The Finals Stat: Game 7

OAKLAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers made history, becoming the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in The Finals to win a championship. It’s Cleveland’s first major-sports championship in 52 years, and it came against the best regular season team in the history of the league.

LeBron James led the way with a triple-double and Kyrie Irving hit the biggest shot of the Cavs’ 93-89 victory in Game 7. But one stat stood out as the Cavs’ became just the fourth team to win a Finals Game 7 on the road.

The stat

9 – Shots the Warriors missed to close Game 7.

The context

20160619_basicsThe Warriors had the third best offense of the last 30 years (and the best in the last 11), scoring 8.6 points per 100 possessions more than the league average in the regular season. But with their historic season on the line, they came up empty, shooting 0-for-9 from the field and going scoreless on their final eight possessions. The first team to make 1,000 3s in a season missed their last seven.

Klay Thompson tied the game at 89 on a drive with 4:39 to go in the fourth quarter. But after that, the Warriors couldn’t buy a bucket, with Stephen Curry shooting 0-for-4 down the stretch, and James blocking Andre Iguodala‘s fast-break layup on what was the game’s second-biggest play.

And who came up with another big defensive stop? None other than Kevin Love, the noted defensive liability who defended Curry one-on-one for several seconds after Irving’s 3-pointer and forced the MVP into a tough 3 from the top of the key.

The Cavs were not a great defensive team this season. They ranked 10th in defensive efficiency and are the first team since the 2005-06 Miami Heat to win a championship after ranking that low. But they got the stops they needed with the season on the line. Golden State shot just 17-for-42 from inside the 3-point line on Sunday and scored just 97.3 points per 100 possessions over the last three games of the Finals.

That was their worst, three-game offensive stretch of the entire season.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO Ratio = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA

Cavs-Warriors: The numbers so far

OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will play the 19th Game 7 in the history of The Finals on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC). Either the Warriors will repeat as champions and cap off their 73-win season the right way, or the Cavs will win their first ever title and Cleveland’s first major-sports championship in 52 years.

The Cavs seemingly have momentum, but the Warriors will be playing on their home floor, where they’re 50-4 this season. The home team has won 15 of the previous 18 Game 7s in The Finals. But those 18 series have little to do with this one, in which LeBron James has proven why he’s still the best player in the world.

Before Game 7, here are some numbers to know regarding what has already gone down in this series…

Death of the Death Lineup

The Warriors’ lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green has been generally destructive for opponents over the last two seasons. It looked unbeatable until Games 3 and 4 of the conference finals in Oklahoma City, when it was outscored, 65-24, in just 19 minutes.

It recovered after that and was a plus-14 in 30 minutes through Game 5 of The Finals. But in Game 6, with Andrew Bogut lost to a knee injury, the Death Lineup started the game and was outscored, 27-9, in 11 minutes.


Now, with the season on the line, the Death Lineup looks vulnerable. Iguodala is dealing with back pain and Barnes has missed his last 14 shots. The Cavs will continue to pay extra attention to Curry and Thompson and force the other guys to beat them.

Replacing Barnes with Shaun Livingston allows the Warriors to play similarly small and versatile, but hurts their spacing. And Livingston hasn’t shot well of late, either.

Make or miss

All six games have been decided by at least 11 points, so both teams have much better numbers on both ends of the floor in the games they’ve won than in the games they’ve lost. But if you look closer at the four factors of efficiency, the biggest difference has been in the Cavs’ shooting.

The difference has been both in the paint (61.0 percent in wins, 47.8 percent in losses) and from 3-point range (42.1 percent, 26.1 percent). And the difference has been with each of the three guys – James, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith – that have shot the most for the Cavs.


According to SportVU, the Cavs have shot 17-for-41 (41 percent) on contested jumpers in their three wins and 6-for-39 (15 percent) on contested jumpers in their three losses.

Love or no Love

The Cavs’ two most-used lineups in the series both include James, Irving, Smith and Tristan Thompson. That group is a plus-8 in 68 minutes with Kevin Love and a plus-38 in 58 minutes with Richard Jefferson.

