The Cleveland Cavaliers’ offense showed signs of life in game three of the NBA finals after being in a coma for the first two games. Going into the game the Cavs offense had only scored 83 points, shot 27.3% from three and averaged 16 assists a game. Going into the finals the Cavs had an offensive rating of 116, in the first two games in Oakland, their rating dropped to 85.9. Game three, the Cavs found their offense again, the player and ball movement was back to what it was in the previous playoff series and their offensive rating in game three climbed back up to 125.7.
In the first two games of the finals the Cavs offense was stagnant and had fallen into the hero ball trap. Previously written on this site after game one, there was no movement at all on the offensive end and the Warriors took full advantage. The Cavs who are third in these playoffs in assists per game were averaging just 16 in those games. Game three, the Cavs were moving on the offensive end and that led to the ball moving, which opened things up for them on the court.
In the play below, there are four passes that leads to a specular dunk by LeBron James. As James kicks the ball ahead to JR Smith, he makes a cut to the basket but nothing is open. The ball is swung to Kyrie Irving who comes off a passive pick-and-roll with James and feeds Tristan Thompson in the post. James executes a swim move on his defender to cut to the rim. Thompson drops a perfect pass and James finishes with a message sending reverse jam. The message, we’re not going down with out a fight.
This continued in the second half, on the possession below all five Cavs touch the ball. Irving comes off a pick-and-roll and finds himself in the corner. James comes to the wing to the get the ball and Thompson sets a ball screen for him. Andre Iguodala chose a poor time to gamble for a steal and James rejects the screen. Thompson rolls to the hoop to receive a pocket pass by James. Harrison Barnes has no choice but to leave Richard Jefferson in the corner, which causes a ripple effect of rotations. Klay Thompson leaves Smith to fake like he’s running at Jefferson to buy Barnes some time to get back. He commits too much and Jefferson hits Smith who beats the Thompson close out with a pump fake and hits a side step three.
This type of ball and player movement was key for the Cavs to get to the finals. It led to easy shots for sharp shooters like Smith. In games one and two the Cavs got away from that and were playing isolation basketball. Irving had only one assist in game two but eight in game three. This game may be a sign that the Cavs are regaining their offensive rhythm. Movement forces defenses to react, this leads to open shots, and if the Cavaliers move the ball like that again in game 4 this series may head to Oakland tied at two.