David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: LeBron James and George Hill
- The Warriors’ help defense will be crucial, as the Cavaliers try to force Steph Curry to switch onto LeBron James.
- Cleveland might just have an advantage when it plays Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love together.
- The Warriors have the 3-point advantage against a Cavs team that can get 3-point-happy from time to time.
Well … here we are.
Cavs-Warriors IV: The Search For More Money.
Any time a franchise gets to a fourth film, it usually starts to go downhill. Just look at Die Hard. The Finals everyone expected and no one really wanted because we know how it ends is here again. Record ratings await, because fans who tune in once a year can’t get enough of LeBron James getting his tail kicked by the Golden State Warriors.
So what does this one look like?
If LeBron can somehow pull this off? Not only will he have likely cemented himself as the Greatest of All Time in many people’s eyes, converting more Jordan disciples to his cause, Cavs bettors will enjoy a payday of 7-1 or better.
On the other side lies the Warriors, seeking their third title in four years, Kevin Durant’s second, and Warriors backers betting on high probability over risk.
Here are the angles for the 2018 NBA Finals:
KEEPING CURRY OFF THE ISLAND
You have just watched seven games of James Harden hunting down Stephen Curry in switches. You have also just watched seven games of LeBron tracking down Terry Rozier in switches.
LeBron will try to force Curry onto him through screens. It’s less about how good of a defender Curry is and more about how he’s the weak point of the Warriors’ defense. Against Harden, the Warriors were willing to risk it with Curry. They brought help defenders low and stayed home on the shooters they needed. They forced Harden left and then sent another guy at the rim.
But the Warriors are much less likely to accept that situation against James, who’s a whole different animal. Helping off him sometimes isn’t enough. B-Ball Breakdown did an excellent piece last year showcasing one of the ways the Warriors can deter that switch by bringing up Curry and having him “tag” James and then recover to this own man.
The Warriors can also do a number of things to keep Curry off James. They can bury him on a nonscreener, but that’s harder to do with the Cavs because Kyle Korver, Kevin Love, Jeff Green and JR Smith can all screen effectively, and the Cavs use them regularly. But Golden State can get away with Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood. It’s likely Curry spends time on his natural matchup, George Hill. The issue? The Hill-James pick-and-roll is terrifying.
The Cavs don’t run that nearly enough. But if they do, they can force Curry onto James. The Warriors will bring help, but James can also pass out of it.
The trick, of course, is that the Warriors’ help rotations are phenomenal. David West shows down here to prevent James from posting or attacking Curry left, and on the pass out, the Warriors rotate perfectly.
The trick here is the lack of spacing, though. It’s why having four shooters on the floor matters so much with James. You have to force the Warriors to switch and punish them for helping Curry. That’s why so much of this comes down to guys such as Jeff Green and Jordan Clarkson.
Good luck, Cavs.
One more note: Curiously, the Cavaliers didn’t really force the switch much in last year’s Finals. James spent most of his time attacking Durant and Andre Iguodala. This, quite frankly, is insane. The Warriors got the better end of that matchup. No one had to move much to help off; James was having to take contested, brutal shots; it didn’t work. If the Cavs go to that again, they’re going to lose badly again. James is good. No one’s that good.
THE TRADITIONAL BIG MATCHUP
Typically, the fact that the Cavs want to play Tristan Thompson and Love together is a problem. They need to have one or the other off the floor for either defensive or offensive reasons. However, surprisingly, this may be OK against the Warriors.
Even if Iguodala is available to play, it’s likely he plays fewer minutes than he normally does. Tack on the fact that the Death/Hamptons 5 lineup hasn’t been gangbusters lately, and it’s likely Steve Kerr keeps up what he’s been doing, which is playing more traditionally.
Lineups with Kevon Looney and Draymond Green averaged 13.6 minutes in the Western Conference Finals, and lineups with Looney and Jordan Bell averaged another three. That’s a healthy chunk of time for a team that likes to go small.
Those are matchups the Cavs can feel much better about, outside of how often Curry will try to force a switch onto Love. With Love on the floor, Cleveland will have to be inventive with its coverages, something it hasn’t shown a great capacity to do. However, it’s better than the smallball alternative.
Much of these lineup decisions will rest with Green, who’s shooting 27.7% from 3-point range in these playoffs and is 3-for-22 since Game 4 of the Pelicans series. If Green isn’t hitting, that helps Cleveland, which can help off of him to help protect Love in smallball matchups.
Looney, for his part, has played well. He’s big and long, with good defensive principles to deter perimeter drives. It’s a different deal vs. James, but Looney has been a net positive.
The Warriors and Cavs are both averaging 10.9 three-pointers made per 100 possessions in these playoffs. The Warriors are shooting a better percentage at 35.7%. Cleveland’s offense has been spotty in these playoffs, especially on the road.
The Warriors are allowing the lowest 3-point percentage in the playoffs at 31.7%, though that number is higher at Oracle (32%). But some of that is skewed by Houston’s atrocious shooting in Game 7 at Toyota Center.
The Cavaliers were 3-point-happy last year, and it made them one-dimensional. They have to balance that this year with attacks on the rim and midrange shots, which is why Hill is so pivotal to their hopes.
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