The Warriors and Cavaliers are two powerhouses that’ll vie for the rights to call themselves champions at the conclusion of the 2014-15 season. With eyes set on the stars of this series that include MVP Stephen Curry, four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James, co-Splash Brother Klay Thompson and Uncle Drew a.k.a Kyrie Irving, the bench production from both teams will be pivotal in this series.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made some gutsy moves at the beginning of this season, although one was by necessity. One was moving Andre Iguodala to the bench in favor of Harrison Barnes, and the other was making Draymond Green the starting power forward when David Lee got hurt. To Kerr’s credit and the delight of the team, this all worked out superbly. Not only has the Warriors’ starting lineup been dominant, but in the 97 games they’ve played so far (including regular season and playoffs), the Golden State bench has put up 34.9 points per game on a league-best 47 percent from the field.
We all know Iguodala is going to come on the floor with energy and a clear defensive focus, because he’s cognizant of the importance he brings to that end. His athleticism and ball-handling abilities are also conducive to how the Warriors play, particularly when it comes to their transition offense.
With Curry being the floor general but also an individual who needs no persuasion when it comes to spotting up from beyond the arc, Iguodala is a viable option handling the basketball on fast breaks. Golden State leads all teams with 21.6 fast break points per game during these playoffs.
Shaun Livingston has also been a key piece off the Warriors’ bench this season after a solid campaign in Brooklyn last year. The veteran guard has moved well past the horrific knee injury he sustained earlier in his career and has found a niche in Golden State.
While Livingston doesn’t provide the team with any three-point shooting, he’s able to direct the traffic as the point guard when Curry sits. He’s fully aware of his long-range shooting limitations, which is why he has refrained from taking any of those shots and has made a conscious effort to attack the lane. His versatility and length on defense is also a huge weapon, especially when the Warriors go small.
Leandro Barbosa is yet another guard off the bench who can provide a spark, and while he’s been rather inconsistent, he’s had several double-digit scoring games in the postseason.
Moving on, Lee’s name is one we haven’t heard too often this year, and it’s simply because he’s fallen out of Kerr’s rotation. The interesting thing about this situation is that Lee is currently the highest-paid player on the team making about $15 million this year.
Over the years, we’ve customarily watched Lee hit the mid-range jumper and become formidable around the rim. But his injury set him back at the beginning of the year, and his poor defense and lack of mobility makes him a poor fit with this Warriors team. With Marreese Speights returning to action following a calf injury that kept him out of the last eight games, we’ll be hard-pressed to find Lee breaking a sweat outside of intense high-fiving and participating in layup lines.
The Warriors undoubtedly would like to forget about what transpired back on Feb. 26 at the Q when James went off for 42 points, but Lee actually had a solid game in that one. He scored a team-high 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting in 21 minutes of action, so he might want to tell this to someone in the hallway and hope Kerr overhears that conversation.
On the other side, the Cavaliers’ bench has certainly risen to the challenge in a remarkable way. They may not be quite as lethal or deep as the Warriors’ bench, averaging 24.3 points in the 96 games they’ve played, but they still must be acknowledged and accounted for.
J.R. Smith went from untying opposing players’ laces at the free throw line and partying ‘til the cows came home to hitting countless contested three-pointers and showing the world he’s a threat whenever he steps on the court.
In the playoffs, he’s averaging 13.5 points on 45 percent shooting, which is his highest percentage since the 2008-09 season in Denver when they went to the Western Conference Finals. His effective field goal percentage stands at nearly 60 percent. Who said J.R. Swish couldn’t be efficient?
Per Basketball Reference, the Cavs are a plus-8.5 in offensive rating with Smith on the floor in the postseason compared to when he’s sitting. His scoring ability playing alongside James and Irving with the rebounding of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson has spelled good things for Cleveland. Eradicating the nightlife from his repertoire has allowed him to consistently flourish.
Back on Jan. 9 when Cleveland went to Oracle, the Cavs didn’t have LeBron and Smith sought to carry the load to the tune of 27 points on 11-of-23 shooting. Unfortunately, it didn’t result in a victory for the team, but it showed them early on what he was capable of doing.
Smith’s backcourt bench mate in Matthew Dellavedova couldn’t walk into a barbershop and get a free haircut because no one would know who he is, but he’s made a name for himself to opposing players in these playoffs. The discrepancy between him being a dirty player vs. just a conspicuous irritant is hard to judge given the small sample size, but despite how the world views him, his teammates absolutely love and support him.
Opponents are a minus-7.6 in offensive rating with Delly on the floor in the postseason as opposed to when he’s on the bench, according to Basketball Reference. His feistiness when guarding opposing players and willingness to chase after loose balls and fight for rebounds has helped him receive increased playing time, although you can also factor in the injuries to Irving as well.
In Game 6 of the second-round series against the Bulls, Dellavedova came off the pine and erupted for 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including three triples. He was a plus-21 in the game and did a remarkable job defending Derrick Rose with Irving banged up. That big performance propelled the Cavs to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the playoffs, he’s averaging 7.0 points and shooting 36 percent from downtown.
There’s only so much you can do with the tale-of-the-tape before fans begin to itch for some game action. We know exactly what both these teams are capable of and all the weapons they have at their disposal. Both benches will be called upon significantly in this series, and we’ll see which one becomes most reliable.
Speights and Justin Holiday combined for 26 points on 11-of-21 shooting back in that Jan. 9 game. Smith made his presence known shortly after putting on a Cavs jersey for the first time. Delly will look to continue on his path of irritancy, while Lee will attempt to make that eye contact with his head coach implying he’s ready to get out on the floor. Iguodala and Livingston will play their vicious defense and handle the ball.
The battle of the benches will commence tonight. Who will emerge as victorious?