True Hoops

True Hoops

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hot Curry

0-100.....real quick

But really, 15 of those point came in the final ~7:30 minutes after LeBron put the Cavs up one.
That one point deficit turned into a 15 point lead....... real quick.

How do you stop this?

Or this:


I'm not sure if you do....

Remember that high school drill where you only had three dribbles to try to get off a shot and score?
With the general rule of thumb being - if you had to dribble more than three times to score - then it was too much? Yeah....I think they're gonna have to modify that drill just a bit...

Let's reiterate, for Steph Curry:
Regular season record for most threes
Playoff record for most threes
Finals record for most threes in a quarter
Trails Danny green for most three in an NBA Finals by 4 (currently at 22)

This seems statistically significant.

By the way, 15 of Curry's Finals threes have come in the last 9 quarters. Anyone taking bets on wether he'll get 4-5 more threes tonight?

Is there really anything else to talk about???


What has LeBron done this Finals?
~37 points, 12 rebounds, and ~9 assists a game.
While playing point center in game 5.

What more do you want? For LeBron to guard Steph Curry in the 4?
Is that humanly possible?

With Delly and Curry getting medical attention this series for dehydration - I'm scared to think of the toll that would take on LeBron.

Getting defensive

This is somewhat obvious, and so it the concept that win or loss - LeBron probably should be the MVP......which is what makes this such a curious statement.

Was it to put more pressure on himself?
To give his teammates confidence?
Or to rile up the Warriors and Steph Curry and try to turn this into a one-on-one battle?

By the way, speaking of pressure, I wonder - has anyone (in basketball) ever faced as much as LeBron James....from high school till now? That's 12-13 years. Just FYI - I've said it before and I'll say it again - at multiple stages in his career LeBron has had impossible hype to live up in almost every occasion - he has actually been better than the hype.

Pulling a Curry
Remember after game 3, when the Cavs were up 2-1, Steph Curry said LeBron wasn't the reason the Warriors were down in the series??? Kind of funny to hear LeBron, after game 5 and down 3-2 say this about Curry:

"I thought he was great. You tip your hat off to a guy like that. He made seven threes.....were any of them not contested, hand in his face, falling, step back off the dribble? I'm okay with that. We're okay with that. He's the best shooter in our league.....But's that's not why we lost. We gave up 18 fast break points. We gave up 15 second chance points. Steph was special, obviously, but him hitting those setback threes is not why we lost the game."
Uhhhh......15 points in the last 7:30 of a game the Cavs were winning by one.....

After 28 points and 10 rebounds in game 4, Timovey Mozgov played less than 10 minutes with 1 shot attempt, 0 points and 0 rebounds in game 5.

Whether playing Mozgov was right or wrong (the Cavs lost by 22 with Mozgov as the center piece on offense, they were up 1 in the 4th last game), it is clear that the Warriors are dictating the terms of engagement in the Finals now.

Yes, there are problems with going big against the Warrirors, in particular:
1) T. Thompson and Mozgov have to guard either Iggy, Barnes, or Green on the perimeter
2) With the LeBron in the post and T. Thompson and Mozgov crashing the offensive glass, any Cleveland missed shot (and there have been many) leads to a Golden State fast break.
It would seem to me the later is more concerning, as it speeds up the pace of the game.

But there are also problem with going small (especially with LeBron at center), in particular:
1) Jones and/or Miller have to guard Iggy and Barnes, who have the advantage on the glass.
2) Preventing the Cavs from getting second chance opportunities on offense (and there have been a lot of opportunities).

Certainly the pros and cons of each situation need to be assessed.
But from a defensive perspective, I guess you have to ask - would the Cavs benefit if Iggy, Green, and Barnes try to take the Cleveland bigs off the dribble? Probably, if it limits Curry from shooting.

So, what now?

Double Curry in the 4th
He's just too good.
Look at those shots above, that's great one-on-one defense.
But Curry excels at making difficult three point jumpers.

So, when golden State puts him in a screen (though not sure why they would) - double him and get the ball out of his hands. It's that simple.

Curry has been a willing passer, and is doing an excellent job of reversing the ball to Green in the middle - who becomes wide open for a shot or drive to the basket. First of all - you would rather a Green shot or drive than a Curry three. Second of all, the adjustment Cleveland might want to make is rotating a weak side defender over to guard the screener - so they are no longer wide open. Making a reverse pass to the screener is feasible for Curry when doubled. But making a skip pass to the weak side of the floor is a bit more challenging. And even if the pass is made, defenders have a better chance to recover on a cross court pass.

Screen with Klay
Screening with a shooting is always an interesting idea - especially if they are screening for another shooter of someone able to turn the corner on a pick. When Iggy, Green, or Lee have set screens for Curry in the 4th, they tend to be wide open when Cleveland doubles. So, imagine screening with Klay Thompson and then having him become wide open on a Curry double team.
That's a guy the Warriors wouldn't mine shooting either.

Screen on Iggy
Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson made an interesting point last game: the Cavs should put LeBron in high pick and rolls/pops when Iggy is guarding him. That's not to say that LeBron can't take Iggy in the post - he can. But his advantage isn't as decided as it is against other warriors defenders. Rather, if you put LeBron in a pick and roll - you get a switch of defenders.
If you screen with a big - Green has to guard LeBron.
If you screen with a guard - Klay or Curry have to guard LeBron.
Those are better matchups - and puts the defense in a position looking to help (and freeing up others).

So this is what it's come down to huh?
Why not?

Think of the other high powered offense in these Playoffs. The Clippers.
How do you slow them down? Put Jordan on the foul line and disrupt the rhythm of the game.

Why not do the same with the Warriors?
Iggy was 2/11 from the line last game.
Worst case scenario - Iggy makes two foul shots.....that's still better than a Curry three.
Best case - he consistently misses 1-2 foul shots. And if so, it may force Kerr to take Iggy out of the game. Mind you, Kerr said himself that Iggy has been the Warriors best player in the Finals.
Regardless of what happens - it slows the Warriors down and gets them out of rhythm.
It's not pretty or cute - but it mucks up the game and enables Cleveland to once again dictate the terms of engagement. Isn't that what grit ball is all about?

