3 adjustments the Cavs need to make after game one

Written by :
Published on : June 2, 2017

 

 

The NBA Finals have finally arrived, but apparently seven days of rest wasn’t quite enough time to prepare for the Cleveland Cavaliers. As bad as game one went for the Cavs, many of their problems are fixable. After a first half that was littered with sloppy possessions and defensive breakdowns, the Cavs were very fortunate to only be down by eight. If head coach, Tyronn Lue, made some seemingly obvious halftime adjustments, I thought Cleveland would have a chance to steal a game on the road. Instead, the Warriors outscored the Cavs 33-20 in the third quarter and ran away with the game.

 

Now, the pressure is on Lue to get his team on the same page and make the necessary adjustments, two things he failed to do in game one. LeBron James also deserves some blame, as he tied a season high with eight turnovers, despite otherwise finishing with great stats. Since Lue took over as head coach, there’s been speculation over whether he is really coaching the team, or he’s just a figurehead who falls in line with LeBron’s commands. Regardless who’s calling the shots, here’s three things the Cavaliers need to do differently in order to avoid complete and utter disaster.

 

James Curry Finals 2017

 

Smarter possessions, simplify offense, limit turnovers

One mistake the Cavs were making, LeBron in particular, was overthinking things on offense. Their offense was at it’s best when LeBron and Kyrie Irving attacked the basket, as it normally is. Despite that, they were determined to get the ball to Kevin Love whenever he was guarded by Kevin Durant, but Durant was up to the task and Love shot 4-13 from the field. Much of Love’s bad shooting was due to him getting the ball in difficult positions. LeBron had at least two turnovers on plays where he forced very difficult lob passes to Love when he wasn’t open.

 

LeBron had another near turnover attempting to lob a pass to Irving from half court. Somehow Irving came up with the ball, but the long pass gave the defense time to swarm him and the possession did not result in points. LeBron did this because Irving was being guarded by Steph Curry and the Cavs liked the matchup, but Cleveland will have many opportunities for Irving to attack Curry without lobbing him the ball in the post. They can simply give Irving the ball on the perimeter, where he’s comfortable, and let him attack Curry one-on-one, as he did in the final three games of the 2016 Finals. Forcing lob passes to a guy who’s 6’3” in high heels, or a guy with a four inch vertical, doesn’t seem necessary when you have two players who attack the basket and create offense as well as LeBron and Kyrie.

 

James dunk 2017 finals

 

Another LeBron turnover came late in the 2nd quarter, on a play where he made a great drive to the basket, could have had a layup, but instead threw the ball right to Klay Thompson, leading to fast break points for Golden State. At halftime, one would think Tyronn Lue and the Cavs would adjust their game plan to stop forcing the ball to Love and various role players because they like the matchups, and start attacking the basket with LeBron and Irving regardless who is guarding them. Conversely, on the first possession of the 2nd half, the Cavs went to JR Smith in the post. Again, he was being guarded by Curry and they liked the matchup. Not surprisingly, Smith made a few sloppy dribbles and lost the ball.

 

The head-scratching possessions continued for Cleveland. On one play, Irving forced the ball to a well-guarded Tristan Thompson who was immediately tied up for a jump ball. In a fourth quarter possession, Deron Williams took the ball down the court, tried to beat his defender off the dribble and forced up a contested fadeaway. Tyronn Lue needs to tell Williams this is the 2017 LeBron James/Kyrie Irving Cleveland Cavaliers, not the 2010 Deron Williams Utah Jazz. I don’t care who’s guarding them, JR Smith, Tristan Thompson and Deron Williams creating their own shot is NEVER a higher percentage play than LeBron James or Kyrie Irving creating their own shot. Instead of focusing so much on the Warriors perceived weaknesses, and good matchups for bad offensive players, the Cavs should play to their own strengths. James and Irving need to attack the basket as often as humanly possible. Then they can kick it out to open shooters when the defense starts overcompensating for them. That’s when guys like JR Smith and Deron Williams can get some easy baskets.

 

Less switching and rotating, more guarding the guy with the ball

This one may seem obvious, but the Cavaliers didn’t seem pick up on it all game. Amid their constant frantic mess of switching and rotating, Cleveland either didn’t have a strong defensive game plan, or they didn’t understand it well enough to execute it. It looked like no one on the Cavs knew who to guard all game, and as a result they basically didn’t guard anyone. I’m not a basketball coach, but if I was going to pick the most important person to guard, I’d start with the guy who has the ball. The Cavs were so caught up in their rotating ways, the nearest defender opted to rotate off the guy with the ball on several fast breaks, leaving the Warriors with easy dunks and layups. Most notably was a second quarter play where Kyrie Irving was dropping back to pick up Kevin Durant on a fast break, then he inexplicably ran away from Durant to double-team a three point shooter, as Durant took a free pass to the hoop. Even Durant smiled in disbelief after the easiest dunk of his NBA career.

 

Durant dunk 2017 finals

 

I realize Cleveland wants to avoid playing traditional man, since they don’t like a lot of the one-on-one defensive matchups, and it would be hard to keep up with Golden State’s ball movement, but Tyronn Lue needs to find a way to simplify Cleveland’s defensive approach and make sure everyone understands who to guard. Minimize the the switching and rotating, because while the Cavs were switching and rotating, the Warriors were shooting and scoring. And if all else fails, for god sakes, just guard the guy with the damn ball!

