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The Finals Stat: Game 3

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers got their first win against the Golden State Warriors since Game 3 of last year’s Finals, ending a seven-game losing streak to the defending champs with an easy win on Wednesday. The Finals are definitely going back to Oakland for Game 5 next week and the Cavs will have a chance to even the series in Game 4 on Friday. They’re now 8-0 at home in these playoffs.

One stat stood out from the rest in the Cavs’ 120-90 victory in Game 3.

The stat

+17 – The plus-minus of the Cavs’ starting lineup in Game 3.

The context

20160608_basicsWith Kevin Love out with a concussion, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue used a starting lineup that had never played more than four minutes together (and was a minus-7 in less than 15 total minutes over the regular season and playoffs). Richard Jefferson got the start at small forward, moving LeBron James to power forward. The Cavs got off to a 9-0 start and were up 21-8 when Jefferson went to the bench with 4:18 left to go in the first quarter.

After a big second quarter, the Warriors were back within eight points at the half, but the new Cleveland starting lineup had another strong start to the third quarter, outscoring Golden State 13-3 over the first five minutes in the period. In total, the new starting lineup outscored the Warriors, 53-35, in less than 22 minutes of time together on Wednesday. It was the best basketball, on both ends of the floor, that we’ve seen from the Cavs in this series.

The lineup change had James defending Warriors power forward Draymond Green and switching onto MVP Stephen Curry when Green set a screen for him. Curry had a brutal start to the game, missing his first four shots and turning the ball over three times in the first half. The quick starts propelled the Cavs to 71 points on just 47 possessions (1.51 per possession) in the first and third quarters.

The Cavs were sharper on defense and more aggressive on offense, with Kyrie Irving scoring 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting in that first quarter. Tristan Thompson also gave his team multiple second opportunities, finishing with seven offensive rebounds.

Whether or not Love passes the league’s concussion protocol and is able to play on Friday, the lineup that hadn’t played much together before Game 3 will probably see more time in Game 4.

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

The Finals Stat: Game 2

OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors took a 2-0 lead in The Finals with another easy victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 2. The Warriors have now won seven straight games against the Cavs, by an average of 18.6 points.

One stat stood out from the rest in the Warriors’ 110-77 victory on Sunday and from the first two games of the series.

The stat

44.1 percent – What the Cavs have shot in the paint through the first two games.

The context

20160605_basicsCleveland ranked ninth in field goal percentage in the paint in the regular season at 56.2 percent and third through the first three rounds of these playoffs at 55.3 percent. The Cavs had the postseason’s most potent offense, by a wide margin, before arriving at The Finals.

But in this series, the Cavs have been shut down, both inside and out. They’ve shot 14-for-50 from 3-point range and have made less than half their shots in the paint in both games.

The last part is nothing new. The Cavs have shot below 50 percent in the paint in six of the 12 games they’ve played against the Warriors in the last two seasons. Two of their three worst field goal percentage marks in the paint since LeBron James returned to Cleveland have come against Golden State (Game 2 of last year’s Finals and a meeting on Jan. 9, 2015).

On Sunday, the Warriors committed 14 live-ball turnovers and attempted just 10 free throws. But Cleveland couldn’t take advantage. They scored just 16 points off those 14 steals, and five of those came in garbage time, when the game had long been decided.

We know that the Cleveland defense won’t shut down the Golden State offense over seven games. But if the Cavs can’t get their own offense going, either in the paint or from beyond the arc, this series will be over quick.

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 need more shots early in the clock

OAKLAND, Calif. — You would think that the team facing the Golden State Warriors in The Finals would want to slow the pace down.

But Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday that he wants his team to play faster in Game 2 on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

“I need [LeBron James] to pick up the pace for us offensively, getting the ball out and just beginning to play faster,” Lue said. “Pace, so we can get up the floor and get guys open shots in transition like J.R. [Smith] and Kevin [Love] and Channing [Frye] and those guys. But I think the floor’s more open when you’re able to play with pace and LeBron and Kyrie [Irving] can get downhill.”

It may seem silly for the Cavs to try to play at the Warriors’ pace, but offensive pace and defensive pace are two separate things. The Cavs can do their best to slow down the Warriors while also getting into their offense earlier.

