Film Study

Film Study: Too much LeBron for Warriors

OAKLAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers have defied logic in a couple of ways in The Finals.

For one, the Cavs have won the three fastest-paced games of the series and have outscored the Golden State Warriors 97-59 in fast break points. The Warriors led the league in fast break points per game in the regular season and were assumed to be the team that wanted to play faster, but it’s been a role reversal from both the regular season and from last year’s Finals, with the Cavs using early offense to their advantage.

The second thing that might make you question your basketball values is that the three games the Cavs have won have been the three games in which they’ve passed the least often (per possession). They’ve averaged 2.89 passes per possession in their three losses and just 2.51 (a rate that would have ranked last in the league by a wide margin in the regular season) in their three wins.


Now, there’s likely a correlation there. Transition possessions are going to have fewer passes than longer possessions. But even in the half-court, the Cavs are not winning games like the San Antonio Spurs did two years ago. Though the Cavs have 13 more field goals in the series, the Warriors have 27 more assists, 24 more secondary assists, and 86 more potential assists, according to SportVU. Cleveland’s mark of 3.7 secondary assists per game would have ranked 29th in the regular season.

Really, it’s been a two-man show for the Cavs as they’ve come back from a 3-1 deficit to force Game 7. LeBron James (57) and Kyrie Irving (42) have taken 99 (62 percent) of their 160 shots and recorded 27 (69 percent) of their 39 assists over the last two games. Forty of James’ and Irving’s 56 buckets in Games 5 and 6 were unassisted.

Kevin Love has been less than non-factor. J.R. Smith has hit some threes and Tristan Thompson has racked up 10 screen assists in the two games, but the offense has run through Irving and James exclusively.

So here’s a question going into Game 7 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC): Should the Warriors be more aggressive in trying to get the ball out of James’ and Irving’s hands?

The Irving trap

Irving did see a few double-teams on pick-and-rolls in Game 6 on Thursday. And those generally worked out for the Warriors.

Here’s Anderson Varejao jumping out high after a screen from Thompson on the side of the floor…


Shaun Livingston didn’t switch, but rather joined Varejao to push Irving further from the basket and get the ball out of his hands…


The result was an Iman Shumpert, 3-point miss from the right wing.

Another double-team from Varejao early in the fourth quarter forced Irving into calling a timeout. But those doubles were few and far between on Thursday,

One-on-one with the Chosen One

The Warriors double-teamed James even less. According to SportVU, James touched the ball 100 times in Game 6, and the Warriors double-teamed him exactly once.

That happened midway through the second quarter, when James posted up Andre Iguodala. Draymond Green came quickly from the weak side and doubled James on the catch, with Leandro Barbosa and Stephen Curry zoning up on the weak side…


… and they reacted quickly enough to keep the Cavs from gaining an advantage. Green recovered from the double-team to guard Thompson on the baseline, and then helped on a Shumpert drive and took a charge. It was one of the Warriors’ best defensive possessions of the night.

But mostly, the Warriors let James play one-on-one.

Here he is posting up Curry after a switch…


(Give Thompson an assist there for engaging Iguodala in the paint and not allowing him to help.)

More single coverage in the post from Klay Thompson


… and Harrison Barnes


Now, James didn’t do a ton of work in the post in Game 6, and transition defense (which starts with taking care of the ball) has to be the Warriors’ first concern on Sunday. But they can also double-team pick-and-rolls (rather than switching), defend him higher (so he can’t see the floor so easily), and make him see more bodies between him and the basket in half-court possessions when he has the ball on the perimeter…


There were times when the Warriors overloaded on James in Game 6, but with too much of a cushion and bad positioning on the weak side…


… allowing him to deliver easy passes for easy baskets.

Tristan Thompson also showed some deftness as a pick-and-roll playmaker (see here and here) in Game 6, but he’s still not Green or Boris Diaw in that regard.

The Warriors were fantastic in Game 1 when it came to overloading on James and recovering to the weak side. Since then, they’ve allowed the Cavs’ offense to become more unbalanced to the point where James can score or assist on 27 straight points, like he did in the second half of Game 6.

