On a huge night of Game 2s in the NBA Playoffs, here’s a look at the most important strategic element heading into each matchup.
Pacers at Cavaliers (-8)
7 p.m. ET | TNT
The LeBron Smother. If you’re going to challenge LeBron, you have to pack the paint and then recover to shooters, which I discussed in today’s betting guide. But the other thing you need to do is find ways to frustrate him.
The Pacers had their hands in to deflect the ball constantly on James in Game 1. Here, Victor Oladipo stays with him to contest, doesn’t let James take body contact to draw a foul and then knocks the ball away.
Here, Oladipo recovers from behind to block LeBron at the rim; Oladipo’s athleticism wreaked havoc in this game.
In the clip below, Darren Collison helps down to disrupt the catch, and when James turns to bully, Thad Young comes from the back side to knock it away.
These little things — taking possessions that are scores 70% of the time with James and turning them into turnovers — are huge for Indiana. That athleticism advantage isn’t going away.
However, notice these all came when James was cutting. In seven isolation possessions, James didn’t have a single turnover. His two possessions in the pick and roll didn’t result in him having the ball stolen.
Expect a lot more of James on-ball tonight, which could help Cleveland and will boost his individual numbers.
Jazz at Thunder (-4.5)
8 p.m. ET | NBATV
Joementum. I wrote extensively before the series about the importance of the Thunder containing Joe Ingles. OKC definitely got the memo. They sicced Paul George on him first thing.
In the clip below, you’ll see Utah’s counter with George unable to help down low. The Thunder (for some reason) blitz Ricky Rubio, and that creates a 2-on-1 vs. Steven Adams. If OKC just switches on Rubio or drops the big, the Thunder are probably fine. But do this, and it’s bad:
The Jazz had to run Ingles off two screens to get him the wide-open look in the video below. George can sometimes even fight through that, but not here:
Below, Russell Westbrook is on Ingles, but when Carmelo Anthony over-helps inside, Westbrook has to recover to the corner shooter (which is the right decision), and it opens up Ingles’ only really great look of the day:
The result of this, and Adams’ work inside on Rudy Gobert, was that Rubio wound up shooting 18 times, making five shots. That’s exactly what the Thunder want.
If Donovan Mitchell is limited by his foot injury, that takes another one-on-one scorer away and puts more pressure on Rubio. Ingles hit three 3-pointers, but given the pace of the game, that’s not enough. Even if the Jazz find more looks for Ingles, the Thunder showed they have the scheme to contain him, as long as they remain disciplined.
Timberwolves at Rockets (-10)
9:30 p.m. ET | TNT
Stupid. The Timberwolves had 22 shots come from isolation possessions in Game 1, tied for the most among all playoff teams through Tuesday night. Counting passes, it was 26. That’s 10 more than Houston, which led the league in isolation possessions during the regular season.
The biggest gripe folks had was how little Karl-Anthony Towns was involved, but as always, it takes two to tango. Watch Andrew Wiggins get the switch here, with James Harden (an admittedly underrated post defender) on Towns, and Wiggins waves him off so he can isolate before passing out with two seconds left to a guarded Jeff Teague.
Or here’s Teague, waving off so he can launch a 3.
Sometimes the Rockets would switch and then double Towns. Except Towns would wander into Taj Gibson’s zone. Look at the spacing here:
The Rockets left the door wide open for the Wolves to take Game 1. Minnesota had every opportunity, and couldn’t cash. If you want the biggest reason to ride the Rockets? It’s not that they will probably hit more open looks in Game 2. It’s that Minnesota constantly works against its own best interests on offense.