CLEVELAND — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue isn’t making a change to the starting lineup.
“I’m not doing it,” Lue replied indignantly when asked about Iman Shumpert potentially replacing J.R. Smith in the starting lineup.
And what about the idea of slowing down the pace of the game?
“We’re not going to change our game because of who we’re playing,” Lue said. “And I’m confident that we can play that way, and we did it last year. A lot of people said we couldn’t. But that’s our game. That’s who we are. And we’re not going to change just because we’re playing Golden State.”
There you have it from the defiant Cavs, down 2-0 to the Warriors in the NBA Finals.
The Cavs will not make significant changes to their rotation or style. They are going to dance with what brought them this far.
Cleveland’s pace and aversion to lineup changes were major topics Tuesday. But the Cavs have made clear that if they’re going down, they’re going down their way. Fair. Lue has earned that no matter what anyone outside the organization believes.
But there is more than that to Cleveland’s success. While basketball can be a complicated game of well-designed moving parts, it is also a simple game based on making shots and preventing the opponent from making shots.
The Cavs need to be a much better offensive and defensive team.
“It starts with [Wednesday],” LeBron James said. “One game at a time, one possession at a time, and cleaning up on some of the miscues that we have had in the first couple games and not have as many.”
The Warriors have multiple offensive weapons and are the most difficult team in the league to defend. It requires immense focus, energy and communication to perform well defensively against Golden State. The Warriors are shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 39.5 percent on three-pointers and have a 2.71-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the Finals. Too often, the Warriors have wide-open shots from long range and inside the paint.
“A lot of it is just being aware, staying alert,” Lue said. “With this team, you can’t relax at all. If you relax, they make you pay. They made some tough shots, but that’s what they do. They make shots behind, three or four feet behind the three-point line, and they’re capable of doing that.
“But we’ve got to do a better job of just staying locked into these guys, being physical, staying on their bodies.”
Offensively, Cleveland is shooting 40.3 percent from the field and just 31.7 percent on three-pointers in the Finals. In the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Cavs were at 50.7 percent and 43.5 percent — both playoff highs through three rounds.
Turnovers, poor shot selection and sub-standard ball movement also have plagued the Cavaliers.
“We have to make some shots,” Lue said. “But also they’re closing out hard, so we got to be able to read when we have a shot or when we have a chance to attack the basket. We’ve got to do a better job of shooting the three, but if it’s not open, driving and then making the extra pass and finishing at the rim.”
Offense and defense are interconnected. Better offense leads to better defense, and better defense creates better offense.
Not all of Cleveland’s problems are self-inflicted. Golden State — perhaps headed toward a dynasty and one of the greatest NBA teams — is causing a lot of the damage.
But even with improvements and fewer mistakes, the Cavs can at least make Game 3 closer and give themselves a chance to win, which didn’t happen in the first two games.
If the Cavs are going to do it their way, they need to do it much better.
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