Doubles working for Cavs

Curry couldn’t score or assist on 27 straight points, because the Cavs have been defending him more aggressively than the Warriors have been defending James.

According to SportVU, Curry has passed the ball 61 percent of the time a teammate has set a ball screen for him in The Finals. James (47 percent) and Irving (42 percent) have passed the ball less often.

And when Curry has given up the ball, the Cavs have done a good job of filtering it to guys like Barnes (2-for-22 over the last two games) and Iguodala (5-for-16 from 3-point range over the last five games).

Here’s a (not all that aggressive) double-team of Curry…


… that turns into a wide-open three for Barnes…


The Cavs are probably happy to live with the results if Barnes takes another 10-12 shots in Game 7. And the Warriors should work on forcing more shots out of guys like Love and Shumpert. Getting the ball out of the hands of James would at least force the Cavs’ role players to make plays, something they haven’t been doing much of the last two games.

Film Study: Warriors’ centers can’t contain Cavs

CLEVELAND — Some nights, Kyrie Irving has it going like he did on Monday. Some nights, he doesn’t.

Every night though, the Cleveland Cavaliers try to get him going early with the same action, a screen set by Tristan Thompson along the sideline. We saw it on the Cavs’ first two possessions of Game 1 of The Finals, as well as on the first two possessions of Game 2. It’s a play that, especially in transition, can get Irving going downhill and put the defense on its heels.

In Game 5, we first saw the Irving/Thompson sideline screen with the Cavs in a 9-3 hole…


Thompson’s defender, Andrew Bogut, met Irving above the foul line…


… and got beat to the basket.

On the very next possession, the Cavs ran the same action on the other side of the floor. Bogut didn’t come out so high…


… and didn’t get beat to the basket. (Irving, instead, passed to LeBron James, who hit his first of eight buckets from outside the paint.)

Bogut made a quick adjustment and got a better result … if we’re talking about the shot and not the points scored on the play (three instead of two). The Warriors are generally happy with James shooting from the outside. In previous games, they’ve been content to have Bogut sag down to the low block and have Irving pull up for a mid-range jumper off that sideline screen.

Of course, James made twice as many shots from outside the paint in Game 5 as he did in any other playoff game this year and Irving’s shot-making was twice as ridiculous. Those guys would have had big games no matter who was on the floor for the other team, because there were too many moments where great offense beat great defense. (more…)

Film Study: Smaller screens for Curry

OAKLAND — You would think that having Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson guarding Stephen Curry after a pick-and-roll switch would be a distinct advantage for the Golden State Warriors.

But through the first three games of The Finals, that wasn’t really the case. Curry had taken more shots against the Cleveland Cavaliers’ bigs than he did against their guards and wings, but he had shot almost twice as effectively against the smaller guys.


Getting bigs switched onto Curry hadn’t allowed Curry to get going offensively. Thompson and LeBron James had proved adept at containing the MVP (and even forcing some turnovers) after a switch. Curry hadn’t shot poorly through the first three games, but he had yet to bust out and score in bunches.

In the regular season, the Warriors set 19.5 ball screens per game for Curry, according to SportVU. And through the first three rounds of the playoffs, they set 20.4 ball screens per game for him.

But through the first three games of The Finals, that number was just 15.7 per game. And the Warriors had scored a paltry 0.67 points per possession when running Curry off a ball screen.

In Game 4 on Friday, things changed. The Warriors set 32 ball screens for Curry, they scored 1.39 points per possession when they did, and he scored 38 points, the most he’s had in regulation in this year’s playoffs (or in the 10 Finals games he’s played).

It wasn’t just the number of screens for Curry that changed. It was also the size of the teammates who were setting them. Through the first three games, 38 of the 47 ball screens for Curry were set by the Warriors’ bigs (Draymond Green or their centers). But in Game 4, 19 of the 32 were set by guards and wings (including combo forward Harrison Barnes).


Curry got off to a slow start scoring-wise on Friday. Through the first eight minutes, he had three assists, but was 0-for-2 from the field.

Then, with just under four minutes to go in the first quarter, Curry got a screen from Shaun Livingston on the right side of the floor. It wasn’t a called play, but rather a random action in transition. The result was an isolation on Richard Jefferson, who switched onto Curry.


