Arena: The Cleveland Cavaliers' Art of War
LeBron James is ready to lead the Cavaliers into war.
The Cavs are on a mission to snag back-to-back championships, and a third Finals battle against the Warriors appears inevitable. Cleveland will need as much inspiration as possible to pull out another Finals victory and they should look no further than Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
The Art of War is a fifth century Chinese text recognized as one of the most influential pieces of literature in history. It has influenced great generals, kings and world leaders in decisions of war and life. As King James prepares for another great battle with Golden State, he should keep these Sun Tzu quotes in mind.
“There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.”
The Cavaliers’ quest for a repeat has been effortless thus far. Starting out 8-0 with two sweeps has given King James and co. ample time to rest. James has been to six straight NBA finals; that rest may prove pivotal in keeping him healthy and on the court as much as possible.
Cleveland will do everything in its power to sweep the Celtics to assure James gets his days off. As good as they have been in the postseason, the Cavs have been abysmal when James is off the floor. This has caused head coach Ty Lue to play James 43.2 minutes per game so far in the playoffs – his most playing time since 2012. Boston does not have nearly enough firepower or defensive acumen to stifle the Cavs, unless they find a way to tire LeBron out. The Celtics have the home court advantage, but they realistically have little shot at an upset.
The Eastern Conference has been a cakewalk for Cleveland this season – they better continue to take full advantage.
“Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.”
Many were concerned that this team’s lack of effort in the regular season would translate to the playoffs. Only after Cleveland streaked to an 8-0 playoff start did people realize they were simply trying to fool us all along.
The Cavs went through some seriously puzzling bouts of inept defense at times in the regular season. They seemed disinterested, bored and downright lazy on the less glamorous side of the ball, finishing the season ranked No. 22 in defensive efficiency.
Few of us knew the Cavs were actually taking Sun Tzu’s advice by pretending inferiority.
As the playoffs have progressed, this team has suddenly flipped the script on defense. They blitzed DeMar DeRozan, turning Toronto's most potent scorer into a nonentity and forcing the Raptors out of their comfort zone. DeRozan had only 5 points on 2-11 shooting in Game 2 and his inability to impact the series left Toronto punchless.
It seems Cleveland was merely playing poor defense as a means of lulling their playoff foes into a false sense of hope. A hope that the Cavs' more astute playoff defense has crushed.
“Great results can be achieved with small forces.”
Everyone knows about Cleveland’s big three; LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love make regular All-Star appearances and spearhead this team’s identity blah-blah-blah. In the playoffs, however, role players can make the biggest difference as head coaches typically shorten their rotations. Houston’s Mike D’Antoni used just seven players in a Game 5 overtime loss against the Spurs and exhaustion clearly caught up to them in the waning minutes.
Cleveland does not have that problem. They have the luxury of employing a deep roster with many potential contributors with valuable playoff experience. Deron Williams, Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert and Richard Jefferson can all make valuable contributions off the bench and any one of them could be the x-factor in any game. Korver and Frye both feast on open threes that LeBron and Kyrie Irving create. Shumpert’s steady defense helps the Cavs lock down opposing wings. Jefferson’s wealth of playoff experience should help Cleveland remain calm in any situation, while Williams is exactly the type of playmaker that LeBron was aching for early in the season.
In a potential Cavs vs. Warriors NBA Finals, the Cleveland’s stars will shine like they always do, while the role players will quietly make a huge impact on the series’ outcome.
“So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak.”
Whether the Cavs face off against Golden State or San Antonio, they will need to exploit their foes’ weaknesses. That may be a problem, however, as neither of those squads has a particularly gaping flaw, providing that Kawhi Leonard returns from his Game One ankle injury.
If they are to face the Spurs, Cleveland must try to fluster. Though Kawhi is often seen as the most important player on the Spurs, when opposing teams have thrown Aldridge off his game, Greg Popovich’s squad has crumbled. When Aldridge struggles, he has a habit of holding the ball and trying to force things. This bogs the Spurs offense down, creating lack of movement.
The Cavs should also look to exploit the Spurs' lack of depth at point guard after Tony Parker’s season-ending injury. Irving should be able to dominate all series against Patty Mills and Danny Green, which gives Cleveland a decided advantage.
In last year’s finals, Cleveland dominated the Warriors on the boards. Tristan Thompson regularly caught Andrew Bogut out of position and feasted on the offensive glass. This postseason, the Warriors no longer employ Bogut, but rather a center-by-committee approach of Zaza Pachulia, Javale McGee and David West.
This will pose a different challenge for Thompson, as all three of the Warriors' options are solid and bring completely different skill sets to the game. The Warriors are weakest on the interior, making Thompson perhaps the most important player in the series. His presence was highly effective as a small-ball deterrent against the Warriors; as he can guard Draymond Green and hold his own switching to the perimeter. Limiting how much small-ball the Warriors can play could push this series in the Cavs' favor.
“One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.”
They've done this before, but that does not guarantee they will be able to pull it off this time around. The Cavs conquered the Warriors and brought championship glory to “The Land." James recently stated he feels like he has, “nothing left to prove.”
This Warriors squad is one of the greatest collections of basketball talent ever assembled. They are the only NBA team to ever employ two MVPs in their primes, and have a system built to last with or without head coach Steve Kerr. They are led by four all-stars, play high caliber basketball on both ends of the floor and employ three of the best shooters of all time.
Cleveland will go all-out in effort to haul in back-to-back championships, there's no question about that. They have the heart, the star power and the role players necessary to beat anybody. They came back from 3-1 last year in historic fashion and nobody will forget it.
They know how to conquer the Warriors, but will they be able to?