And the numbers say that the latter would be prudent. League-wide, shooting percentage goes down with the shot clock. And in Game 1, there was a big difference between the shots the Cavs got in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock and the shots they got in the last 12 seconds.

In the initial shot clock (not counting shots after an offensive rebound or situations where the shot clock was off), Cleveland shot 52 percent in the first 12 seconds of the clock and only 36 percent in the last 12 seconds, according to SportVU.

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But the Cavs took more than twice as many shots late in the clock as they did early in the clock on Thursday. In the regular season, the Cavs took 48 percent of their shots in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock, a rate which ranked 23rd in the league. They have guys who can bail them out in late-clock situations, but Lue would rather his team not get into those.

Transition offense starts with a stop on defense, but Lue wants his team to push the ball off both makes and misses.

“We’re playing against a half-court defense, they’re switching 1 through 5, they make you stagnant and make you play one-on-one basketball because that’s all you can get,” he said. “So if we pick up the pace and play with a faster tempo offensively, I think we’ll be fine.”

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.

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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…

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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 …

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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 …

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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 …

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

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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.

The Finals Stat: Game 1

OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors used a 29-8 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to take control of Game 1 of The Finals, their sixth straight win over Cleveland, going back to Game 4 of last year’s series.

One stat stood out from the rest in the Warriors’ 104-89 victory on Thursday.

The stat

54 – Points in the paint scored by the Warriors.

The context

20160602_basicsThat tied both the third-highest mark that Golden State has registered and the third-highest mark that Cleveland has allowed this season.

This is a matchup of the most prolific 3-point shooting team in NBA history and what was the most prolific 3-point shooting team of the first three rounds. But Game 1 was won inside, where the Warriors had their way early and often.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were quiet most of the night, combining for just 20 points on 8-for-27 shooting. The Cavs avoided the long-distance splashes for the most part, but were beaten by drives and cuts and layups in transition, where they were too slow to match up.

And there was a lot of Shaun Livingston in that big run that decided the game. The Warriors’ back-up point guard used his size advantage to bully the Cavs’ guards into the paint, where he drained several pull-up and turnaround jumpers.

Cleveland has turned into a potent offensive team, using only Channing Frye, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson as their bigs. But the flip side of that is that they have no rim protection, and the Warriors took advantage in Game 1.

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

This year, James’ jumper is less necessary than reliable

OAKLAND — The comings and goings of LeBron James‘ jump shot has been a fascinating study over the course of his career.

There have been times where James has been a competent shooter. And there have been big games that he’s won with his jumper. But more often than not, the greatness of James is about how much he’s done for his team’s offense despite an inconsistent jump shot.

In 2012, James won his first championship and was named Finals MVP, averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists over five games against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In that series, he made just seven (18 percent) of his 38 shots from outside the paint.

A year earlier, the Dallas Mavericks successfully employed a zone defense to keep James out of the paint. In ’13 and ’14, the San Antonio Spurs generally played James soft on the perimeter to force him into being a jump-shooter as much as possible. Last year, Andre Iguodala did the same, and James shot 24-for-90 (27 percent) from outside the paint in The Finals.

This year, for James to take 90 shots against the Warriors from outside the paint at the rate he’s been shooting them thus far in the playoffs (one for every 4:05 he’s on the floor), he’d have to average 66 minutes per game over a seven-game series. As cool as it would be to see seven games that went to four or more overtimes, that’s probably not going to happen.

There was a point this season where James was the worst high-volume jump-shooter in the league. He improved from the outside after that, but still finished with his worst field goal percentage from outside the paint in nine years.

But at the same time, James was less reliant on his jump shot than ever before. In the regular season, James took just 42 percent of his shots from outside the paint, the lowest rate in his career.

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That trend has continued in the playoffs, where James has taken only 41 percent of his shots from outside the paint. For the first time in his career, in either the regular season or playoffs, he has taken more than half of his shots from the restricted area, where he’s long been one of the league’s best finishers.

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Part of that is who James is on the floor with. The Cavs have only one non-shooting big — Tristan Thompson — in their rotation, so James has been playing with either three or four shooters around him.

The breakdown: James has played 65 percent of his minutes with Thompson or Timofey Mozgov (eight total minutes) on the floor and 35 percent with four shooters.