Curry stepped back and launched a shot over Jefferson, his first made three of the night.

Livingston set another screen for Curry on the very next possession. And more screens from other guards and wings would follow. Curry’s second three was on a play where he rejected a screen from James Michael McAdoo and chose to go one-on-one with Iman Shumpert rather than attack Love.


Curry actually shot better against Cleveland’s bigs (6-for-11, 5-for-7 from 3-point range) than he did against the Cavs’ guards and wings (5-for-14, 2-for-6) on Friday. But the Warriors were clearly taking a different tack in Game 4 in an effort to get the MVP going. Maybe those early looks against smaller defenders did just that.

And when the Warriors ran a couple of pick-and-rolls with Curry and Klay Thompson, the Cavs really struggled to defend them.

Midway through the third quarter, when Thompson set a screen for Curry…


J.R. Smith switched, Kyrie Irving didn’t, and Jefferson was slow to recognize the need for help from the weak side, leaving Thompson all alone for a catch-and-shoot three…


That was clearly a called play, as it was the Warriors’ first offensive possession after a timeout (before which Thompson had hit another three). On the next possession, they ran a similar play, with Draymond Green setting an initial screen for Thompson…


That detached Smith from Thompson and had him trailing the play. So even though Thompson didn’t set a real screen on Irving…


Irving switched…


And because Smith couldn’t hit the breaks fast enough, Curry had a wide-open pull-up three.


He missed, but it was one of the best looks he’s had all series.

The Green screen was little wrinkle that threw off the Cavs. When you have the skill and versatility that the Warriors have up and down their roster, you can do a lot of different things within the course of a game or series.

Attacking the Cleveland bigs on pick-and-rolls seemed like the best path to success for Golden State. But when that didn’t work, they had another way to help Curry break out and get within one game of their second straight championship.

Film Study: Ball pressure from the Cavs

CLEVELAND — On the Golden State Warriors’ second possession of Game 2 of The Finals, Andrew Bogut caught a pass about 10 feet above the 3-point line. His defender, Kevin Love, was standing at the foul line…


Bogut had plenty of space to see the other nine guys on the floor and Love provided no pressure.

On the Warriors’ first possession of Game 3, Bogut again served as an initiator of the Warriors’ offense. But this time, Tristan Thompson forced him to catch the ball much further from the basket …


When Bogut did catch it, Thompson was right there with him, forcing him to turn his back to the action elsewhere on the floor.

On Wednesday, the Cavs were more aggressive both offensively and defensively than they had been in Games 1 and 2. Offensively, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James were on the attack early and often. Irving didn’t hesitate to pull up for a jumper when the Warriors gave him space.

And space is what Cleveland didn’t give the Warriors. The two images above illustrate the difference between the Cavs’ defense in the first two games of this series and the Cavs’ defense in Game 3. Thompson met Bogut high on that first possession of the game and Cleveland sustained the pressure most of the night.

On that first possession, the Warriors’ first three catches were all at least 35 feet from the basket and Bogut’s eventual post-up took place 20 feet away. The result was a long 3-point attempt from Draymond Green.

A few minutes later, the Warriors looked to get an early look off of one of the two shots that Irving missed in the first quarter. But James met Klay Thompson at the 3-point line…


Tristan Thompson again pressured Bogut above the arc…


James denied a Stephen Curry looking to come off a pin-down screen from Green…


Irving was there as Klay Thompson made a catch at the top of the key…


And again in the corner four seconds later…


Thompson rushed a contested, off-balance shot. It was one of 11 stops the Cavs earned on the Warriors’ first 13 possessions of the game.

The Cavs’ defense deserves a good deal of the credit for the struggles of Curry, who has rushed several shots himself, forcing others because he hasn’t been able to get many clean looks in rhythm.

In Game 2, the Warriors were able to leverage the Cavs’ fear of their 3-point shooting to get layups. In Game 3, the Cavs were able to take a lot of those away with better pressure on the ball, keeping the Warriors’ passers from seeing and executing those passes to screeners slipping to the basket. Golden State had just 19 shots in the restricted area on Wednesday, down from 28 in Game 1 and 27 in Game 2.

