Film Study: Cavs caught leaning

CLEVELAND — Facing an opponent that’s both a better offensive and defensive team, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ margin for error in The Finals is thin.

And through two games, there have been a lot of errors.

In Game 2, with Stephen Curry limited to less than 20 minutes through the first three quarters, the Cavs seemingly had an opportunity to capitalize. In the regular season, the Warriors were outscored with Curry off the floor, scoring 13.8 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did when he was in the game.

But the key moments on Sunday were in those minutes when Curry was on the bench, they didn’t go in Cleveland’s favor, and it was often about that thin margin for error.

Game 2 really turned early in the second quarter with Curry taking his standard rest. The Cavs’ second unit of Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, LeBron James and Channing Frye (which had been so deadly through the first three rounds) had seemingly taken control of the game with a 7-0 run.

But against the Warriors, one mistake can kill you. And a big defensive mistake put a quick end to that 7-0 run.

Golden State ran a play for Klay Thompson to run through two screens on the right side of the floor…


James pulled his man (Harrison Barnes) toward the baseline, trying to give Shumpert space to chase Thompson through the screens, but Shumpert ran right into James and Barnes…


The result: A wide-open three for a great shooter…


That three was the start of a 9-0 run for Golden State that gave them the lead for good. Even with the guy who hit 400 3s this season on the bench, the defending champs still had a lethal 3-point threat on the floor. And other possessions with Curry on the bench were more about the threat than the 3 itself.

After a transition bucket, a Cleveland timeout, and a Dellavedova miss, it was the threat of a Thompson 3 that produced a dunk for Barnes. With Barnes looking to set a screen for Thompson…


Frye got caught leaning and Barnes slipped behind him…


Midway through the third quarter, with Curry back on the bench with four fouls, Leandro Barbosa and Thompson run a baseline exchange in transition…


A miscommunication between Jefferson and J.R. Smith, along with the threat of a Thompson catch-and-shoot 3, results in another layup for the other guy involved in the play…


On the following possession, James turns his head to check on Thompson coming off a screen from Draymond Green


And this time it’s Green who slips back-door for another layup…


The opposite-side view shows that James’ body is even with Green’s as Andre Iguodala begins to make the pass, but he’s leaning just enough for Green to beat him to the basket and for Iguodala to thread the needle…


When your opponent was the first team in NBA history to make 1,000 3s, you have to respect that threat. But what makes the Warriors great is their ability to leverage that threat to get even better shots and pick you apart if your defense isn’t perfect. The Cavs don’t have to make a huge mistake to get beat. They only need to lean in the wrong direction.

Iguodala is particularly good at reading the defense and making the right decision with the ball, but Golden State has multiple guys who can make those passes and great synergy, whether the MVP is on the floor or not. The passer knows where the cutter is going before he makes his move. One possible solution for Cleveland is more pressure on the ball to make those passes more difficult to see and execute.

It’s easy to call the Warriors a “jump-shooting team.” But they ranked sixth in field goal percentage in the restricted area and 14th in the percentage of their shots that come from there.

There are a lot of teams that depend on jump shots more than the defending champs. But there are none that leverage them as well.

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