 

Less JR, more Jefferson

Last year, Tyronn Lue earned his respect by adjusting his lineup based on which role players were working best in any given game or series. This year, Lue has kept JR Smith in the starting lineup as long as he’s been healthy. Smith started in 35 out of the 41 games he was available during the regular season, despite shooting a career low 34.6% from the field, and scoring 8.6 points per game, his lowest in eleven seasons. While his field goal percentage has risen in the playoffs, he’s scoring a measly 6.4 points per game in 26.4 minutes. That’s not very good for a guy who’s main asset is scoring. Smith apparently played 28 minutes in game one, although you probably didn’t realize that unless you checked the box score, since he essentially did nothing to help the Cavs.

 

Meanwhile, Richard Jefferson was Cleveland’s third best player in the limited minutes that he was on the court in game one. Jefferson was one of the unsung heroes of the 2016 Finals, playing 24 minutes per game and providing great defense and savvy veteran experience. At 36 years old, I understand why the Cavs haven’t used him a lot this season, but this might be the time to start. He can guard Kevin Durant better than any Cavalier aside from LeBron, he makes good decisions with the ball (like passing to LeBron and Kyrie), and he knows when to be aggressive. Cleveland can’t start Jefferson because he plays the same position as LeBron, but they need to play him a lot more than his current postseason average of 11 minutes per game, and start getting him in the game before garbage time.

 

The Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson (11) drives against the Cleveland Cavaliers' Richard Jefferson (24) in the second quarter of Game 1 of The Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, June 1, 2017. (Nhat V. MeyerBay Area News Group)

 

In the 2016 Finals, Cleveland proved they’re never out of a series when they were down three games to one against Golden State and came back to win the championship. This year, the Warriors added Kevin Durant, and the margin for error is even smaller for the Cavs. The Warriors have one of the best teams ever assembled, and they deserve a lot of credit for how well they played in game one. But you can’t beat a team as great as Warriors if you’re busy beating yourselves. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the Cavs were doing wrong in game one, their mistakes were glaringly obvious. Hopefully Tyronn Lue realizes this and makes the adjustments the Cavaliers desperately need. That way the Cavs can at least make the series interesting enough to force Jeff Van Gundy to talk about what’s happening on the court instead of his awkward schoolboy crush on Rihanna. Otherwise, Lue could be packing his bags to join David Blatt as assistant in Turkey while LeBron is picking a new head coach in the offseason.

 

 


The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead yet

Written by :
Published on : June 9, 2016

 

 

What a minute, shut up for a second… Can you hear that? I think it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers heartbeat…

 

Just when people were digging holes and getting ready to throw in the lifeless bodies of LeBron James & Co, Believeland came back to life and reminded the world that this is still a team that only lost two games throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoffs. After losing by 33 points in Game 2 on the road, the Cavs came back home and made a statement by beating the Golden State Warriors by 30 points.

 

 This photo is metaphor for Steph Curry’s Finals experience. He just can’t get there.

 

The Cavs continued to minimize Steph Curry’s impact on the game via their defensive efforts, as they have for the entire series thus far, but unlike the first two games, the rest of the team wasn’t able to fill the void. Curry finished with 19 points overall after having just 2 points in the first half. For the MVP that isn’t enough to get it done. Not only was the shot not falling, but Steph looked completely off last night, as he has for the entirety of these NBA Finals. On this night, Cleveland was a much better team and feeding off of the electric atmosphere of The Q, they sent a message to the world that they should not be counted out.

 

With an aged Richard Jefferson stepping in to start for the injured Kevin Love, Cleveland was all over Golden State from the get-go. There was never a tie or a lead change after the first points were scored by the Cleveland Cavaliers. There was a drastic change in the defensive energy without Love, which means there will be a tough decision for head coach Tyronn Lue when Love clears the NBA’s concussion protocol. Obviously, he is going to start once he is healthy but you can’t deny that his absence coincided with a change for the better in most aspects of the Cavs’ game.

 

 Kyrie was on his game.

 

In the past, falling into such a deficit and losing in such a fashion to start the NBA Finals would cause LeBron James to try to take over the game and win it himself. But it seems that this year he has learned his lesson. He may have led the team in points in Game 3 but it was the awakening of Kyrie Irving that made all the difference. Uncle Drew (30 points) was 7-9 from the floor in the first quarter and was an integral part of the Cavs’ 19-4 run to open the game. With the help of JR Smith (20 points) and Tristan Thompson (14 points), Kyrie and everyone not named King James made sure that this time things would be different.

 

Before we go saying that the momentum has totally shifted, we should realize that the Golden State Warriors have lost all five of their Game 3 matchups since the start of 2015 NBA Finals. They are probably just cursed. They do say that bad things come in 3’s. I guess they meant Game 3’s, because this one was really bad and if they don’t rebound and the Cavaliers win Game 4, all bets are off.

 

For today, the Cleveland Cavaliers have life. They were the better team in every way and they deserved this win. If they can do it again, we might just have a series on our hands. If not, they are dead. Maybe this time for good.

 

 


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