Here is a fact: every time the Warriors score 100 points in these Finals - they win.
Both Cleveland wins? 93 and 91 points for the Warriors, respectively.
And the other game Cleveland could have won in the final seconds? The Warriors had 98 points in regulation. (Also, in games 1-3 the Warriors shot ~28% from three, in game 4 and 5, they shot 43%).

That's not to say giving up 103 and 104 points in games 4 and 5, respectively, is bad defense.
It just means that Cleveland is either going to have to hold the Warriors to under 100...... OR going to have to score ~105 points to win.....which is not impossible.
What would that look like?
LeBron = 40
T. Thompson = 13
Mozgov = 15
J.R. = 15
Delly = 8
Shump = 8
Jones = 6

So, at home, with the best player in the world, and the season on the line:
1) Double Curry
2) Make Green, Iggy, and Barnes run the offense
3) Hack-a-Iggy
4) Get reasonable scoring help from the supporting cast

It's as simple as that!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Small is the new Big

I Lied
Steve Kerr, remember when you told me you wouldn't change the starting lineup before game 4????

Sully, remember when I told you I would kill you last???

What's the difference?

Iggy Pop
Not starting a single game during the regular season or the playoffs, Iggy rewarded Kerr's lack of veracity by scoring 22 points with 7 rebounds and essentially guarding LeBron the whole game (limiting him to 20 points).

The performance was so important that it led Steve Kerr to say after the game, that Iggy has been the warriors best player in the Finals......not that we believe anything he says at this point.
But in case you're wondering, through 4 games of the Finals:
Iggy for the Finals = 15 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3 assists
Klay for the Finals = 20 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2 assists
Curry for the Finals = 24 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 6 assists

I don't know if I would call Iggy the Warriors best player in the Finals, but there is no doubt he has been very important.

But other players have been important as well….
With a smaller lineup, Iggy, being guarded by a big, can get an open jump shot any time he wants. The same holds true for Harrison Barnes. And if he make s more than he misses, it's to the Warriors benefit. In game 3, Barnes had 0 points. In game 4 he scored 14. That makes a difference.
And Draymond Green. In game 3 he had 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Running center for a lot of game 4, he scored 17 points, with 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
And Finally, Shaun Livingston….only 7 points in game 4, but he was a game high +25.

A lot of player are important for the Warriors.

Curry's pop
Again, Curry seemed to come alive and light up the Cavs in the 4th quarter.
It truly is amazing  - the conditioning that he has and perhaps ability to play rope-a-dope with the Cavs, allowing them to tire out for three quarters by face guarding and trapping him, and then going to work in the 4th.

In game 3, Curry had 17 points in the 4th, including five three pointers.
In game 4, Curry only had 7 points in the 4th - but hit a three at the end of the 3rd with ~18 seconds to go that pushed the Warriors lead back up to six (that was a pretty big shot). So really, 10 points and 3 three pointers that last 12:07 of the game.

That three he hit at the end of the third was a step back from the left wing. And just for good measure, he did it again in the 4th:

Want to see perfection on a step-back jumper?

1) James Jones trailing Curry on the dribble:

2) Curry stops on a dime and dribbles between his legs, left to right:

3) Jones' momentum from trying to catch-up carries past Curry:

4) Jones tries to stop and recover, while Curry is hopping/stepping back behind the three point line:

5) That's a lot of space that was created as Curry goes up into his shot….is this considered uncontested?

Steph, how do you feel about that shot?

No Pop
So, the Warriors went small and dictated the pace of the game to cater to their more uptempo, perimeter oriented style of play.

Why is that such a big deal? The Cavs have good perimeter players right?
The Cavs can make jump shots.....right?


Offense wins championships
Giving up 103 points to the Warriors in an NBA Finals game isn't that bad.
Scoring just 82 points on 33% shooting, 15% from the three is.

Think about it, the Cavs went 4/27 from three.
Imagine, instead of atrocious, they just shot subpar and hit 10/27 for ~37%.....that's an additional 18 points and a different ball game altogether.

So, you're telling that in order to win the Cavs offense has to be just plan bad - and not historically bad?  So you're telling me there's a chance!

Small Ball
It seems the warriors best lineup was:
Livingston at the 1
Curry at the 2
Klay at the 3
Iggy at the 4
Green at the 5
(you could also through David Lee in at the 5, and Harrison Barnes in at the three).

This led to a lot of interesting match-ups - like Mozgov trying to guard Iggy on the perimeter. Again, Iggy can get a wide open jumpsuit ANY time he wants.

But more than creating match-up problem within the half court set, a small Warriros lineup led to a ton of transition opportunities. In particular, with he Cavs sending two bigs to the offensive glass - and having LeBron in the post - when the Cavs missed shot (and they missed a lot of them) it led to numerous fast break points by the warriors. In particular, a lot of dunks by Iggy in transition with Mozgov or or T. Thompson chasing:

It also led to a lot of attacks to the basket by Green.

Mozgov the monster
28 points and 10 rebounds on 9/16 shooting….10/12 from the line.
It's hard to argue that the Cavs were at a disadvantage with Mozgov on the floor, despite the defensive mismatches.

Also, consider that T. Thompson had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
All told, for the battle of the front courts:
Iggy + Barnes + Green = 53 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists
LeBron + Mozgov + T. Thompson = 60 points, 35 rebounds, 9 assists

Doesn't seem like this was the main problem.

Backcourt battle:
Curry + Klay + Livingston = 38 points, 12 assists
Delly + Shump + JR = 19 points, 7 assists

Yep. That'll do it.
Seems like the Cavs need more perimeter production. Remember, Delly had 20 points in game 3? He had 10 in game 4. Perhaps they can look more to Mike Miller, or maybe even give Shawn marion a chance? Marion has championship experience, plays perimeter defense and can make threes. Any dance we'll see him this game? If you're worried about him not playing at all in the Finals (or really the playoff) - well, it didn't seem to affect David Lee.

Either that or…..

Just shoot it
LeBron averaged ~35 shots through the first three games of the Finals, and in turn the Cavs essentially dominated all three games (in terms of pace & style of play) to come away with a  2-1 lead. In game 4, LeBron shot only 22 times and the Warriors dominated the pace and style.

What do you think?

