A rescue helicopter is patrolling the bay in search of the offense that walked through the Eastern conference, set a record for threes made in a game, and had a playoff high 12.6 point differential. If found, please alert the rightful owners, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Game one of the NBA Finals saw their offense come to a grinding halt in their 15-point loss. The Golden State Warriors’ defense and bench unit were big factors in the game but a bit more surprising was how stagnant the Cavs’ offense had been during the game.
The Cavs led the NBA in Offensive rating (number of points scored per 100 possessions) at 116.2 prior to game one but tonight they were at 93.9, a 22.3 swing. In their previous playoff games the Cavs ball movement was a constant part of their offense, leading to them being second in assists per game as a team with 22.9 per game and had an assist on 58.2% of their made field goals. In game one they had 17 assists on 32 made shots for a percentage of 53.1%. Too many times the Cavs were running isolation plays and had no movement on the backside. Instead the other four players were often just ball watching.
It started very early in the game and never improved for the most part. In the possession below Kryie Irving over dribbles and over penetrates for the first half of the shot clock. LeBron James never gets below the oracle signage on the floor, at least five feet off the three-point line. Once Irving is stuck under the rim, he throws a high volley to JR Smith that nearly turns into a steal. Now Smith has the ball at the top of the key and James is closer to half court than the basket. With time winding down on the shot clock Smith attempts to penetrate but loses the ball. After a scramble Tristan Thompson picks up the ball but doesn’t know the shot clock is about to expire.
Later in the quarter James drives middle from the wing and the Warriors defense collapses on him. James makes the correct pass and kicks it to Irving, who immediately sends it Kevin Love in the corner who is smothered by Draymond Green. Love passes it back to Irving, and follows his pass to set a ball screen to free up Irving but is rejected. Irving sizes up Curry while the rest of the Cavs including James stand on the other side of the court.
With the rest of the Cavs all bunched up on the weakside, the Warriors are able to overload the strong side of the court and provide Curry with back up. Ideally as Irving goes into his move, a player like Thompson would cut to the basket to force the Warriors to react to him or risk giving up an easy basket. No one cuts or moves and Irving goes into one-on-one mode and forces up a tough step back jumper that is easily rebounded by the Warriors.
On another play, James posts up Harrison Barnes and like the play earlier, all the Cavs are bunched up on the weakside. Iguodala is jumping in and out of James’ view commonly referred to as a dig on a post player. James passes the ball to Matthew Dellavedova who then reposts James again and cuts through to the opposite corner. Then Green comes to double James who again makes the pass out of the post to Love on the wing, who yet again reposts James. Then Iman Shumpert rotates to the top the key as Love cuts down the middle. At this point, James faces up Barnes and settles for a jumper that he misses.
When the Cavs did manage to make even the slightest cut they were able to provoke the Warriors’ defense into a scramble. In this play, the Cavs run a pick-and-roll with James and Love. The Warriors switch the play and Barnes is on Love. James cuts to the weakside to join the rest of the Cavs.
This play looks like the previous ones until Green goes to double Love and Thompson attempts to cut to the rim. Bogut has to step up to take that away and a passing lane is created. Love finds James on the wing forcing Klay Thompson to leave Irving in the corner. Thus another passing lane is created, and James hits Irving. Green sprints to cover Irving who recognizes Green’s wild close out and drives right by him for an easy five foot jumper.
The Cavs will have to make many adjustments game two, the most obvious will be getting more from their bench as they were outscored 45 to 10 and will need to cut down on their 17 turnovers that led to 25 Warrior points. To improve on their 38.1% field goal percentage they will need to find the rhythm of their offense again. They will have to move the ball the way we they did in the previous series, and regain that spacing so the defense cannot load up on their offense. If the Cavs don’t find the flow of their offense by game two, it won’t be rescue helicopters circling above but vultures.