Love has shot 2-for-8 in the last two games and is the only Cleveland starter with a negative plus-minus in the series. He’s a minus-12 in 58 minutes with the Warriors playing without a center and is a plus-4 in 70 minutes in which Golden State has played one of its centers.

Foul trouble was a factor in Love playing less than 12 minutes in Game 6, but his minutes may be limited in Game 7 no matter how many fouls he picks up.

Early offense

The Cavs have flipped the script on the Warriors, outscoring them 97-59 on fast break points, including a mark of 47-19 over the last two games. Both teams have always been lethal in transition, but the Warriors have typically been the team that gets more opportunities early in the shot clock.

Even in the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Cavs got less than 11 percent of their (initial-clock) shots in the first six seconds, according to SportVU. But in The Finals, they’ve taken more than 15 percent of their shots in the first six seconds.


The Warriors, meanwhile, haven’t been able to get early looks nearly as much as they did in the regular season. And when they have, they haven’t shot nearly as well.


First-quarter Cavs

The Cavs haven’t only been better early in the shot clock. They’ve been better early in games. They’ve been outscored by 19 points in the second quarter, two points in the third quarter, and 10 points in the fourth quarter in this series. But they’re a plus-31 in the first quarter.

It’s been both their best offensive and best defensive quarter of the series. And the defense has been particularly strong, allowing the Warriors to score just 95.2 points per 100 possessions in the opening 12 minutes.

Of the Warriors’ starters, Thompson has struggled the most in the first quarter, having shot 6-for-25 (3-for-15 from 3-point range). He’s also struggled (2-for-12, 1-for-8) in the fourth, but is 15-for-27 from 3-point range in the second and third quarters.

The trivia

  • This is the 126th Game 7 in NBA history. The home team is 101-24 (0.808) and has won the last seven (including four already in these playoffs).
  • Only 42 of 107 Game 7s in previous rounds have been decided by six points or less, but 10 of the 18 Finals Game 7s have been. The last seven Finals Game 7s have been decided by single digits.
  • James is 3-2 in Game 7s, having gone 0-2 in his first stint with the Cavs and 3-0 with the Miami Heat. The home team has won all five Game 7s he’s been involved in, including his only Finals Game 7 in 2013.
  • Neither the Cavs (in their 46th season) nor the Warriors (in their 70th) have ever played in a Finals Game 7. The Cavs are 2-2 in playoff Game 7s and the home team has won all four Game 7s they’ve been involved in. The Warriors are 4-4 (3-1 at home) in Game 7s.

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.

The Finals Stat: Game 6

CLEVELAND — We’re going to Game 7. The Cleveland Cavaliers fought off elimination one more time with a 115-101 victory and an all-time performance (41 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists, four steals and three blocks) from LeBron James. They’ve sent The Finals back to Oakland for a deciding game on Sunday (8 ET, ABC).

James scored or assisted on 27 straight points for his team spanning the third and fourth quarters, but another stat stood out as the Cavs became the first team since 1966 to force a Game 7 in The Finals after trailing 3-1.

The stat

47-19 – Score in fast-break points over the last two games, favoring the Cavs.

The context

20160616_basicsThe Warriors led the league with 20.9 fast-break points per game in the regular season, while the Cavs ranked 19th with just 11.8.

There was a thought that Cleveland wanted to keep the pace slow and play deliberate, half-court offense, like it did in last year’s Finals. But early in the series, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue insisted that he wanted his team to play faster, so that it could get easier looks at the basket.

Lue looks like a genius at this point, with the Cavs having won the three fastest-paced games of the series so far. They were out and running early in Game 6, outscoring the Warriors 31-11 in the first quarter, including 9-0 on fast-break points. There were many highlights throughout the night, including an alley-oop from J.R. Smith to James midway through the third quarter.

James has registered 12 of the Cavs’ 47 fast break points over the last two games, while Kyrie Irving has accounted for almost as many (18) as the entire Warriors roster.