I heard an interesting analysis  - that LeBron is posting up and holding the ball on offense a lot just to take a break and catch a breath. And that he'll settle for low percentage shots because it at least slows that game down and is better than missed shots by teammates that can lead to Warriors fast breaks.
Interesting thought.

Either that or…….

X factor
Paging F$%king J.R. Smith.
2/12 from the field, 0/8 for threes in game 4, for 4 points and a game worst -27

For the series, 9 points a game on 4/47 shooting (30% shooting)…..7/28 from three (25%).

Three games to go….to decide the fate of the world…..and J.R. Smith production can be the deciding factor…..that in it of itself is crazy….but hey, that's just the world we are living in right now.

All joking aside - Smith is the one guy besides LeBron that can be a play maker  and can create off the dribble either for a pass or shot. He is also the only guy besides LeBron that can get freakishly hot from the filed.

The Cavs NEED the guy that successfully was able to

Truer words were never spoken by Shea Serrano from Grantland:

Seriously, LeBron what do you think about J.R.???
"It doesn't matter… He can miss a hundred shots. If they're great looks, they're drive-and-kicks, you shoot them with confidence. If he's feeling confident about his ability, then I'm confident about it."
Go get 'em J.R.!!!!!!!
The world is yours!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Cleveland Rocks

Getting Defensive
Another game where the Warriors score less than 100 points in regulation. With 91 points in game 3, the Warriors are currently averaging 92 points per 48 minutes on 41% shooting from the field, and 32% from three!

Wow. the Grit squad is in full effect!
Mind you, the Warriors were 2nd in offensive efficiency during the regular season and playoffs.

The absurdity of Steph Curry
Through half time: 5 points
Through three quarters: 10 points
In the 4th quarter: 17 points with 5 three points shots....

Including this one:

Dribbling from one side of the court to the other, utilizing THREE screens in succession, to get by three defenders and still make a contested three over a 7 foot defender.

For all of this talk about Curry in a shooting slump, those 5 three pointers in the 4th quarter was a Finals record for most threes in a quarter (his 7 threes for the game was one shy on tying an NBA Finals game records). For the game, Curry finished 10/20 overall and 7/13 for three. So, you're saying when Curry is slumping - he is still shooting 50% and setting shooting records.....

Can't wait to see what he does in game 4!

The absurdity of Mathew Dellavadova 
After blowing a 20 point lead (17 in the 4th) - being only up one with about 2:30 to play....who you gonna call? What play are you gonna run???

20 points on 17 shots....and having the highest +/- number for anyone on the Cavs (yes even higher than LeBron). I read a tweet after game 2 that Delly was literally soaking in a garbage bin filled with ice. After game 3 he was hospitalized briefly for severe cramping.

Can't wait to see him match up with Curry in Game 4!

The absurdity of David Lee
After not playing in the first two games of the Finals, Lee was a +17 on 11 points in 13 minutes.
Talk about staying ready.

Lee was essential for sparking the Warriors 4th quarter run - as Golden State has seemed to find a counter strategy for Curry being doubled off screens on the ball. With Lee as the screener - he becomes wide open in the middle of the floor when Curry is trapped and reverses the ball. In turn - Lee either has a wide open mid-range jumper, a drive to the basket, or more importantly, a drive and kick to the opposite corner for a three. The Cavs are definitely willing to live with anyone other than Curry and Klay making shots and plays....but that was mainly because Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes haven't been able to take advantage of the defense. With Lee, and perhaps Iggy, the Warriors might be able to capitalize on the Curry double teams.

Ironically, Lee didn't play that much this year and the Warriors had the best defensive efficiency for the regular season. But now, with their offense struggling - it appear that perhaps the Warriors are willing to forgo some defense for getting back their offensive potency.

And by the way, with Lee playing - that makes FOUR, yes FOUR former Knicks playing significant roles in the these Finals. Through in Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson calling the game and New York......we're up in the building!!!!!!

*Side story:
Purchasing some shirts in Cleveland, I mentioned to the lovely lady at the cash register that I'm from New York, and then proceeded to say
"By the way, you're welcome, for us giving you all of our players."
She laughed.
Some dude overheard, turned around, and gave me a high five.
You know how we do.

Getting offensive
Asked about the numbers LeBron is putting up these Finals (which we'll mention in a bit), Curry's response was:

"That's not the issue why we're down 2-1 right now. It's the way we are playing on the offensive end, especially to start games."
A couple of things:
1) I mean, maybe he's right? The Warriors are averaging 43 points in the fist half, and 62 points through three.

2) But how revolutionary is this statement? All you hear the Cavs talk about is defense. In fact, they weren't taken serious in the regular season, even though they were third in the league for offensive efficiency, because they were 20th in defensive efficiency. Now they are up 2-1 because they are are 1st in defensive efficiency in the playoffs.

There is a mantra: "Defense wins championships."

And here, in the the stats/analytics driven, three point or lay-up age, the MVP of the league on the team with the best record in the NBA is saying to win.....they need better offense.

3) Still, for all the numbers that may back up Curry's statement. Has Curry been paying attention at all to what LeBron has been doing this series?!?!?!?

He should ask Klay Thompson about what he thinks LeBron is doing.....

Another level 

Three things:
1) Klay got banged on...fiarly badly.....and no one is really talking about it
2) That was a fairly bad pass.....and no one is talking about it either....because LeBron took it out of Klay's hands and did the rest.
3) That is LeBron getting up while playing more than 45 minutes per game.

The Absurdity of LeBron James
But getting back to Curry's comments about LeBron not being the reason that the Cavs are up 2-1.
His numbers:
123 points through 3 games - the most in NBA Finals history.
41 points a game - tied for highest scoring average in NBA history
.....And he's doing this while almost averaging a triple double!!!!
12 rebounds and 8 assists.

Who gives a SH$T if he is shooting 40% percent from the field???
This guy is doing EVERYTHING!!!

Very interesting that all you hear LeBron do is complement Curry and talk about how great he and the Warriors are. You get the sense that Curry and the Warriors may not be reciprocating that notion....

Game recognize game
Talk about respect due.
Jim Brown was the last super star athlete to bring a championship to Cleveland.
And I'm sure LeBron knows this.

And I'm sure Jim Brown knows what LeBron is attempting to do, and appreciates it.

Game recognizes game 
Kind of cool.
LeBron went to Miami - Wade's turf - to win championships.
Now, Wade is in Cleveland - LeBron's turf - not in uniform, but still seemingly in support.