With how he’s being complemented these days, James is often the Cavs’ offensive “center.” According to Synergy Sports play type tracking, James’ post-up possessions are down from last postseason, but his possessions as the roll man on a pick-and-roll are way up.

Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey is probably still having nightmares about the play the Cavs ran several times in a row in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the conference finals. It featured James as a passer at the elbow and then as the roll man after a hand-off to Matthew Dellavedova.

James’ improved supporting cast makes the task of defending him even tougher. Not only are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love healthy, but the lineup the Cavs put on the floor to start the second and fourth quarters — Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, James and Channing Frye — has been near impossible to guard, in part because of how it takes advantage of James’ ability to be some sort of point guard/center hybrid.

Casey was an assistant on that Mavs team that zoned up the Heat in 2011. But during the conference finals, there was no point in going back to the tape to see what worked five years earlier. James is a different player now, and he has a different supporting cast.

“This team has far more 3-point shooters than that 2011 team did,” Casey said.

“When you have shooters like he has, he’s like a quarterback,” Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll added. “I feel if you play soft on him, you just allow him to survey the floor.”

No player throws cross-court passes like James, who has 59 assists (to seven different teammates) on 3-pointers in these playoffs, 12 more than any other player. Give him space, and he won’t use it to shoot, but rather to pick your defense apart with his passing.

But if you play tight, you run the risk of getting beat off the dribble. And if James gets into the paint, he’s either finishing at the basket or drawing help and finding a guy who’s even more open than he was before the drive.

“When he’s attacking the basket,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said, “that opens up everything else for our 3-point shooters, for Tristan getting dunks, Kevin getting put-backs and layups. He’s just taking what the defense gives him.”

So, when The Finals tip off Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), the Warriors will know that the task of defending James is much tougher than it was a year ago, no matter how well he shoots from the outside.

“We have to be ready to cover a lot of the floor and 3-point shooting bigs in Frye and Love, so we can’t lose sight of them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday. “But we’ve got to try to protect the rim as well, and that’s a big challenge. Just like teams that play us with our shooting and spacing, it’s hard to cover all that court.

“Last year we generally were playing against two bigs, Mozgov and Thompson, so we were able to help more around the paint and force more jump shots. And it will be much more difficult now with Frye and Love. So our tactics will have to change a little bit.”

“It’s hard to force a guy to one thing,” Iguodala said about defending James. “You try to take him out of his comfort zones more than anything. And then it’s five guys, defensively, being on the same page, knowing where the rotations are going to be. And then communicating is probably the biggest part.”

Defense is always about all five guys. But the Cavs’ ability to put four shooters around James means that Iguodala’s teammates can’t be in the same position to help as they were last year. They need to stay closer to Cleveland’s shooters, or James will have the ball in the shooter’s pocket before they have time to recover.

“I think that’s where he’s most dangerous,” Draymond Green said. “Obviously, he can score the basketball. But he’s most dangerous as a facilitator. So we always have to be aware of that. He’ll find guys anywhere.”

James’ jumper may come and go in the next 2 1/2 weeks. But the comings and goings of James’ jumper have never mattered less.

Numbers preview: The Finals

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Time for the rematch.

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are back in The Finals. One team won a record 73 games in the regular season, but faced elimination three times in the playoffs. The other fired its coach in January, but cruised through the first three rounds.

All that doesn’t matter at this point. No matter how they got here, the Warriors and Cavs are back where they were a year ago. And the next 4-7 games will determine if Golden State finishes off its historical season the right way or if LeBron James finally brings a title to Cleveland.

This is the 14th time that the same two teams have met in The Finals in consecutive years. The team that won the first meeting has repeated in six of the previous 13 occurrences, while the team that lost the first time has gotten revenge seven times.

Going back to Game 4 of last year’s Finals, the Warriors have won five straight games (by an average of 16.4 points) against Cleveland. But this is a different Cavs team than the Warriors have seen before. The East champs have taken things to a new level offensively, with a potent starting lineup (different than the one Golden State faced in the regular season) and a second unit that has been impossible to guard.

Through three rounds, the Cavs have been the more prolific 3-point shooting team with the more efficient offense. They’ve been playing a much different style than what we saw in last year’s Finals. And both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy this time. Of course, the Warriors found a nice rhythm from beyond the arc in coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference finals.