And that the Cavs have kept the Warriors’ running game in check throughout the series is just as important as the Cavs’ own fast break points. Golden State can be absolutely deadly in transition, having registered an effective field goal percentage of 67.8 percent in the first six seconds of the shot clock in the regular season.

But through six games, the Warriors have been able to get only 13 percent of their shots in the first six seconds, down from a regular-season mark of 18 percent. And the Cavs have limited them to an effective field goal percentage of just 49.1 percent on those early-clock shots.

This has been a wild series, and the wildest development may be that Cleveland is winning the transition game.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO Ratio = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA

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…)

Game 5 Numbers to Know

OAKLAND — Some statistical notes from the Elias Sports Bureau and other sources regarding the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 112-97 victory in Game 5 of The Finals.

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James became just the fourth pair of teammates to combine for 80-plus points in a Finals game. Their 82 combined points are the third most by a pair of teammates in a Finals game. This was only the second time that has occurred on the road (the 87 by Baylor/West in 1962) and the first time it has occurred in an elimination game.

* 80-plus points by a pair of teammates in a Finals game:

87 – 1962, Game 5 – Elgin Baylor (61) & Jerry West (26) – L.A. Lakers 126, Boston 121
83 – 1967, Game 3 – Rick Barry (55) & Jim King (28) – San Francisco 130, Philadelphia 124
82 – 2016, Game 5 – Kyrie Irving (41) & LeBron James (41) – Cleveland 112, Golden State 97
80 – 1963, Game 3 – Jerry West (42) & Elgin Baylor (38) – L.A. Lakers 119, Boston 99

* Irving and James scored 73.2 percent of the Cavs’ total points (82 of 112). That is the third-highest percentage ever in a Finals game.

78.7% (59 of 75) – 2004, Game 1 – Shaquille O’Neal (34) & Kobe Bryant (25) – L.A. Lakers 75, Detroit 87
75.0% (51 of 68) – 1950, Game 1 – George Mikan (37) & Jim Pollard (14) – Minnesota 68, Syracuse 68
73.2% (82 of 112) – 2016, Game 5 – Kyrie Irving (41) & LeBron James (41) – Cleveland 112, Golden State 97
72.4% (71 of 98) – 2012, Game 4 – Russell Westbrook (43) & Kevin Durant (28) – Oklahoma City 98, Miami 104
72.1% (62 of 86) – 1998, Game 4 – Michael Jordan (34) & Scottie Pippen (28) – Chicago 86, Utah 82

* Game 5 was only the fifth time teammates have scored 40-plus points in the same playoff game (and the first time in The Finals).

The previous occurrences:

Round | Players | Game | Date
Division finals | Elgin Baylor (45 points) & Jerry West (41)
| Lakers 117, Pistons 118 | 3/29/62
First round | “Sleepy” Floyd (42) & Hakeem Olajuwon (41) | Rockets 119, Mavericks 108 | 4/30/88
First round | Clyde Drexler (41) & Hakeem Olajuwon (40) |  Rockets 123, Jazz 106 | 5/5/95
Conference semifinals | Reggie Miller (40) & Jalen Rose (40) | Pacers 108, 76ers 91 | 5/6/00

* James became just the fourth player to have 40-plus points, 15-plus rebounds and 5-plus assists in a Finals game.

The previous occurrences:

Cliff Hagan (STL) – April 5, 1961 @ Boston – 40 points, 17 rebounds, six assists
Magic Johnson (LAL) – May 16, 1980 @ Philadelphia – 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists
Shaquille O’Neal (LAL) – June 6, 2001 vs. Philadelphia – 44 points, 20 rebounds, five assists

* Irving joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in Finals history to score 40-plus points on at least 70 percent shooting.

Chamberlain score 45 points on 20-for-27 (74.1 percent) in the Lakers’ 135-113 win in Game 6 of the 1970 Finals (5/6/70).

* Only 34.1 percent (15 of 44) of the Cavs’ field goals were assisted. This is the first time in 50 years that a team assisted on such a low percentage while scoring 110-plus points in a Finals game.