Back together on the big stage:

A couple of cool things from this interview:
1) You hear Wade say that he has never seen LeBron this focused......really? Wow.
2) A couple of year's ago, Tim Duncan gave this response when asked about how important the next game was:
"You know, it's the NBA Finals, we're trying to win every game."
Kind of cool, to hear LeBron essentially say the same thing.
Two wins ways from his ultimate professional goal, perhaps he realizes the magnitude of the moment.

How did we get here again? 
One of the top offensive teams in the NBA now is struggling to score, because one of the bottom third defensive teams in the NBA is locking them down, with 7 players and an un drafted role player morphing into a super star sidekick - aided by the former New York Knicks.

LeBron is shooting 40% from the series yet has transformed into Magic and Mike.
He is the underdog, that everyone is slowly but surly starting to root for.

The Warriors bench is severely outscoring that of the Cavs, and are making huge runs late in the 4th quarters of this series....yet, they find themselves down 2-1 and realistically, one shot away from being down 0-3. Yet, despite being dominated in style of play this Finals, with one win, all order is restored.

Interesting, LeBron is taking ~35 shots a game out of necessity.....should Curry be taking more shots? Especially early on, when the Warriors are struggling? Should he play more of a shooting guard than point guard?

How sustainable is what the Cavs are doing?
Who will break out first? the Warriors offense or the Cavs three point shooters?
If the Cavs win - they will be in a position in which every team up 3-1 in the Finals has gone on to win the championship. If the Warriors win - 2/3 of the next games will be back in Oakland.....
Does that make this a must win game for BOTH teams???

Two contrasting styles, two contrasting stories, two contrasting stars and supporting players....both at a critical juncture.....

So, in other words...sit back, relax (or not), and enjoy the show!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hot in Cleveland

I can't watch this enough times:

The combination of  LeBron with his arms in the air then spiking the ball into the ether (as soon as he touches it), then not holding holding anything back in celebration....followed by Dellavadova hugging T. Thomspon.....

This is what team sport is all about.
This is what being the underdog is all about....

......that ball hasn't come down yet, you know.

The rarest of occasions
Steph Curry missing a left corner three pointer???
Holy Sh$T!

To remind you, Steph was shooting over 92% from that spot coming into the Finals, and he made one in game 1....for a total of 13/14.

He is now just 13/15....and will have to settle for ~87%.

What exactly does a Steph Curry missed left corner three look like?

Again....that's a missed shot.

An occasion not to remember

Trust me, as a New Yorker, I know how painful this stat is....lucky for Curry and Golden State, this was only game 2.

Delly does it all 
Up in Curry's body practically all night.
You'll hear that Curry didn't make a shot when Dellavadova was his primary defender.....I guess we'll see if that trend continues in game 3.

But perhaps as impressive, after not scoring in the first 7 quarters of the Finals, Delly scored 7 points (which is like exponentially valuable in this series) in the 4th quarter...and two free throws to put the Cavs up OT with 10 seconds to play!

Throughout the playoffs, Delly has had a knack for coming off high screens and then floating alley ops to T. Thompson or Mozgov. However, he was unable to connect in game 1 - more than likely because Golden State scouted that play and positioned themselves for the pass.

But in the 4th, Delly made the adjustments and took what the defense was giving him. Check out the floaters early in the video below:

By the way - in a brutal, low efficiency defensive battle - those are two skill a defensive specialist!

The Grit squad
Speaking of brutal defensive battles, LeBron what do you think about how your team plays?

"It's the grit squad that we have. If you're looking for us to play sexy, cute basketball, that's not us......everything is tough."
Welcome to Eastern conference basketball!

It may not be the most skilled, or the most aesthetic.....but it uses it's resources to muck up the game with physicality.

And perhaps that physically is helping drive Golden State off the three point line and/or shooting a lower efficiency with it's broadened butter. In game 2, the Warriors shot 8/35 from three (22.9%).

I think we're starting to see an interesting contrast in defensive philosophies.
If Golden State's plan is to be satisfied with LeBron scoring 40 and stopping everyone else, it seems as if the Cavs plan is to let anyone besides Curry and Klay shoot and beat them. Essentially, the Cavs ran a triangle and 2 defense, where they face guarded and tried to deny Curry and Klay the ball (though, they're still gonna get shots). To make it harder, they also sent multiple defenders on screens. It seems that the Cavs will be satisfied with Iggy, Barnes, and Green taking shots and making plays.

By the way, in regulation the Warriors are averaging 92.5 points for Finals. Seems like the only time they were able to break free was in overtime of game 1.

Which do you think will happen first:
A Warriors offensive onslaught or JR, Jones and co. going off for threes?

The Hip squad
You know you're good when you have players bumping to the National Anthem:

And just because I'm always looking for an excuse to watch this:

I'ma call him Klay
One super bright spot for the Warriors?
Klay Thompson.
34 points on 50% shooting (14/28....though only 4/12 from three).

As good as Delly was on Curry, he was essentially helpless against Klay - who hit him with an assortment of post-up moves, drives to the basket, and mid-range game. The Cavs, I think, actually put Delly on Curry because he couldn't guard Klay.

Quite an impressive repertoire:

From Russia with Love
What would you say if I told you Timovey Mozgov would be the second leading scorer for the Cavs?And he did't even play in the 4th quarter!

Finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds (averaging 16.5 and 9 for the Finals thus far), at one point it seemed as if Mozgov kept the Cavs in the game. Clearly benefiting from LeBron operating in the post  - he's been doing a great job of cutting to the basket from the weak side elbow and finishing at the rim.

He's pretty big - and perhaps surprisingly mobile for his size.

F%$King JR Smith
I feel like I don't have to write anything here to convey what I mean.
But just in case: three fouls in the last 8 minutes (including overtime)...leading to 7 Golden State points.

You really (no, really) can't fault JR for the the and-1 foul on Harrison Barnes (he was going for a block) or the getting caught in the air in overtime by a Curry pump fake (he did it twice in overtime in game 1). Though, fouling Curry >80 feet from the basket when over the limit and ~2 minutes to go in regulation was fairly egregious.....