The Cavs have the rest advantage. The Warriors have home-court advantage. There will be plenty of narratives to follow over the next few weeks, but the 2016 NBA title will be determined on the floor.

(more…)

Numbers preview: Cavs-Raptors

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers have always been the clear favorite in the Eastern Conference. At any point in the season, you would have a hard time finding a neutral party who believed that any other East team could stop the Cavs from getting back to The Finals.

Still, the Cavs were always, at best, the third-best team in the league. They were never nearly as good offensively as the Golden State Warriors or nearly as good defensively as the San Antonio Spurs.

But Cleveland has found a new gear in the postseason. The Cavs’ haven’t been a great defensive team in the playoffs, but they haven’t needed to be, because they’ve scored a ridiculous 117 points per 100 possessions as they’ve swept through the first two rounds.

The Cavs have become the most prolific and the most proficient 3-point shooting team in the postseason. The Atlanta Hawks were the league’s best defensive team since Christmas, but couldn’t stop the Cavs’ onslaught in the conference semifinals.

The Toronto Raptors are seemingly just happy to be in the conference finals for the first time in franchise history. But there are reasons the Raptors won 56 games, including two of the three they played against the Cavs this season. They were a top-five offensive team with a much-improved defense. They’ve escaped the competitive bottom half of the East bracket and they played their most complete game of the postseason in Game 7 against the Miami Heat on Sunday.

The Cavs have the opportunity to be the first team to ever go 12-0 on its way to The Finals. To keep that from happening, the Raptors will have to find a way to slow down Cleveland’s potent offense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Eastern Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)

First round: Beat Detroit in four games.
Conf. semis: Beat Atlanta in four games.
Pace: 91.6 (14)
OffRtg: 117.0 (1)
DefRtg: 106.6 (11)
NetRtg: +10.4 (2)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Cavs playoff notes:

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Toronto Raptors (56-26)

First round: Beat Indiana in seven games.
Conf. semis: Beat Miami in seven games.
Pace: 92.0 (12)
OffRtg: 99.4 (11)
DefRtg: 101.5 (6)
NetRtg: -2.1 (9)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Raptors playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 2-1 (Home team won all three games).
Nov. 25 – Raptors 103, Cavs 99
Jan. 4 – Cavs 122, Raptors 100
Feb. 26 – Raptors 99, Cavs 97

Pace: 89.6
CLE OffRtg: 119.7 (1st vs. TOR)
TOR OffRtg: 111.1 (5th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

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Keys to Game 7: Paint and Possessions

Raptors-Heat Series Hub

TORONTO — The 2-3 side of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket has all the Game 7s. After needing seven games to dispatch the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat are, appropriately, going to Game 7 to determine who gets to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

The home team has won 99 (80.5 percent) of the 123 Game 7s in NBA history, including 10 of the last 11. Of course, the one loss in that stretch belongs to the Raptors, who lost at home in Game 7 of the first round two years ago.

Home-court advantage should play a role on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). Home teams are 43-22 with a NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of plus-7.4 in these playoffs. But as loud as the crowd will be inside and outside the Air Canada Centre, the game (and the series) will be determined between the lines.

Here are a few things to look out for…

Heat in the paint

The Heat have been playing small quite a bit since they lost Hassan Whiteside to a sprained knee in Game 3. In Game 6 on Friday, they went all in, starting 6-7 Justise Winslow at center and leaving both Udonis Haslem and Amar’e Stoudemire on the bench for all 48 minutes.

That doesn’t mean that they’ve turned into the Golden State Warriors from the perimeter. The Heat have three guys who have been able to shoot decently from the outside in this series. Two of those three guys – Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade – have taken most of their jumpers from inside the 3-point line, and the other – Josh Richardson – has attempted fewer threes (15) than Wade (16).

Sixty-four percent of the Heat’s points, the highest rate in the conference semifinals, have come in the paint or at the free throw line. They need to attack to score. And the Raptors, more than anything, need to keep Miami out of the paint and protect the rim. That’s why Toronto has allowed just 94 points per 100 possessions with either Jonas Valanciunas or Bismack Biyombo on the floor and 122 in 62 minutes with both off the floor.

