will go on his highlight reel and one that was incredible even by his standards. Then we forced two other juggernauts in Klay and Steph into some very tough shots, and both guys didn't have the greatest games.

“We gave ourselves a chance, same thing in Game 1. They just…that margin for error is so thin and so little against them that in some cases you almost have to be perfect.”

This Cavs team is far from perfect, but it was good enough to get them through the Eastern Conference for a fourth straight year and there have been glimmers of hope in the series, despite the 3-0 deficit.

Problem is, when the Warriors score, they do it in bunches.

By halftime the lead was down to 6 thanks to a 15-8 run to end the half and it took 2:03 of the third quarter for the Warriors to take their first lead of the night thanks again to another run – this one 11-3 to start the quarter.

“They're a team of runs,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said. We've been doing this for the last four, five years. They go on runs, and they have great spurtability. If you turn the basketball over, take a bad shot, they make you pay and they capitalize.”

The second half saw the lead change 11 times and 8 ties but the Cavs could never regain control and Golden State ended the game with a 14-5 run to essentially put the series away.

Klay Thompson and Steph Curry combined for 21 points and the splash brothers shot just 7 of 27. But Kevin Durant dropped 43 to go with 13 rebounds and 7 assists, and that was all she wrote.

“We know that we're capable,” Love said. “We just made some mistakes. We allowed a lot of cutters to get to the basket. There were times where we wanted to switch up, and they dove right to the basket, got open looks, or McGee got a couple shots at the basket. Bell got a couple shots at the basket. Iguodala, Livingston, those type of guys.

“So when they make a big impact on top of a game like Kevin Durant has, that's tough to overcome. But we feel like we've been right there.”

Game 1 was the ultimate woulda, coulda, shoulda following some controversial officiating in the final 4 minutes of regulation combined with JR Smith inexplicably dribbling out the clock in a tie game.

That mistake was costly because Golden State outscored Cleveland 17-7 in the extra 5 minutes because that’s what they do, and one could argue the Cavs haven’t recovered from it.

The Warriors’ ability to pounce on every single mistake adds even more stress to James’ already taxing workload that has forced him to play almost every minute in the series and reminds him of facing the San Antonio Spurs on the same stage.

“When you have Timmy D. and Manu and Kawhi and Manu, and now Draymond and Klay, Steph and K.D., and then you sprinkle in Iguodala and Livingston and all those guys as well, it adds a level of stress,” James said. “Because you know that you can never relax. You know if you relax, they make you pay, and making you pay could cost you a game.

“So, it's tough, but it's all part of the competition, which I love and which I continue to lace them up every night.”

He'll get to do it again Friday night, which will likely be the last.