Still, 13 points off the bench in conjunction with 8 from James Jones gave the Cavs the edge in bench scoring, 21-17. Perhaps JR is due for a 'breakout' game?

Having your boy's back

Minutes before game 2, on the ABC pre-game show.....the crew gave their predictions for the game, and the series (I'm gonna paraphrase):

Jalen Rose: "I mean, I picked the Warriors in 5, before Kyrie got injured! The Warriors are gonna buck convention - they are going to win the championship as a jump shooting team, and Steph Curry is gonna win championship as a point Guard MVP."

Coach Doug Collins: "I don't know how Cleveland is going to score 100 points!"
(They didn't, by the way).

Sage Steel: (smiling and almost laughing) "Well Dywane, what do you think?"

Dywane Wade: (Pause, and then a smile) ".....let me see what Cleveland does tonight before I make any predictions."

Translation of Wade's response: "That's my boy down there. We fought together. I love him and I believe in him. I know what he is capable of doing and I'm not gonna pick against him.....there is always a chance."

One of the cooler things to see this year was Wade and LeBron mainting their close friendship even after LeBron went home. And the NBA got it right by doing this during all-start weekend:

I just watched this video for the first time in 4 months....and I still couldn't stop smiling.
Wade's continued support of LeBron, as a friend first, is really something all fans of the game should be proud of.

Random stats
*The first time the first two games of the NBA Finals have gone into overtime
* The Cavs shot under 33% from the field.....and won.
* The Cavs shot 1/8 in overtime.....AND won!
By the way, that one shot? Of course made by Iman Shumpert.....New York! Your Knicks are balling in these Finals!!!!!!!
* This is the 6th year in a row the Finals are tied 1-1
* This is the 9th straight victory for a LeBron James team when trailing 0-1
* This was LeBron James' 5th career Finals triple double (only Magic has more, with 8)
* LeBron is the 2nd player in NBA history to have at least 35 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists (James Worthy, 1998).

What's working
Speaking of Shump making the only Cavs bucket in overtime.

Screening for LeBron up top on the three.....with a shooter.
If the Cavs spread the floor with shooters in each corner and place a big in the weak side short corner, there are multiple options when LeBron comes off the screen.

When primary defenders don't hedge or trap off the screen, and LeBron turns the corner:
1) Get to the basket for a layup
2) Get to the mid-range for a floater
3) Get to the basket and then drop off to a big on the weak side for a layup
4) Get into the paint and then kick to the strong corner shooter if the defense helps off

If primary defenders do hedge or trap off the screen:
1) Reverse pass to the screener/shooter for an open three (Shump's OT three pointer)
2) Reverse pass then one extra pass to shooter in weak side corner

Working off LeBron in the Post.
This also works, depending on on the defense plays it:
1) Post up mid-range shot for LeBron (1-on-1)
2) Strong side post entry passer cuts to the basket
3) Shooter at top of the key replaces cutter and spots up
4) Weak side big start at elbow, then cuts to basket (Mozgov has done this a lot).
5) Weak side big can also set a screen for the weak side corner shooter

In essence, LeBron can run point either a the top of the key or in the post. Either way, there are a lot of options, just by running some motion.

Klay in the post
See above.
Even if Shump guards him, he has the size advantage to get his shot off whenever he wants.
He's become quite adept at positioning his body to either:
1) Fake spin, reverse pivot, then fade-away for a mid-range jumper
2) Face up then step back into a mid-range jumper.

Klay off a down screen
Options galore with this.
1) Catch and pivot into his shot.....even out to the three point line
2) Curl off screen (when defense trails) to basket
3) Curl off screen to foul line
4) Catch in mid-range, then go into post game

Just based on his shooting numbers, seems like the Warriors are gonna score 50% of the time they run this for Klay.....and in a brutal defensive battle....that's unheard of.

What can work
Screen for Curry in the backcourt
If Delly wants to face guard Curry all over the court, that's fine. But the Golden State bigs need to make him feel their presence and set some screens to get Curry free.
In particular, if Delly shadows Curry in backcourt (>80 feet from the basket), perhaps a back screen is in order...which in turn can sort of simulate a fast break situation, causing Cavs defenders to help early in the possession far from the the Warriors a numbers advantage towards the basket.

Double screen for Curry
The Cavs have been doing a great job of not letting Curry turn the corner or getting threes off of screens on the ball - by hedging out and trapping, with Delly either fighting over or trailing on the play. In response, the Warriors actually ran a double screen for Curry (two screeners on the ball on the same side) which made it much harder for Delly to trail, got Curry open, and gave the Warriors two players that could either roll to the basket and/or pick and pop.

Might be worth trying this again, especially in critical situations.

Let Curry take Delly off the dribble
Sometimes simplicity is profound.
Steph Curry, in addition to perhaps being the best shooter ever (already), is one of the league's best ball handlers (top 3).

Yes, Delly did a great job on him and made him work. But, the reality is Curry can still get his shot off anytime he wants. And if he can dance with the ball a bit, get some swag - I'm sure he can (re)find a rhythm. He's great at making contested shots, can pull up off the dribble, and can freeze defenders. All he needs is a split second to get his shot off. So just get him the ball and let him work, without screens (and help defenders).

Isn't this great?
A team of elegant offense vs. a team of rugged defense.
Depth vs. iron man ball.
One of the best teams statistically in history vs. one of the best players in history.
A team of inevitability vs. a team of destiny.

This is an amazing moment.
That is reveals a lot about it's well as it's fans.

Before game 2:
"How many minutes can you play in a 48 minute game?"
"At a Finals? ....40,41,42. In a regular season pace I can give you all 48. I play extremely hard throughout the postseason and I'd be cheating my team if if I said I could go out and play all 48 minutes. I think that's impossible."
.........LeBron James played 50 MINUTES in game 2!

After game 2:
"You mentioned I believe yesterday, could play 41, 42 minutes. You played well over that tonight and still played - you were a force each and every minute on the court......can this continue? Are you built for this?"
"Well, am I built for it? Well, of course I'm built for it (laughing). I mean, it's a maximum of five games left in the NBA season. So I/m ready for whatever."
LeBron, what's it gonna take?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Mission: Impossible(?)

Nobody said it was gonna be easy....

Stop Steph Curry? Perhaps the best shooter in NBA history (already)?
Defeat the Golden State Warriors? A team that's only lost three game at home all season?
Not even a 44 point performance by LeBron James (most in Finals career) and a 14 point 1st quarter lead could do that in Game 1.

Now, you want the Cavs to do it without this guy?

Kyrie Irving was not healthy for most of this year's playoffs. But he still managed to average 19 points. And in game 1, his stat line was:
23 points, 6 assists, 7 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 blocks.
That's pretty good for a Finals first timer playing on a hobbled leg.

Can the Cavs possible rely more on LeBron James?
Especially when game 1 was a prime example of.....

When the best is not enough
44 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists, on the road.
Make no mistake - this was a masterpiece.

LeBron working the post during game 1 truly was a thing of beauty. He is, without a doubt, the best post player in this series, by far.

How many times did we see him fake spin, reverse pivot, and then hit a fade-away mid-range jumper? Or get into the paint for a hook? Or a one-legged floater? How many times did we see him make these shots over multiple defenders, like this:

Win, lose, or draw....these post moves will necessitate a True Hoops NY tutorial down the road. Fittingly so, it seems like this entire season has been about LeBron teaching the Cavs how to be great, how to win. But something tells me, at this point, with this opportunity - the Cavs want more than just a lesson/moral victory.

Are the Warriors cool with LeBron putting up big scoring numbers?

Letting him shoot
As the picture above suggests, LeBron had this to say about the Warriors "letting him score 40:"

"Well, first of all, you can't let me have 40. You don't let me have 40. I go get 40."
I love it.

But perhaps the Warriors are okay with LeBron shooting 38 times?
Here is an interesting graphic from Grantland:

LeBron was 18/38 in total shots.... for 47% shooting.....but was only 2/8 in three point shots.
From inside the arc, LeBron was 16/30.....for 53% shooting.
Again, coming into the game - LeBron was shooting ~17% from three. Certainly not a strong suit.

I know some of those missed threes came in overtime when the game was already decided. And, certainly, LeBron made a three late in the 4th to tie the game. But I wonder if the Warriors would "let" LeBron shoot as much if he decided not to take as many threes.

Not what you expected
LeBron wasn't in the post for his potential game winning shot.


Deja Vu:

Surprise ending:

Game of inches (Shumpert)
Speaking of which, how close were the Cavs to being up 1-0, stealing home court, and presumably not losing Irving for the Finals???

This close:

Knicking the Finals 
Let me restate, from my last post:
"You always feel that someone like JR Smith can help you smoke out your're just not sure if he'll burn down your house in the process"
"Is he another John Starks type.......probably."
3/13 in game 1.....all 9 points in the first half.....
Well, again let me restate:
"The good thing about JR Smith is that he's not afraid to take any shot.
The bad thing about JR Smith is that he's not afraid to take any shot.
Bottom line: JR Smith doesn't give a F%$K."
In this case - it's probably a good thing for the Cavs, as I'm almost sure that JR will come out in game 2 guns blazing.

Still, if you look at the matchup between Klay and the Knicks shooting guards in game 1:
Klay = 21 points on 5/14 shooting
JR + Shump = 15 points on 5/19 shooting

Was this the difference maker? Probably not.
But moving forward I think JR/Shump combined will at least have to neutralize Klay, if not be better.

Getting Iggy with it
15 points on 6/8 shooting (2/3 from three)
This might have been the most significant contribution of the game.

And these might have been the most important plays of the game.

Closing out the 1st and 3rd quarters with dunks are huge momentum shifts.
FYI, Iggy outscored the Cavs entire bench.....

Good not enough
Coming into the Finals, Steph Curry - setting the NBA regular season and playoff record (both this year) for most three point field goals - shot 8 and 11 three point shots a game during the regular season and playoffs, respectively.

In game 1, the Cavs did an excellent job of forcing Curry off the 3...limiting him to 6 attempts (~half his playoff average), with Curry only making 2 three pointers.

And with the exception of giving up only 1 slightly uncontested left corner three, the Cavs did a pretty good job of contesting all of his shots.....

......yet, Curry still finished with 26 points on 10/20 shooting to go along with 8 assists.
Making a plethora of, dare I say, mid-range jump shots (heaven forbid!) - mostly off the dribble, many in clutch situations.


Yep. That's LeBron getting shifting completely out of defensive position.
What more can you really do with this guy?

A New Hope
As per, there is something to the notion that the Cavs can survive and thrive without Irving (and Love):
Yes, they become even more reliant of LeBron.....but hasn't that always been the case.? At this point, might as well go all in and embrace the situation. And in doing so, the Cavs have actually been pretty good.

Yes, they'll have to make up the 23 points Kyrie scored in game 1. But maybe that means more ball movement, which will enable Smith, Shump, Delly, and Jones to get going.

Turning LeBron back into Magic 
I have argued against this before.
When LeBron tried to play like Magic against Dallas in '11 and the first three games against San Antonio in '13 it wasn't in the best interest of his team. When he dropped 45 against Boston in game 6 of the '12 ECF and 38 against the Spurs in game 7 of the '13 Finals it was.

It's not that you want LeBron to turn into a 19, 10, & 10 guy.
No, no, no.
You need him to be a 30, 10, & 10 guy......just like he was in the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta (truth be told....44, 8, and 6 is pretty close!).

Is this fair to ask? No.
Everyone has always complained LeBron didn't shoot enough (including myself). Now, everyone is wondering if he shot too much in game 1 (though probably not). Clearly, the Cavs supporting cast has to regain form.

In general, I have also argued against LeBron running the point. I'm not sure if having T. Thompson or Mozgov screening above the three point line is the answer. But, it could be an interesting look to have a shooter (JR, Shump, or Jones) set a screen for LeBron up top and then spot up if Golden State hedges out and/or leaves the shooter.

Also, Miami used to run some interesting sets where LeBron was the screener on the top of the key for Mario Chalmers. Because defenders paid so much attention to LeBron, it enabled the point to come off the screen and turn the corner to make plays. And if the defenders hedge/leave the screener - then you have LeBron open in the middle of the floor to make plays.

Finally, there is precedent for LeBron making plays out of the post - in particular against OKC in the '12 Finals. LeBron averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists for the series while mostly attacking the basket and operating out of the post. Check out LeBron's numbers for the last two games of that Finals:
Game 4: 26 points, 9 rebounds, 12 assists.
Game 5 (closeout): 26 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists.

Again, this was mostly operating out of the post.

Most people are saying that the Warriors played LeBron 1 on 1.....this is not entirely true. Look at the picture above of LeBron's floater over Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. That seems like a double to me. And how do you think Mozgov got open on so many plays towards the end of the 4th and beginning of overtime? For the most part the Cavs were successful with this. Mozgov got dunks or fouls by cutting to the basket, but unfortunately was called for a questionable travel late in the game as well. Still it means the Cavs can do more with LeBron in the post and look to get creative by cutting to the basket or screening away from the ball to get three point shooters open....especially if they are sending Green to double.

Moral support
Guess who will be in attendance to help broadcast game 2 of the Finals.....

I wonder if LeBron and Wade will have a chance to talk before the game......any chance the Cavs have an extra jersey?

Moving off the ball
It's hard to know what the Warriors can do better in game 2.
They only had 12 turnovers.
They out rebounded the Cavs.
Their bench won 34-9.
And Steph Curry shot 50% from the floor.

I guess you can say, maybe getting off to a better start, and not falling down 14?

Another thing might be to not let the Cavs force Curry off the three point line or let the Cavs play big. Seems to me the the Warriors best lineup had Iggy at the 4 and Green and the 5. So, maybe put Curry and Klay at the wings, coming off down screens and spacing the floor for Livingston at the point? Maybe a least for stretches.

Curry might be able to shoot more threes coming off the ball - as opposed to dribbling off screens in which the Cavs are hedging and switching. The switching worked towards the Warriors favor in OT, as Curry knocked down mid-range jumpers, had isolations on bigs, and was able to get to the foul line. He also had 8 assists. That's good to know in crunch time.

But if threes are Curry's and the Warriors' bread and butter, perhaps moving Curry off the ball, again, only for stretches, might be a good way to get some open threes. And here is Curry's shooting percentage when shooting without a dribble, as per Sports Analytics:


Game 2???
Fall back.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Feels like the First Time...

Feels like the VERY first time....

Golden State vs. Cleveland.

Now that's a NBA Finals match-up you don't hear too often. Perhaps for good reason.
This is Golden State Warriors first trip to NBA Finals in 40 years, when they last won the championship. But that's okay, Cleveland is looking for it's first major professional sports championship in 51 years....

There are some returners.
LeBron James (and James Jones) is going to the NBA Finals for the 5th straight year (6th time in 8 years). In case you're wondering (and of course you are) it's the first time that has happened in 49 years (Since Bill Russell, whom the Finals MVP award is named after, and the Boston Celtics did it in 1966).  Perhaps this will make up for that fact that NO ONE else in Cleveland's core lineup (Irving, Smith, Shumpert, Thompson, Dellavedova, and Mozgov) have ever been to the Finals (Miller, Marion, and Perkins have).

So maybe it doesn't hurt that much if NO ONE on the Warriors entire roster has ever been to the Finals......unless of course you count rookie head coach, Steve Kerr, who won 5 NBA championships....three with someone you may recognize:

Apparently coach Kerr is used to doing some heavy lifting in the Finals.

Presumably this counts more than the other rookie head coach, David Blatt - who is in his first year being associated with the NBA altogether (never mind that he coached overseas for almost twenty years, was named coach of the year six times, and coached the European championship team last season......but that doesn't count right?).

Last time two rookie coaches faced off in an NBA championship? How about the first time there was an NBA championship, in the 1946-47 inaugural NBA season. Well, at least we've only had to wait 33 years to see another rookie coach win an NBA championship (Pat Riley did it last with the Lakers in 1982).

How about in LeBron's first year back in Cleveland, the first time the Cavs have been to the Finals in 8 years - when LeBron was 22,  he won't be facing a southwest opponent in the Finals for the first time. After going 1-4 against Texas, perhaps he's ready for the Pacific?

After losing in the first round last year, the Warriors improved by 16 games (51 wins to 67 wins). With NO first overall lottery picks on their roster, could you picture them as the best team in the NBA a year ago?

Or, with an average winning percentage of .311 that last 4 seasons and three first overall lottery picks in the last four years, could you picture the Cavs in the NBA Finals a year ago?

......well, maybe you could, after this:

Is it me, or does it seem like there is void in the NBA power landscape right now?
Perhaps NBA supremacy is up for grabs and therefore a first championship in modern times by either the Warriors (average team player age = 27 years) or the Cavs (average team player age = 29 years) will go a long way towards establishing them as a force to be reckoned with for years to come.....

Let me just come out and say it.....I have NO FREAKIN' clue who is going to win this NBA Finals!
Both teams are just too new to tell.

Will it be the best team, with the reigning MVP, from start to finish?
Or the best player in the world, in his prime, on a team of destiny in his home town?

By the way, how did LeBron, become an underdog???
You know, the 6'8", 250 ib, supreme do-everything talent and leader.
Is it possible we support him more in this role?

And by the way, how did Steph Curry, the un-athletic sharp shooter from collegiate powerhouse, Davidson, become the most dominant force in the NBA???
Do we really believe it?

Well, let's try to make some sense of it all...

Obligatory Stats
Warriors regular season record: 67-15 (best overall)
Cavs regular season record: 53-29 (7th best overall)

Cavs regular season record after trades for Shumpert, Smith, and Mozgov + healthy LeBron: 34-9
Warrirors regular season record during that time: 34-9

Cavs during Playoffs: 12-2 (4-0 against Boston, 4-2 against Chicago, 4-0 against Atlanta)
Warriors during playoffs: 12-3 (4-0 against NOLA, 4-2 against Memphis, 4-1 against Houston)

Offensive rankings:
Warriors during regular season (according to ESPN): 2nd....110 points per 100 possessions
Cavs during regular season: 4th....108 points per 100 possessions

Cavs during playoffs: 1st....109 points per 100 possessions
Warriors during playoffs: 2nd....107 points per 100 possessions

Defensive rankings:
Warriors during regular season (accord to ESPN): 1st....allowed 98 points per 100 possessions
Cavs during regular season: 20th....allowed 104 points per 100 possessions

Cavs during playoffs: 3rd....allowing 98.5 points per 100 possessions
Warriors during playoffs: 4th....allowing 98.9 points per 100 possessions

The Warriors are one of the best teams in NBA history (10th team ever to win 67 games or more). But the reality is that when at full force, for  the last ~60 games of the season, the Cavs are just as good.

