Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

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…

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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 …

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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…

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Tristan Thompson again pressured Bogut above the arc…

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

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

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And again in the corner four seconds later…

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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.

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 Live Blog — Game 3

THE LAND — Perspective is everything this time of year.

The NBA season dictates that you treat each and every moment during the early days of June like the precious moments that they are and will be forever.

It’s that perspective that determines your fate, your future, especially in The Finals … previewed, above, by the Hang Time Podcast crew (with our main man John Schuhmann subbing for the injured Rick Fox) at the Pho Thang Cafe this afternoon.

LeBron James called it a “do-or-die” game for his Cleveland Cavaliers, for The Land, and for Kevin Love (who will miss tonight’s game after not being cleared of the NBA’s concussion protocol).

And Stephen Curry reminds us that the Warriors did nothing more than take care of home by winning Games 1 and 2 of this series by a combined 48 points.

The @warriors look to take commanding 3-0 #NBAFinals lead with a win tonight!

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

Perspective, folks.

This series is not over.

Not yet.

There’s plenty of basketball to be played, at least eight or more quarters between now and Friday night’s Game 4.

We’ve written teams off before in this postseason (anyone remember that 3-1 hole the Warriors were in against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals?), only to see said team rise from the ashes and shock the world.

I’m not making any predictions, that’s fool’s gold. I am only here to point out that you keep your mouth shut until someone wins four games. A little NBA History, from @NBAHistory, for you …

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He’s got his hands full with the Warriors, Rex. Let the man concentrate.

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Not entirely sure I would take it this far. But this is The Land, where every move LeBron makes seems like the earth moves with him.

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Our main man Trey Kerby from The Starters gets the scoop from Benjamin Button … er, I mean Richard Jefferson.

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This is one of the things that worries me where LeBron is concerned. Just how much fuel does he have left in his tank right now? This is, after all, his sixth straight trip to The Finals.

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R.I.P Sean Rooks!

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The kid’s got a better eye than some of those GM’s that passed on Curry in the Draft!

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RJ starts at small forward with LeBron filling in at power forward for Love.

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You knew this was going to come up a time or two … or three million!

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One of the all-time great Cavs still believes in The Land!

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#SPLASH

Splash Brother, pre-game.

A photo posted by John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) on

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#Automatic

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The HOFer and Bay Area icon Ronnie Lott speaks …

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They are only averaging 10 free throws a game, so opportunities for tom foolery could be limited … just saying!

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I gotta get on Snapchat

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David Aldridge and Steve Kerr

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I’m with Judge Judy!

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Bow Wow sending messages?

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Justin Beiber and Lewis Hamilton in the building

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The Golden State Cavaliers?

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Anything less than wild would be uncivilized.

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By any means necessary …

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Ideal start for the Cavaliers. Warriors go 0-for-4 and they make 4-of-5 for a quick 9-0 blitz. Crowd is indeed wild.

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Their one fatal flaw! Down 21-8 on the opening blitz from the Cavaliers!

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The Kyrie Irving Show tonight!

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Game changer right there!

CAVALIERS 33, WARRIORS 16 after a wild first quarter that included Klay Thompson going to the locker room with a knee injury and Kyrie Irving smoking!

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Klay is back, Warriors still struggling from deep (1-for-12) but only down 12 right now with 6:56 to play until halftime.

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Klay finally gets the Splash Brothers on the board. Death lineup causing major problems for Cavaliers, who lead 40-31.

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He’s finally into the series …

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Uh, Klay Thompson is back and playing with bad intentions!

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Tristan Thompson is all over the place.

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CAVALIERS 51, WARRIORS 43 in a wild first half. The MVP has been a disaster but his teammates are battling like crazy. Feels like the Cavaliers should be up 20 but they couldn’t get right in the second quarter.

Warriors defense was stellar (see Draymond denying LeBron here):

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At the half in Game 3 of the #NBAFinals!

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

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JR SWISH!

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APB out for the unanimous MVP tonight …

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THE 2-ON-1 fast break for 3?

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Cavaliers dishing out a little medicine of their own to the Warriors right now. JR with a pump-fake 3 on Klay. 67-48 Cavs.

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Funny how one game changes seemingly everything.

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Who needs a bench?

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The Warriors’ Game 3 road disasters continue in this postseason …

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@realtristan13 stays patient in the paint! #NBAFinals #phantomcam

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

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The old man’s still got hops!

