Why the Cavs’ Early Shooting Will Dictate Everything in Game 2

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Cavaliers guard JR Smith. Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

While it might be too reductionist to say the Cavaliers really lost Game 1 because of some poor shooting variance, it’s also partly true.

Per Cavs analyst Mike Zavagno, the Cavs shot 16-of-53 (30.2%) on uncontested shots. Meanwhile, the Celtics went 25-of-39 (64.1%) on contested ones. Per NBA Stats, the Cavs went 4-of-20 (20.0%) on 3-pointers in which the shooter didn’t dribble — catch-and-shoots, essentially.

For reference, the Cavs were fifth in the league during the regular season on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, making 9.1 per game on 38.8% shooting. They averaged 7.3 per game on 37.9% shooting in the three regular-season games against the Celtics. Again, it’s reductionist to say the Cavs just missed shots … but they did miss a lot of open shots.

Of course, we must give credit to Boston for taking advantage of those misses. This is anecdotal, but it seems as if the Cavs are one of the most emotional teams in the NBA. Not in terms of throwing tantrums or picking up techs; rather, their defensive intensity is very tied to their offensive performance. They already aren’t great at getting back in transition — they finished the regular season 27th in transition defense, per Cleaning the Glass — and it’s probably even worse than the data suggests.

A lot of transition opportunities are off steals or blocks, but there are also semi-transition opportunities that often don’t show up in the data. These happen when players watch their shots, and they especially happen when missed 3-pointers create long rebounds that go to the athletic, fast wings for Boston. There were numerous opportunities in which Jaylen Brown would grab a rebound, push hard down the floor and have a one-on-one mismatch against a smaller player such as George Hill at the rim.

All of this is to say that the value might be in live-betting these games rather than taking a side before they start. If the Cavs miss a 3, it often isn’t just a 3-point swing in expected value. Because of the Cavs’ poor semi-transition defense, it’s often bigger. In turn, that means the value of a made 3-pointer is even higher because the Cavs are able to set up their half-court defense, which still isn’t amazing, but is miles better than the alternative. If the Cavs come out cold in the first quarter again, I’m not sure they can rally in Boston. If Kevin Love, Kyle Korver and JR Smith are nailing their catch-and-shoots, we might have a game.

More coverage of Cavs-Celtics Game 2:

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