Since Valanciunas was lost to an ankle injury in Game 3, Biyombo’s presence has been important. But it’s not his job alone to protect the basket, and the Raptors’ perimeter players need to do a much better job of staying in front of their Miami counterparts than they did in Game 6 on Friday.

Dragic goes away

At times, it has felt like these teams have been playing for the Re-Screen Championship, with guards on both ends of the floor dribbling past a ball screen, getting nothing out of it, and then getting another screen from the same teammate in the opposite direction.

On Friday, both Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade had success when they “rejected” a ball screen and drove away from the screener.

Here’s Dragic setting up Cory Joseph, who’s focused on Winslow’s screen…

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Dragic catches Joseph leaning, goes right, and eventually scores in the paint.

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Dragic also had some success in attacking close outs when he received a pass on the weak side of the floor. The Raptors’ guards have been aiming to contest catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, but were unable to balance that with containing the drive on Friday.

According to SportVU, the Heat have a brutal effective field goal percentage of 38.4 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers in the series have scored 1.16 points per possession on drives over the last five games.

For the Raptors, the choice should be easy on close-outs: Let ’em shoot and don’t let ’em get by you.

The other three factors

Game 6 was, by far, the Heat’s best offensive game of the series. But over the six games, the bigger difference between Toronto’s three wins and Miami’s three was has been on the Raptors’ end of the floor. The Raptors scored 103 points per 100 possessions over Games 2, 3 and 5, but just 90 over Games 1, 4 and 6.

Toronto shot decently in Game 3, but not in their other two wins. And the difference in their offense in wins vs. losses has been more about the other three factors of efficiency: turnovers, free throws and rebounding.

In their three wins, the Raptors have committed just 11.4 turnovers per 100 possessions. In their three losses, they’ve committed 14.1.

In their three wins, the Raptors have attempted 33 free throws for every 100 shots from the field. In their three losses, they’ve attempted just 23 free throws per 100 field goal attempts.

And in their three wins, the Raptors have grabbed 24 percent of available offensive rebounds and averaged 13.7 second chance points. In their three losses, they’ve grabbed 15 percent of available offensive boards and averaged just 8.3 second chance points.

In Game 5, though the Heat played small for all 48 minutes, Toronto grabbed just eight of 42 available offensive rebounds.

Neither team has shot well in this series, but extra possessions (via offensive rebounds) and lost possessions (via turnovers) have been critical. Every one counts.

Numbers preview: Warriors-Thunder

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — As expected, the 73-win Golden State Warriors reached the conference finals with minimal trouble. What’s unexpected is the team who’s meeting them there.

The 67-win San Antonio Spurs ran into a matchup problem that has troubled them in the past. The Oklahoma City Thunder found ways to score against the league’s best defense and came up big in close games to reach the conference finals for the fourth time in six years.

This series features the last three scoring champs and the last three MVPs. And for sure, the headlines and narratives will be about Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (with some good Draymond Green quotes thrown in). But role players will be critical, and if the Thunder can get as much from their supporting cast as they did against San Antonio, this series could be as fun as the game these two teams played on Feb. 27.

That was the game of the year. But the stakes are much higher now. The 73 wins will stand forever, but the Warriors still need eight more to repeat as NBA champions. And the next four won’t come easy.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the Western Conference finals, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Golden State Warriors (73-9)

First round: Beat Houston in five games.
Conf. semis: Beat Portland in five games.
Pace: 101.6 (1)
OffRtg: 113.1 (2)
DefRtg: 98.4 (3)
NetRtg: +14.7 (1)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Warriors playoff notes:

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Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

First round: Beat Dallas in five games.
Conf. semis: Beat San Antonio in six games.
Pace: 95.6 (7)
OffRtg: 111.3 (3)
DefRtg: 102.0 (9)
NetRtg: +9.3 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
Playoffs: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Thunder playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 3-0 (2-0 at home).
Feb. 6 – Warriors 116, Thunder 108
Feb. 27 – Warriors 121, Thunder 118 (OT)
Mar. 3 – Warriors 121, Thunder 106

Pace: 102.9
GSW OffRtg: 112.9 (2nd vs. OKC)
OKC OffRtg: 103.2 (8th vs. GSW)

Matchup notes: