Professional sports are largely played in incredibly small margins. Those margins become even smaller when the talent gap closes. A receiver running a route at the proper depth could be the devilish detail that decides the Super Bowl.
Last night in Cleveland, I watched as the Cavs consistently failed to execute a number of small things, leading to a heartbreaking home loss. The Celtics stole a game they had no business winning at the buzzer as Avery Bradley hit a three for a 104-103 win.
Many Cavs fans pointed to the missed free throws as the reason their team lost. That’s certainly a part of it. Cleveland missed 14 free throws in a one point game, shooting just 21-35 from the line.
Others donned in wine and gold lamented a late foul on JR Smith. They too were correct. When three points is the only thing that can hurt you, you have to defend like it. Run any player off the three-point line and then let them go. Even if there wasn’t much of a foul (the NBA league office said there was no foul on Saturday), there’s no chance it’s called if Smith does his job.
The mistakes didn’t stop there though. Timofey Mozgov, who is a literal giant at 7’1”, can’t let Marcus Smart, a 6’3” point guard, beat him on a free throw boxout. Smart should be applauded for making a great play, but Mozgov simply has to execute a basic basketball play.
So does Iman Shumpert on the ensuing inbounds. He ball-watched, letting Bradley free for the game winner.
All of those details led to a loss. Listening to radio today was interesting as Cavs fans seem to think the solution is tinkering with the roster, whether by shuffling the rotation, or changing the parts altogether.
The reality is, there’s no magic button to press that will give the Cavs a chance against Golden State. There is no move to be made. The move is to play better.
What makes Golden State (and San Antonio) great, is they don’t make those mistakes. They execute the gameplan at a higher level than their opponents nearly every night. They make the right pass. They hit the shots they’re supposed to. They don’t make defensive mistakes.
The goal for Cleveland, Oklahoma City and any other contender, should be to simply find what makes them their best, and then drill that as much as possible to give themselves the best shot. As of now, it doesn’t look Golden State is losing. That would involve them losing at home. The Warriors never lose at home.
However, sports are unpredictable, predictably injuries. If the Warriors lose Steph Curry or Draymond Green, the entire equation changes.
Instead of looking outside for a solution, the Cavs need to look within, clean up the mistakes and forge forward. The margins are small on a championship level. There are no shortcuts. There’s merely execution at the highest level.