NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal has been in the same situation the Cleveland Cavaliers currently face — a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals.
O’Neal’s 2006 Miami Heat team trailed the Dallas Mavericks 2-0 in the Finals before then making an incredible turnaround, winning four straight games to win the championship.
Prior to speaking with Knicks president and former Lakers coach Phil Jackson for American Express’ “Teamed Up” event in New York City Monday night, O’Neal sat down with Business Insider and explained that the Cavaliers are not doomed just yet.
“Things change when you go home,” O’Neal said. “[It’s] your route, your fans, your bed, your wives, your kids, it just gives you a different type of energy. So, if [the Cavs] are gonna come out in this next game, they’re probably gonna come out blazing, smoking, and if they can get out and win one game at a time, I think Golden State will probably start to tighten up. Everything has to be done correctly.”
But O’Neal also acknowledged the steep uphill battle the Cavs face, and that there’s danger on the horizon.
“Now [the Cavs are] healthy, they’re down 0-2, and the fact that they’re down 0-2 with Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson] not having breakout games. When I mean breakout games, I’m talking about the Game 6 [of the Western Conference Finals] in [Oklahoma City] when Klay hit 11 threes. He hasn’t had one of those games yet. The way they have played has been pretty bad. I don’t expect those guys to play bad the whole series. So, Cleveland’s superstar players, especially Kyrie and Love, definitely are going to have to step up and play at a higher level.”
There are few things in Cleveland’s favour currently. Many people felt the Cavs could gain an edge by using their size to beat the Warriors on the glass and score with ease around the basket, but that hasn’t played out in Games 1 and 2. O’Neal still thinks going big may be worth a shot for Cleveland if they play center Timofey Mozgov, who has played a small role thus far.
“[Timofey] Mozgov did pretty good in the Finals last year; I don’t know what [Cavs coach Tyronn Lue] is doing,” O’Neal said. “I just think… because Golden State plays small, everyone plays small. And I think Tyronn’s fear is that you put Mozgov at the five, he’s not gonna be able to guard Draymond Green, especially the way Draymond was playing [in Game 2]. So, he should be thinking the other way. Can Draymond guard Mozgov?”
O’Neal may be right — it could be beneficial for the Cavs to play to their strengths, rather than trying to match up with the Warriors. But even if Mozgov is the answer, O’Neal seemed to acknowledge that few big men can match up with the Warriors, particularly when they go small with the 6-foot-6 Green at center. O’Neal admitted the Thunder got away with playing their big men because they’re very athletic.
Additionally, with the amount of switching both teams are doing on defence to prevent holes from opening up, it may be difficult for Mozgov to stay in the game.
“Steve Kerr is doing a great job of slipping the cut, like — they’re not setting the screen. They act like they’re setting the screen and then guys are slipping to the basket. They did that about 5 or 6 times. It’s kind of hard to defend against if you don’t have the correct communication.”
Thus far, Cleveland hasn’t shown the necessary communication to stop the Warriors’ deadly pick-and-roll attacks.
O’Neal summed up what many around the NBA world are thinking — it’s not over for the Cavs, but they’re facing a daunting task to beat these Warriors.
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