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One more look …

CAVALIERS 89, WARRIORS 69 at the end of 3rd Quarter … looks like we’re going back to Cali after all! (12 minutes to play still. Cavs and this crowd cannot let up!)

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Absolutely!

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So true!

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Quite a few strange whistles tonight that went in both directions. #TruthHurts

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All of the mismatches going the Cavaliers’ way tonight. They are pouring it on, LeBron in particular when he gets a mouse in the house!

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Maybe it was the shoes …

👀 @kingjames' #NBAFinals #NBAKicks! 👀

A photo posted by NBA (@nba) on

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Maybe Tyronn Lue knew what he was taking about after all …

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Flip it and reverse it. #ALLin216

A video posted by Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) on

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Cold, hard, facts …

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That “desperation” move, starting RJ, worked out for the Cavs.

Mood. [ @MeanGreen_Clean #MonsterPlay of the Game 💪🏾]

A photo posted by Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) on

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#SHADECITY

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Sometimes a Big 2 is all you need.

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“Cavs in six” chant breaks out with 51 seconds on the clock and the home team up 30. Be easy now, it’s just one game. It’s a final, Cavs 120, Dubs 90. Big games from Kyrie, LeBron and JR Smith showed up. No Love, of course.

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@cavs win Game 3 behind a big night from @KyrieIrving and @KingJames. #NBAFinals

A photo posted by @nbatv on

Film Study: Cavs caught leaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Frye got caught leaning and Barnes slipped behind him…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

20160601_james_playoffs

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.

Blogtable: More impressive Warriors feat — winning 73 or 3-1 comeback?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> More impressive feat: Winning 73 games in the regular season, or coming back from 3-1 in the conference finals?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Coming back from 3-1 against a committed opponent is incredibly impressive, but teams have come back from such deficits (though it’s been very rare). Plus, Golden State had the advantage of having two of the last three games of the series at home. No one has ever won 73. And considering how much good fortune and consistent play were required to do it over a full season, the Warriors’ regular season mark stands taller.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comHow many NBA teams have recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven-game series? Ten. Now, how many NBA teams have won 73 games in a season? There’s your answer. The Warriors’ specialness across six months, from the 24-0 streak to start the season to the way they embraced the challenge of chasing down the ’96 Bulls, will be remembered a lot longer than what they accomplished in a week against a fierce opponent in a conference finals. Even if Stephen Curry, Steve Kerr and crew did that in The Finals, it would simply cap their magnificent overall year.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Two completely different things that are historic, equally impressive and should be appreciated separately, kind of like juggling chainsaws while walking a tightrope.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The comeback. Winning 73 out of 82 is impressive and should not be brushed aside, but the Warriors didn’t face the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers of Brooklyn Nets while winning three in a row to reach another Finals. Golden State didn’t just beat a championship contender three in a row with the season on the line, Golden State did it with two clutch finishes and one victory in a very tough road setting. As I wrote after Game 7, beating OKC in the final four was more impressive than beating Cleveland in The 2015 Finals. Not more important, because it’s about the rings, but more impressive because of the opponent and the uphill climb.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comOne was historic, the other was done nine previous times. So I’ll go with the 73 wins, even though, on the scale of importance, it’s second to winning the West and advancing to The Finals. I must admit that rallying from 3-1 against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook was impressive. But not historical.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Winning 73 was more impressive, because it took six months of focus through a grind of a season that included 20 back-to-backs and almost every opponent giving you their best. But coming back from 3-1 was more important, especially if it leads to another championship.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Folks love to talk about the regular season being meaningless once the playoffs begin. That’s foolishness. The 73-win regular season the Warriors compiled was a most impressive feat, something never done before in the NBA. The Warriors are the 10th team in NBA playoff history to come back from 3-1 down. As impressive as it was to see them rebound against the Thunder, it won’t come close to topping 73 wins anytime soon.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Other teams have recovered from 3-1, but no one else has ever won 73. As impressive as the last three wins have been, the regular-season record was the result of six months of focused, discipline work.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogDo they have to be mutually exclusive? I thought both of these feats were impressive, and in some ways, I’m not so sure the second one happens without the first. That drive for 73 had to prove to the Warriors their remarkable resiliency and ability to overcome adversity, and I’m sure it was useful trying to come back from down 3-1. If I have to pick one, and I suppose I do because otherwise we wouldn’t be here Blogtable-ing, I’ll go with the 73 wins. Coming back from 3-1 was certainly tough, but they came back from 2-1 twice in last year’s playoffs. Winning 73 required a long-term focus unlike any team, ever, has ever been able to sustain.