Much like in the golden era of championship boxing the NBA is getting a rubber match in the NBA Finals for the first time every. Despite how many times the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics matched up in the finals, they never met three times in a row. With the Cleveland Cavaliers taking care of business against the Celtics in five games, and the Golden State Warriors sweeping their way through the West, the stage has been set. In this two-part piece, the focus will be on what problem the team has to solve in order to win it all, starting with the Cavs.
All year the Cavs defense has struggled, finishing 22nd in the regular season defensive rating but are 3rd in the playoffs. Some of that has to do with the fact the Cavs have picked up their intensity and some of it is they have not played any offensive juggernauts like they are about to face. The Celtics do play a similar style of basketball that the Warriors play so this may have been a good team for the Cavs to match up with before the finals.
Both the Celtics and Warriors rely on ball and player movement to create good offensively looks, with the obvious difference being the Warriors have the more talented roster. The Cavs did struggle to defend a lot of the actions the Celtics run that is similar to what they may face in the Finals. In the plays below, the Celtics used a bevy of screens to suck in the defense which left Jaylen Brown with a wide open three and then, as Tristian Thompson hedged on a pick-and-roll, Avery Bradley quickly got the ball to Marcus Smart who whipped it to the slipping Kelly Olynyk for the empathic dunk on Kevin Love.
Let us also not forget the play at the end of game three when Iman Shumpert and JR Smith miscommunicated on a switch and left Bradley all to himself for the game-winning shot.
The Warriors’ offense is way more potent than that of the Celtics and does not seem to miss when their opponent fails on the defensive end. Their action when the ball is entered into the post usually yields a wide-open jumper, or a dunk like in the play below for Shaun Livingston, when both Spurs defenders go with Kevin Durant. When Zaza Pachulia set a screen for Steph Curry that forced Pau Gasol to step up, Curry took advantage of the attention by flipping a pass to Pachulia for another dunk. The constant movement is difficult to defend, as the Spurs found out in the final example. Curry inbounded the ball to Livingston, who handed it back as Curry drove from one sideline towards the other. As he drove to the hoop, he whipped a pass to Durant but didn’t stop moving. He found his way back to the same sideline he started the play on, right as Durant kicked it out for a three.
The Cavaliers defense has improved through the playoffs but they now will face their toughest challenge. In the Boston series, they gave up 43.4 open (closest defender is four to six feet away) and wide-open (closest defender is six feet or more away) shots a game, which was converted 43.4% of the time. Through the course of the playoffs, the Warriors have seen fewer open shots (39.7) but converted them at a higher percentage, 47.8%. It seems obvious to say but the Cavs will not repeat as champions if they give up multiple open looks to the Warriors. They may have gotten away with it against Boston but there is a big difference between them shooting those shots and the Warriors shooting them.
- Stats from NBA.com/Stats
- Photo Credit – Getty Images