With LeBron James and Steph Curry as headliners, we knew the NBA Finals would be good, and so far, they have been. All three games have been decided by single digits, with the first two games going to overtime and the Cavaliers hanging on to win Game 3, 96-91.
“It’s kind of what I thought would happen,” former NBA All-Star Jamal Mashburn said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I think you have the best player in the game in LeBron James. It seems like they play better without Kyrie Irving and also Kevin Love. Obviously they’re missed in certain spots, but I think you got guys like Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and also (Timofey) Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. And we can’t forget (Matthew) Dellavedova, who’s played extremely well. Those guys have a certain skill set, I think, that matches up well with LeBron James – not just on the offensive end where they can spread the floor, but also they’re very solid defensively. LeBron James has done a great job slowing the pace of the game down.”
Indeed, James has been content to slowly walk the ball up the floor, work the paint, bleed the shot clock and shorten the game.
“Everybody talked about this era of basketball being up and down and LeBron James has pretty much gone back to old-school isolation basketball to control the clock,” Mashburn said. “And the problem with Golden State is, if they don’t have the freedom to run around and hit jump shots, they’ve been exposed without an interior presence at this particular point.”
Yes, without an interior presence and with Dellavedova shadowing Curry, the Warriors have been held to an average of 92 points over the last two games – and one of those games went to overtime.
Dellavedova has certainly put his imprint on this series, which may not be as stunning as you think. The Saint Mary’s product may not be an elite athlete, but he is an elite defender. He’s also, you know, an NBA player.
“The interesting thing about that is sometimes in practice you see things and guys are underrated because people don’t get a chance to see them,” Mashburn said. “They forget about their college career and the things that they’ve done. The 12th man on the NBA bench is still a pretty darn good player.”
Mashburn remembers playing with a certain practice-squad player in Miami. His name was Bruce Bowen.
“Dellavedova is not that elite of a defender as Bruce, but Bruce was a guy that got up into you every day in practice,” Mashburn said. “He knew he wasn’t going to play. He didn’t even get a chance to suit up down here in Miami because we had a lot of people ahead of him, but he got into you every day in practice, so you like to have him on your team.”
San Antonio would likely agree with that. Bowen helped the Spurs to three NBA titles – the same number James is trying to reach against Golden State. James is averaging 41.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 8.3 assists in this series, but he’s also shooting just 40.2 percent from the floor. In other words, the production has been marvelous; the efficiency, not so much.
Should we care about that?
Mashburn says no.
“(James) has to take darn near 35-plus shots,” Mashburn said. “The other thing is, with the shot clock, somebody has to put them up. Why not put it in LeBron’s hands? At least when he goes to the rim or takes a shot, he’s going to have people looking at him and staring at him, and there’s offensive rebounding opportunities. So efficiency doesn’t matter for me. At the end of the day, you got to put the ball in the basket. I don’t care how you do it or how ugly it looks. Somebody has to do it.”