Cavs Pick-and-Roll D must improve to win the title

So much has changed since the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors met in the regular season. Their pick-and-roll defense can’t stay the same for the Cavs to win their first Championship and end the 52-year Cleveland drought. Tyronn Lue replaced David Blatt as the Cavs coach, Steve Kerr missed both those games, Anderson Varejao switched sides, and Channing Frye is playing for the Cavs. Again, despite all of those changes it will come down to how they defend the pick-and-roll.

According to the NBA stats website the Cavs in the playoffs give up the second most points per possession in pick-and-roll situations when the ball handler keeps the ball at 0.95 and fourth at 1.08 when the ball goes to the roll man. (PPP = Points Per Possession – Total Points Per Possession / Total Possessions). On the other side of the coin the Warriors score 0.9 PPP for ball handlers and 0.93 when the roll man makes plays in pick-and-roll in the playoffs.

In the two nearly identical plays below, the Cavs attempt to trap Stephen Curry in the pick-and-roll with Matthew Dellavedova and Kevin Love. Curry finds Draymond Green both times and he turns into a playmaker. In the first clip Festus Ezeli screens LeBron James just enough to keep him from helping on the drive then rolls to the basket. Tristan Thompson has to step up to take away the lane from Green. As soon as he does that, it opens the door for a lob to Ezeli for the dunk. In the second clip, when Green catches the ball, James stays attached to Iguodala in the corner and JR Smith the other weakside guard doesn’t drop down to help Thompson and Ezeli gets another easy dunk.

Later in the quarter the Cavs change their pick-and-roll coverage and are no longer trapping the play. So when Ezeli sets the high pick, Thompson is there to corral Curry until Dellavedova can get over the top of the screen and recover. In this specific example Thompson is too far back and Curry pulls up for a deep three.

The Cavs pick-and-roll defense will be tested to its limits no matter the lineup on the court. If they trap the picks then the help defense must have more urgency behind the trap to rotate and recover quickly. If they are going to attempt to corral the ball handler, the picker’s defender has to play for the shot and not the drive with the hope that there is help behind him. There are several ways the Cavs can defend these plays and the coverages will change throughout the game and series. With a chance at the title they will have to figure out how to stifle this attack from the Warriors to win it all.

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