The last time was April 17, 1966, when the Lakers assisted on 12 (25.5 percent) of their 47 baskets in Boston. The Lakers scored 133 points in that game.

* The Cavs’ 29 unassisted field goals were the most in a Finals game since the San Francisco Warriors had 30 at Philadelphia on April 14, 1967.

* This is just the fourth time a pair of teammates have had 140-plus points each through the first five games of The Finals.

The previous occurrences:

1961 – Cliff Hagan (147) & Bob Pettit (142) – St. Louis vs. Boston
1962 – Elgin Baylor (209) & Jerry West (149) – L.A. Lakers vs. Boston
1963 – Elgin Baylor (175) & Jerry West (145) – L.A. Lakers vs. Boston

* This is the third time that the first five games of The Finals have been decided by at least 10 points.

It previously occurred in 1960 (Boston vs. St. Louis) and 1988 (Lakers vs. Detroit).

* Largest total margin of victory (for the winning team in each game) through the first five games of The Finals:

105 – 1965 – Boston vs. L.A. Lakers
104 – 2016 – Golden State vs. Cleveland
87 – 1982 – L.A. Lakers vs. Philadelphia

The Finals Stat: Game 5

OAKLAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers are still alive. Facing elimination for the first time this year, the Cavs took advantage of Draymond Green‘s absence and sent The Finals back to Cleveland behind huge games from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

One stat stood out from the rest in the Cavs’ 112-97 victory over the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 on Monday.

The stat

8 – Shots James made from outside the paint (on 19 attempts).

The context

20160613_basicsThat’s twice as many as he’s made in any other playoff game this year (he hit four six times), the most he’s made in a playoff game since Game 2 of the 2014 Finals (42 playoff games ago), and the second most he’s made in a game all season.

James’ jump shot has been an issue since the start of last year’s playoffs. He shot 27 percent from outside the paint in last year’s Finals and was 9-for-28 from outside the paint through Game 4 of this year’s series.

His poor shooting has allowed the Warriors to play him soft on the perimeter and kept him from really breaking out offensively. James can destroy you inside, but if his shot isn’t falling, he has a ceiling offensively, especially against a defender like Andre Iguodala.

On Monday, James broke out and Irving’s shot-making was even more impressive. The pair scored 41 points apiece, the first time in Finals history and just the fifth time in playoff history that teammates have each put up 40-plus in the same game.

The Warriors clearly missed Green, especially on defense. But James’ jumper finally falling for him was independent of Green’s status in Game 5. His 19 attempts from outside the paint were also a season high, and if his jumper continues to fall on Thursday, the Cavs have the ability to force a Game 7.

LeBron James' Game 5 shot chart

LeBron James’ Game 5 shot chart

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO Ratio = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA

How do Warriors line up without Green?

OAKLAND — Draymond Green has been suspended for Game 5 of The Finals, having accumulated four flagrant foul points over course of the postseason. This is a major blow to the Golden State Warriors’ hopes of closing out the series on Monday.

Green has been one of the league’s best defenders for a few years now. And he has also developed into one of the best pick-and-roll playmakers at power forward. He’s a huge part of what the Warriors do both offensively and defensively.

“You see every game what he brings,” Stephen Curry said Sunday, “the energy, the defensive presence. He’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and he’s a proven All-Star that’s done a lot for our team this year. So we’ll obviously miss his impact and the intangibles that he brings to the game.”

Here are some numbers to consider in anticipation of Game 5, which will certainly include some experimentation on the Warriors’ part.

The key to small ball

For the second straight year, Andre Iguodala has the best plus-minus in The Finals by a wide margin. Nobody is even close to Iguodala’s plus-116 over the two series.


But Iguodala benefits from most of his minutes coming in small-ball lineups, which have been much more effective for the Warriors. In this series, Iguodala has played only 43 (33 percent) of his 130 minutes with one of the Warriors’ four centers. He’s a plus-0 in those minutes and a plus-54 in his 87 minutes with small-ball lineups.

