The difference between coaching in the regular season and coaching in the NBA Finals is like the difference between learning to speak a language and insulting someone in that language. Learning a language involves responding to a vast number of subjects and variations of subjects — figuring out ways to say “hello,” “goodbye,” and “death lineup.” Insulting someone is simply about hurting someone’s feelings — finding a point of sensitivity and picking at it, no matter how crude, no matter how repetitive.
Kevin Love has averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds and is a plus-7.4 in 31 minutes this postseason. Iman Shumpert was part of a regular-season lineup including Kyrie, LeBron, Love, and Tristan Thompson that put up a net rating of 30, albeit in a small-sample-size-theater 43 minutes. But down 3–1 to Golden State — a team genetically engineered to exploit bad shooters, non-dribblers, and dudes with sub-elite wingspans, mobility, and defensive presence — there’s no place for Love or Shump to hide and no time to look for one.
The Cavs came out like a runaway train plowing through a shopping cart with bad wheels; the only players with negative plus/minuses in the first half: Shump (minus-5) and Love (minus-1). Love ended up playing just under 12 minutes. Thirty-five-year-old Richard Jefferson (who continues to play like he’s regularly praying to Satan) and even Dahntay Jones took Love’s minutes. Shumpert, who has been disastrously bad (30 percent shooting and a minus-5.7 in the Finals) could only watch as Lue turned to Mo Williams to close out the first quarter.
Meanwhile, soon-to-be-free-agent Harrison Barnes, a card-carrying member of Golden State’s vaunted Death Lineup, is living through an extended waking nightmare on the biggest stage in the sport. Harry B’s Game 6 stat line reads like his agent’s suicide note: zero points, 0-for-8 from the field, two rebounds, two fouls, minus-20. Barnes played 16 minutes total, and just under five in the second half. Steve Kerr filled the gap by leaning on Andre Iguodala — who staggered around the court with back spasms — to say nothing of Brandon Rush, Anderson Varejao, James Michael McAdoo, Leandro “Brazilian Blur circa-2005” Barbosa, and Shaun Livingston.
After the game, Kerr said all the right things about continuing to believe in Barnes; Lue barely mentioned Love and didn’t utter a word about Shump. With a legacy-setting Game 7 looming, there’s no time for feelings. Just find whatever word that works and yell it at the top of your lungs.