“Everyone extended their defense a little bit more,” James said about his team’s Game 3 defense on Thursday. “They’re such a great 3-point shooting team that you have to extend your defense to start off with. More than that, they move the ball so, so well. And Draymond being one of those guys, one of their playmakers along with Steph, along with [Shaun] Livingston, along with [Andre] Iguodala that makes so many great passes well beyond the 3-point line. So, you’ve got to do a good job of trying to help the back-line defense by putting a little ball pressure on them.”

It’s not something the Warriors haven’t seen before or that they haven’t been able to handle in the past. But on Wednesday, they couldn’t handle it. Beyond the rushed shots were 18 turnovers, six of them from Curry.

“I just try to pick up Steph as high as possible,” Irving said after the game, “and our bigs do a great job getting up to touch.”

“I think we were a little too relaxed coming in,” Iguodala said on Thursday. “For us, loose plays to our advantage. But when you’re too loose sometimes and you got a team that’s desperate and they punch you in the mouth, you’re next step would be to slow down, be more fundamentally sound, and rely on five guys being on the same page. But sometimes we get in panic mode a little bit and we try to get it all back at once. That’s just compounding problems and mistakes.

“I feel like they hit us first last night and it took us a while to throw a blow back or initiate the contact.”

SportVU player tracking has what’s called an “influence score” that measure’s ball pressure on a scale of 1-100. The Cavs’ influence score in Game 3 from 20 feet and out was 85.9, not too much higher than it was in Game 2 (85.4).

But if you isolate just the first quarter, there’s a more significant jump, from 85.5 in Game 2 to 87.3 in Game 3. It dropped after that, but the Cavs set the tone early.

It’s probably not a coincidence that they were able to bring more pressure and not suffer consequences on the back end of their defense in the game that Love missed with a concussion. Replacing Love with Richard Jefferson in the starting lineup gave Cleveland more collective quickness and fewer matchup worries in transition. And moving James to power forward allowed him to switch onto Curry on pick-and-rolls where Green was the screener.

Four of Curry’s six turnovers were live-ball turnovers after James or Tristan Thompson switched onto the MVP. The Cavs don’t have rim protection with Timofey Mozgov mostly out of the rotation, but a frontline of James and Thompson is certainly mobile enough to defend Curry out beyond the 3-point line. Love and Channing Frye don’t have nearly the same kind of mobility.

Of course, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue isn’t about to tell us that Love’s absence was a good thing for the Cavs.

“We competed, we played harder, and we were able to get matchups in transition,” Lue said about Game 3. “It didn’t have anything to do with Kevin being on the floor. It’s just the way we approached the game.”

The energy and focus was certainly better in Game 3 than it was in Games 1 or 2. The question is if the lineup change influenced the energy. Is it easier to pressure the ball when you know you have the right defenders behind you?

Maybe we’ll get the answer in Game 4.

Film Study: Warriors double and recover

OAKLAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers arrived at The Finals as the most efficient offensive team in the playoffs by a wide margin, having scored more than 116 points per 100 possessions through the first three rounds. And they did it against three above-average defensive teams, including the team — Atlanta — that had the league’s best defense after Christmas.

In Game 1 on Thursday though, the Cavs were held under a point per possession for just the second time in the postseason. They shot 38 percent and had as many turnovers (17) as assists. And it was a good time to remember that the Golden State Warriors can be the best defensive team in the league when they’re locked in.

The key to the Warriors’ defensive success is their versatility, having multiple guys who can defend multiple guys. And on Thursday, the defending champs switched screens liberally in order to keep the Cavs in front of them.

That stifled Cleveland’s ball movement and had the Cavs trying to exploit one-on-one matchups. But the Warriors also double-teamed liberally and were quick to help whenever the Cavs got near the basket, where they shot just 17-for-35.

Those 35 attempts in the restricted area were a postseason high for the Cavs. And interestingly, one of the three times they topped that number in the regular season was their Christmas game at Golden State, when they shot 16-for-40 in the restricted area.