Green has played 67 (44 percent) of his 152 minutes with a center on the floor. He’s a minus-18 in those minutes and a plus-54 in 85 minutes with small-ball lineups. So, the plus-minus differential between the Warriors’ versatile forwards is simply about small ball vs. traditional lineups.

And while Iguodala is obviously taking on the biggest defensive load and making plays on offense, Green is absolutely essential to the Death Lineup and all its derivatives.

“He allows us to still have protection at the rim playing small,” Shaun Livingston said.

While the Warriors’ are a plus-54 with Green playing center in The Finals, they’ve been outscored by the Cavs in every other scenario.


In Game 5 on Monday, we’ll certainly see more minutes for the Warriors’ centers and more minutes of small-ball with either Harrison Barnes or James Michael McAdoo at center.

More needed from the centers

Andrew Bogut scored 10 points in Game 1 and had four early blocks in Game 2, but has the Warriors’ worst plus-minus in The Finals for the second straight year (minus-19 both times). He played just 10 minutes (his second lowest number in the postseason) in Game 4 on Friday.

Festus Ezeli, Anderson Varejao and Marreese Speights, meanwhile, have all rarely played that much.

If the Warriors are going to play more minutes with a center on the floor, they’re going to have to get something (from one or more of those four guys) that they haven’t been getting very often in this series.

“I need to step up,” Bogut said. “I didn’t play great last game but we got the win.”

Does small ball still apply?

If Steve Kerr is going to put his best five players (of this series) on the floor, it’s probably a lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Livingston, Iguodala and Barnes. But that’s an awfully small lineup that would struggle to rebound and those five guys have played less than three minutes together over the last two seasons. They last saw action together (16 seconds) in Game 5 against Portland.

McAdoo offers some of the versatility of Green in a long, athletic body. And maybe Kerr looks like a genius for getting the second-year player some Finals exposure in Game 4. But his lack of experience could be an issue in a larger role.

“We’re going to play a lot of people,” Kerr said on Sunday, “and we’ll give a lot of different looks and we’ll compete like crazy. And I think we’ll give ourselves a great chance to win.”

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.

The Finals Stat: Game 4

CLEVELAND — The Golden State Warriors are going home with a chance to win their second straight championship. The visitors scored 108 points in a very slow-paced game, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first home loss in these playoffs, to take a 3-1 lead in The Finals and can earn another Larry O’Brien trophy with a win in Game 5 on Monday.

One stat stood out from the rest in the Warriors’ 108-97 victory in Game 4 on Friday and through the first four games of the series.

The stat

51 – Points by which the Warriors have outscored the Cavs in The Finals when playing without a center.

The context

20160610_basicsSmall ball continues to take over.

The Warriors are a minus-19 in 84 minutes with Andrew Bogut, Anderson Varejao, Festus Ezeli or Marreese Speights on the floor (not including garbage time in Games 1-3). But they’re a plus-51 in 93 minutes without a true center (and with Draymond Green at the five).

It was in Game 4 of last year’s Finals that Warriors coach Steve Kerr changed his starting lineup, replacing Bogut with Andre Iguodala. Even with the numbers showing that playing small was the way to go through three games again, Kerr stuck with Bogut this time. But Bogut’s 10 minutes were the fewest he’s played in the series and, even though both Varejao and Speights saw some time, the Warriors went small for more than 32 minutes on Friday.

It was on offense where playing small made the biggest difference through the first three games. And it was on offense where the Warriors broke out in Game 4. They shot just 36 percent on 2-point shots, but were 17-for-36 from beyond the arc.

Stephen Curry led the way on Friday with 38 points on 11-for-25 shooting, but Iguodala might be in line for another Finals MVP. Iguodala, arguably the most critical component of the Warriors’ small-ball lineups, was a game-high plus-15 in Game 4 and has the best plus-minus in The Finals (plus-54) for the second straight year.

The Cavs again started small, but couldn’t get off to a strong start like they did in Game 3. There’s no small-ball like the Warriors’ small ball, and it’s one win away from another championship.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
EFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds obtained
TO Ratio = Turnovers per 100 possessions
FTA Rate = FTA / FGA