Have you ever seen the movie Meatballs? It’s a 1979 comedy starring a pre-Caddyshack Bill Murray. The movie is solid if not remarkable neatly handling the summer camp hijinks/coming of age arcs of several characters. One of the best scenes comes near the film’s conclusion before the final day of The Big Intercamp Sporting Event. The campers’ spirit rests at its nadir, all hope is lost, and the fat lady is warming up. Murray proceeds to give a rousing speech that helps the campers relax and realize that they have a chance to win. The lecture crescendos with everyone chanting “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” This refrain keeps playing throughout my head watching Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are a mess right now. I’m told they are the Eastern Conference Champs, but the on-court performance more closely resembles a group of strangers who have randomly assembled to play a pickup game of basketball. Defensive switches gone awry directly translate to easy Golden State Warriors buckets. “Easy” might not aptly describe the facility with which the Warriors are dropping the ball through the cup. Cleveland may as well tee up the rock on the rim for them. The pick and roll has tormented Cleveland all season, and it just so happens that their opponents run it better than anyone else in the league. Defensive switches? It just doesn’t matter. Draymond Green will shoot (and make) threes. Closeout defense? It just doesn’t matter. Contested or open, the Dubs don’t seem daunted by pressure as the Splash Brothers accurately fire threes like Bullseye and Deadshot, respectively.
There is no good news on offense either. The long ball, a staple of the Wine and Gold offense since October, has completely forsaken the Cavs. Cleveland is not getting any calls down low in the paint and continues to see their shots blocked or passes burgled. Kyrie Irving is playing as if the MonStars have stolen his talent. Kevin Love, pre-and post-head injury, seems completely overwhelmed minus a handful of threes. Substitutions? It just doesn’t matter. Richard Jefferson is playing hard, but his 35-year-old ceiling is low. Channing Frye? The name rings a bell, but I haven’t seen him much recently. Maybe he overslept? LeBron James is doing LeBron James things, but he cannot take over a game the same way he did in the 2007 ECF Game 5. He is still a physical specimen and an impossibly good basketball players, but he needs more help than he is receiving. Right now he is giving his all, but it just doesn’t matter.
As far as I can tell, Ty Lue is doing the best he can, but it just doesn’t matter. Well placed timeouts are doing little to slow the Warriors’ offensive avalanche. Rotations and substitution patterns fail to make a meaningful impact in the game. Entering Game 3, Lue needs to consider making serious changes on both ends of the floor. Start James at the 5 and let him be the spoke around which the offense rotates. Start both Delly (for defense) and Irving (for offense). Bring in Smith off the bench, and maybe just to mix it up put some lifts in Tristan’s shoes. Tell Frye that he will be fined $5,000 every time he gets the ball and doesn’t shoot. Tell Moondog to spike Klay Thompson’s Gatorade. At this point there are no bad ideas.
The Cavs return home for Games 3 and 4, but does it really matter? The whole point of Murray’s speech was that the pressure on the campers and their own self-doubt was making them self-conscious and preventing them from performing to their true potential. Right now there is a 52-year-old mountain of pressure on Cleveland. The Warriors are already a historically great team looking for the only ending that works as a natural conclusion to the regular season and postseason dominance. Golden State is playing fast and loose while the Cavs are working as if all their ex-partners are at the game with their new lovers. Golden State has so far lived up to their billing, and I will not begrudge anyone who wants to hit their personal panic button (I’m quite near mine). Still, it takes four games to win a championship. A change of scenery, and perhaps a motivational speech, may be what the Cavaliers need right now. My message to the team is simple: The next two contests are at home, in front of the faithful. Play for us. Make us proud. Make these game matter.