“I thought we did a good job of challenging a lot of shots,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Friday. “I thought they missed a couple that they would normally make, but all in all it was a good defensive effort.”

The Cavs can beat you both at the basket and from beyond the arc. In Game 1 of the conference finals, the Toronto Raptors focused on slowing down Cleveland’s 3-point shooting and gave up too many layups. On Thursday, the Warriors clearly made protecting the paint their No. 1 priority.

Here’s LeBron James backing down Stephen Curry after a switch, with both Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green (who’s leaving Kevin Love alone in the opposite corner) ready to help at the basket.


Love missed an open corner three.

“When Steph switches on to him,” Kerr said, “he’s just got to do his best to stay in front, and we’ve got to help as much as we can, without giving up open threes. It’s much easier said than done, so we’re just doing our best.”

Three possessions later, James was backing down Klay Thompson after another switch, with Ezeli and Green again moving into position to help…


James has always been one of the league’s best finishers. But according to SportVU, his field goal percentage at the rim drops from 68 percent when there’s one defender there to 58 percent when there’s two or more. And his first instinct when he sees a second defender is to pass the ball.

“They’re switching 1 through 5,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said, “and when LeBron gets the ball in the post, they’re coming to double team. Also, when he gets the mismatch and he drives the basketball, they’re all collapsing. And we’ve got to make open 3s.”

But when the Warriors prioritize protecting the rim, it doesn’t mean that they’re willing to give up open 3s. All the attention that James was drawing after switches should have resulted in more open looks for his teammates, but the Warriors were on a string defensively and Green, in particular, did a great job of recovering out to his man after helping in the paint.

Here he is closing out on Love just two seconds after helping on James under the basket …


Result: A Kyrie Irving isolation and a missed step-back jumper.

On the following possession, Green left Love to help on a Tristan Thompson roll to the basket …


He blocked Thompson at the rim, leading to a 24-second violation.

Throughout the game, the Warriors were quick to send double-teams on post-ups …




And also load up the strong side with an extra defender …


The Cavs, more often than not, were unable to take advantage. The Warriors rotations were generally great. But also, according to SportVU, 19 of Cleveland’s 21 3-point attempts were uncontested. The Cavs shot 37 percent (7-for-19) on those shots, down from a mark of 46 percent through the first three rounds.

Channing Frye was 24-for-40 (60 percent) on uncontested 3s before Thursday, but got just one look at one in Game 1. Cleveland didn’t use its floor-spacing lineups as much as it had in previous series. Thompson’s 31 minutes were the most he’s played since Game 1 of the conference semifinals and Frye’s seven minutes (including 2:24 of garbage time) were the fewest he’s played since that same game.

That was a clear sacrifice of offense for better defense. Thompson isn’t exactly Bill Russell out there, but Frye would have an even harder time keeping up with the Warriors’ ball and player movement. When Golden State used Green at the five against the Cavs’ second unit, Lue sat Frye down.

The question for Lue is whether Frye can make up for his defensive issues by making the Warriors pay for loading up on James. On Friday, Lue hinted that we will see more minutes for Frye in Game 2 on Sunday.

“We have to get more shooting out on the floor to try to keep those guys at home on the defensive end,” Lue said. “They do a good job of having a guy guard a ball and four guys are in the paint. So Channing will give us some spacing out on the floor. And just defensively, we’ve got to be able to make sure we have him on the right matchup.”

James believes the Cavs can’t waste time as their exploring those post-switch mismatches. Quicker decisions can produce more open shots.

“When you’re out there and they’re switching and you have a one-on-one matchup,” James said, “I think quick moves and not holding it as long is good. I think when you keep the ball on one side for too long and you’re pounding and pounding and pounding, then that can — too much of that won’t result in good basketball. It won’t result in good rhythm for everyone out on the floor.

“So there is a fine line. I’m okay with us having some isolation basketball if we’re going quick. But we’re holding the ball and we’re just staring down the defense and we’re staring down the ball, then it can become a problem for us.”

It wasn’t as big of a problem against their Eastern Conference opponents, who had to pick their poison, either dying by paint points or by 3s. The Warriors weren’t as highly ranked defensively as the Hawks were in the regular season, but they had the league’s No. 1 defense a year ago, they shut down the Cavs’ offense in last year’s Finals, and no team is more qualified to defend both the basket and the 3-point line.

“You have to be on a string,” Andre Iguodala said. “You have to know your rotations. You have to know where you want the ball to go, and you kind of influence the ball to go there. Meaning if you got a great shooter in the corner, you might want to influence the ball to go to the wing and, either we’re stunting or we’re X-ing out. It’s the shell defensive principles, but you got to have five guys on the same page. You got to be communicating in order for it to work.”

Most of Game 1 was a clinic in just that.

Film Study: Warriors keep bringing the D

VIDEO: The Warriors talk about their Game 5 win

OAKLAND — Through the first five games of The Finals, the difference between wins and losses has been the Golden State Warriors’ offense. They have scored 114 points per 100 possessions in Games 1, 4 and 5, but just 95.3 in Games 2 and 3.

The constant has been their defense, having allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers to score just 99 points per 100 possessions in both their wins and their losses. Cleveland had the postseason’s No. 1 offense through the conference finals, but it has been shut down by the regular season’s No. 1 defense in this series.

Kyrie Irving‘s absence over the last four games has something to do with that. Through the first three rounds, the Cavs’ offense wasn’t much worse with Irving off the floor (108.2 points scored per 100 possessions) than it was with him on the floor (108.9). But the extra load that LeBron James has had to carry obviously has taken its toll. Over the five games, the Cavs’ offense has been at its best in the first quarter and at its worst in the fourth.


Still, the Warriors deserve plenty of credit for making James work for his 36.6 points per game and for keeping what’s left of his supporting cast in check. It’s not like we can ignore what they’ve done defensively over the last eight months and put all of the blame for the Cavs’ offensive struggles on their injuries.

After another strong defensive performance in Game 5 on Sunday (particularly in the second half), the Warriors are one win from their first NBA championship in 40 years. Here’s a few ways they got it done defensively in Game 5 … (more…)

Film Study: The Roll of David Lee, Part 2

VIDEO: Sekou Smith, Lang Whitaker and John Schuhmann recap Game 3

CLEVELAND — In early January of 2014, the Golden State Warriors beat the defending champion Miami Heat, scoring 123 points on 101 possessions. The Warriors weren’t an elite offense last season, but they chewed up the Heat’s aggressive pick-and-roll scheme in their only visit to Miami.

David Lee was a big key to the Warriors’ success that night. When the Heat took the ball out of Stephen Curry‘s hands with hard hedges, Lee was the guy who made plays and took advantage of the resulting four-on-three situations.

The San Antonio Spurs did similar damage against the Heat defense in The Finals each of the last two seasons, with Boris Diaw in the role of playmaking roll man. Diaw would get the ball from a trapped Tony Parker and keep the ball moving so that it eventually found an open layup or 3-pointer.

Lee was supposed to be the Warriors’ starting power forward again this season, but he suffered a strained hamstring in the final preseason game. Draymond Green took the job and never gave it back, finishing second in both Kia Defensive Player of the Year and Kia Most Improved Player voting. Lee came back to the fringe of the rotation (behind both Green and Marreese Speights) and played in only nine of the Warriors first 17 playoff games, receiving DNPs in Games 1 and 2 of The Finals.

The Cavs are defending the Warriors much like the Heat did, bringing their bigs out high to take the ball out of Curry’s hands on pick-and-rolls. They’ve also done a good job of locking and trailing on off-ball screens to keep both Curry and Klay Thompson from getting clean looks off the catch. That has put pressure on the other three Warriors on the floor to make plays and make shots.

Green coming up empty

Green can be a solid playmaker and has more range than Lee on his jumper, but has been ineffective offensively through the first three games, dealing with back pain since the middle of Game 2. He has shot 8-for-30, he has almost as many turnovers (6) as assists (8), and he’s lost confidence in his jumper, shooting 1-for-8 from 3-point range and passing up other open looks.

The Cavs don’t seem to mind leaving him open beyond the arc…



According to SportVU, Green has shot 2-for-16 on passes from Curry in the series, not exactly Dirk Nowitzki on the pick-and-pop. And his 15 drives to the basket have produced just 12 points for the Warriors, and more turnovers (2) than assists (1) from Green himself.

So Warriors coach Steve Kerr had no choice but to dust off Lee in Game 3 on Tuesday. Lee played 2:47 in the second quarter and 10:30 in the fourth, and he made a big impact.

Lee’s first pick-and-roll with Curry resulted in a dunk (for Lee himself), even though his pass off the roll was deflected Timofey Mozgov. But he didn’t really get going until the fourth quarter.

Pivot and pass

On the first Curry/Lee pick-and-roll of the fourth quarter, Mozgov was out at the 3-point line to contain Curry …


Curry gets rid of the ball quickly and (with Iman Shumpert out high to defend Thompson), and the Warriors have a three-on-two situation …


James Jones slides into the paint to stop Lee, who pivots and finds Andre Iguodala wide open in the corner …

20150610_curry_lee_1-3 (more…)

Film Study: Dellavedova and Shumpert lock and trail Splash Bros. in Game 2

VIDEO: Matthew Dellavedova explains how he played defense in Game 2

OAKLAND — It may be time to declare that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense is, indeed, very good.

The Cavs became the lowest-ranked defense (20th in the regular season) to make The Finals since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. Yes, they were improved after making a pair of trades in early January. But they still didn’t reach the level (top 10) achieved by 34 of the 37 last NBA champs.

There was marked improvement in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but still some doubts, considering the level of competition.

And those lingering doubts were erased in the Cavs’ 95-93, overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 2, the first Finals win in franchise history. The Warriors, who ranked second in offensive efficiency in the regular season, scored 93 points on 106 possessions, a rate of less than 90 per 100.

Stephen Curry had what was basically the worst shooting performance of his career. Klay Thompson had a strong start, but shot 5-for-15 after halftime. And nobody else could pick up the slack for the Western Conference champs.

The Warriors shot 8-for-35 (22.9 percent) from 3-point range, their fourth worst mark in 99 games this season. But just as important as the shots they missed from the outside were the shots they didn’t get on the inside.

Only 20 of the Warriors’ 83 shots on Sunday came from the restricted area, down from 31 (of 88) in Game 1.

Warriors Game 2 shot chart

Warriors Game 2 shot chart

The Warriors may be the league’s best 3-point shooting team and a three may be worth an additional point, but their shots at the basket still yield more points per attempt than their shots from beyond the arc. Limit their layups and you’re in decent shape defensively.

Timofey Mozgov has been a great rim protector for the Cavs, but for Mozgov to be able to protect the rim, the Cleveland guards have to put in work on the perimeter. If he’s helping them too much, he can’t be the rim protector that he’s supposed to be.

Against any offense, one of the guards’ biggest responsibilities is fighting through screens. Against the Warriors, it obviously becomes more important.

The Cavs’ guards do not want to go under screens set for Curry and Thompson, because that will give the Splash Brothers space to shoot. But if they get caught up in screens, Cleveland’s bigs must commit to the ball and the defense will be compromised.

So Matthew Dellavedova (the primary defender on Curry) and Iman Shumpert (Thompson) have been charged with locking onto their guy, trailing him around the screen, and getting back in front of him as quickly as possible, so that the helping big can recover back to the paint. (more…)

Film Study: One-on-one with LeBron

VIDEO: Stu Jackson breaks down how the Warriors guarded LeBron James

OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors went with the “Don’t let the other guys beat us” strategy in Game 1 of The Finals. And though it almost backfired, it ultimately helped them pick up a 108-100 overtime victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

LeBron James scored 44 points, but J.R. Smith shot 3-for-13, Iman Shumpert shot 2-for-6, Tristan Thompson scored two points, James Jones could only get one shot off in 17 minutes, and Matthew Dellavedova didn’t take a single shot. All five of those guys went scoreless (in almost 78 combined minutes of playing time) after halftime.

It sounds weird, but James’ 44 points were good for Golden State, not just because it kept his supporting cast relatively quiet, but because those 44 points came on mostly tough shots. James’ true shooting percentage* in Game 1 was worse than that of the Warriors’ two leading scorers and his two primary defenders.

*True shooting percentage measures scoring efficiency. TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

Golden State’s defensive success — they held what was the postseason’s best offense to about a point per possession — was a combination of strategy and skill. (more…)

Small lineup hurts Cavs’ D

VIDEO: An all-access look at the Bulls’ Game 1 victory

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt had a difficult decision to make before Game 1 of the conference semifinals.

Kevin Love was done for the postseason and J.R. Smith was suspended for the first two games against the Bulls. So Blatt needed two new starters on Monday.

Iman Shumpert was the easy choice. And with the fifth starter, Blatt could have chosen to go big (Tristan Thompson), small (Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones or Mike Miller), or in between (Shawn Marion).

He went with Miller, which turned out to be a mistake. In Miller’s 16 minutes, the Bulls outscored the Cavs, 44-24. The score of the other 32 minutes was Cavs 68, Bulls 55.

The Bulls’ 44 points in 16:08 (to be exact) translates into 131 points over 48 minutes. And Game 1 was one of the slowest paced games of the postseason thus far.

It’s no surprise that Blatt was sacrificing defense for offense with the decision to start Miller. For one, the 35 year old isn’t very mobile. And secondly, big vs. small seems to be a defense or offense proposition for the Cavs no matter the specific personnel on the floor, as their no-Love numbers prior to the Bulls series spelled out.


The Cavs’ defensive issues in Game 1 weren’t all about Miller. There was also evidence of LeBron James being uncomfortable playing power forward defensively and just simple miscommunication. And it all was on display in the first six minutes of the first quarter.

Possession 1 – The hard hedge

After a baseline screen, Jimmy Butler has the ball in the corner, where he gets another screen from Joakim Noah, who’s being defended by James.

James hedges hard to keep Butler pinned in the corner…


Noah sees this and slips the screen, cutting toward the basket. Butler gets him the ball and Miller comes to help from the opposite corner…


That leaves Mike Dunleavy all alone and he hits a three to open the scoring.

Possession 3 – The switch

Noah slips a side pick and roll with Butler and then gives him back the ball on the move. Shumpert had been icing the pick-and-roll (getting between the ball-handler and the screener to keep the ball on the side of the floor), so he’s trailing the play. So James switches onto Butler…


Butler isn’t able to get the ball to a rolling Noah, but he gets by James on the baseline, gets Shumpert to help, and also draws the attention of Timofey Mozgov, so that Pau Gasol is wide open in the paint…


Butler actually gets the ball to Derrick Rose instead, and Rose hits another three for the Bulls.

Possession 8 – The mismatch

On this play, James has to pick up Butler in transition, and Miller gets caught on Gasol as a result…


Noah eventually gets the ball to Gasol for an easy bucket.

Possession 10 – The offensive rebound

The Cavs’ initial defense was fine on this possession, but two bigs are better than one when it comes to rebounding…


Noah reaches over James for the offensive board, which results in a Butler jumper.

Possession 11 – The retreat

When Noah sets a screen for Rose on a secondary break, James switches. And when Gasol sets another screen, Mozgov doesn’t switch…


… and Rose steps into a wide-open three.

The Bulls’ lead eventually ballooned to 16 points early in the second quarter. The Cavs came back to tie the game, but never got over the hump.

They allowed 99 points in a slow-paced game and were much worse defensively when James was at the four than when he was at the shooting guard (for less than two minutes with Mozgov, Thompson and Marion all on the floor) or small forward (when they allowed 20 points in about 14 minutes).

Miller’s foot speed was certainly an issue. But so were the Cavs’ lack of size, James not being comfortable defending screeners, and miscommunication.

Blatt will likely go with a different starting lineup in Game 2 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT), but there is no obvious solution. Smith will give the Cavs more offensive firepower when he returns in Game 3, but (unless Marion turns back the clock) only Love provided Blatt with the combination of floor spacing on offense and defending bigs on defense. Love obviously isn’t a great defender, but he allowed James to play his more comfortable position on that end of the floor.