G.O.A.T talk 
Or should we call it G.S.O.A.T in Greatest Shooter Of All Time?
Of course I'm talking about Steph Curry.

Most three point field goals made in an NBA season , ever (286)..... set this year, to break the previous record.....which he set two years ago (272).
Most three point field goals made in an NBA playoffs, ever (73).....set this year....and still going.

Want a crazy stat?
Curry is shooting ~92% from left corner threes in the playoffs......

Let me say it again:
Curry is shooting ~92% from left corner threes in the playoffs...... (graphic below)

Plus, he can do this:

.....walking off the court like he does it on the regular....

But don't take my word (or your eyes word) for it, listen to two-time MVP Steve Nash.
Asked if Curry is the best shooter ever:
"'Why not?' He's as good as anyone I can think of on any level - pure shooting, array of shots, percentage, getting hot, plays to the end - he checks all the boxes...."
What do you think about his shooting in comparison to yours?
"He's such a beautiful shooter with such an array of shots and such a quick release... Steph takes it to another level.....He can do it from deeper, and frankly, I never took a step-back. He has no trouble taking a step-back and making it. You add that to all the other shots. It could be the clincher in this game of deciding who's the best"
Okay Steve, what's the bottom line?
"Truly, from the eye-test, he's the greatest there's ever been."
By the way, if you're worried about consistency, at 27, Curry already has the record for most consecutive seasons leading the league in most three point field goals (the last three years). And speaking of Nash and MVPs, Curry is only the 5th point guard in the last 40 years to win NBA MVP.

G.O.A.T talk
Is this the best LeBron has ever been?
LeBron, what do you think?

This just in: LeBron James is the first player in NBA history to be averaging at least 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists a game entering the NBA Finals (he's averaging 27.6, 10.4, and 8.3 per game, respectively).

This not just in: LeBron James is Great.

He is Jordan? No.
Should you care? No.

Is the Eastern conference significantly weaker than the West? Of course.
But if going to the Finals 5 years in a row was that easy, anyone could do it....while changing teams.

And being in the East didn't prevent LeBron from being the MVP on a team that beat a team with a big three of Durant, WestBrook, and Harden.....nor did it prevent him from being the MVP on the only team to ever beat Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the NBA Finals......nor does it prevent him from having the highest scoring average for games 7's in NBA history....

By the way, how many other players can dramatically change the fortunes of two franchises so drastically in the past 5 years?  After four straight Finals, Miami is a lottery team now (yes, in the East). After 3/4 last no. 1 lottery picks, Cleveland is in the NBA Finals.

Still, would leading Cleveland to a chip in his first year back, over one of the top teams (statistically) in NBA history, be his greatest accomplishment?
In a word.....yes.

Taking a team from the lottery, with a rookie head coach, with no real previous playoff experience from their core players, while losing Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving being hobbled, while beating the Bulls with a game winning shot, then beating the 60-win Hawks by averaging a near triple double.....and ending a 50 year drought????

Yeah. If LeBron wins it this year, he is in the G.O.A.T debate.

Guarding the MVPs
Here is an interesting graphic:

Perhaps this is all you need to know for designing defensive strategies for the Finals?

Curry, shooting 92.3% from the left corner three!!!! Though he is shooting a pedestrian 44% overall for thee. And dig this, Curry is shooting ~10 for 21 per game....with 11 of those attempts being three point shots (up from 8 a game during the regular season)....meaning, he takes more threes than twos!

Holy S%&T!

Talk about the perfect embodiment of the new wave analytics that greatly values three point shooting over the mid-range game, for which Curry shooting only 41%

Here is something fairly interesting as well:
Through the first 3 games in the Western conference Finals, in which Golden State was 3-0, 55% of Steph Curry's shots were uncontested (34 of 62).

Wait, what?
The best shooter in NBA history is getting wide open looks for more than half of his shots????

What happens when you contest his shot?
In game 3 against Houston, Curry scored 40 points on 12-19 shooting, 7-9 from three.
10 of those shots were uncontested....and Curry made all 10 (including 6 threes).
In other words, Curry was 2-9 on contested shots, including 1-7 from three.......
........So you're telling me there's a chance?

How about this for a preliminary strategy when guarding Curry:
1) Push him off the three point line and make him shoot twos!
2) Don't leave him open!

And for heaven's sake....what ever you do....DO NOT leave him open in the left corner for three!
Seems like a good place to start, no?


LeBron is shooting 17% from three!
Let me repeat myself:
Holy S%&T!

Beyond that, he is shooting 33% outside of the paint.
Hmmm.......Maybe let him shoot the ball?

LeBron is at his best right now in the mid-post, where he can bully his way to the basket, get jump hooks, get fouled, and make one out of every three fade-away mid-range jumpers. He is also pretty good at getting a head of steam on power forwards that try to guard him on the perimeter to get all the way to the basket for a dunk.

But in averaging 8.4 assists a game for the playoffs (a shade under 10 for the Eastern Conference Finals) Perhaps LeBron is truly transformative when finding JR Smith, Shumpert, Delladova, James Jones and co. opener three pointers.  Again, we are living in a three pointer or lay-up word these days.

So, how about this for a preliminary strategy when guarding LeBron:
1) Make him shoot!***
2) Preferably, make him shoot three pointers
3) Don't double team and allow him to facilitate on three point shots!

***Note, this is the Strategy the Spurs took two years ago in the Finals, and it worked for the first three games....until LeBron started making his shots and figured it out, particularly in game 7.

Age is nothing but a number
LeBron is 30
Curry is 27

In other words
12 years in the league, 6 Finals, 2 Championships, 4 MVPS, 2 Finals MVPS
6 years in the league, 1 Finals, 1 MVP

Or in other words:
~43,000 minutes (including the playoff)
~16,000 minutes (including the playoffs)

For normalization, both were born in Akron, Ohio

Knicking the Finals 
Speaking of LeBron's greatness....perhaps his great achievement this season is taking the New York Knicks to the NBA Finals:

And don't forget Timofey!!!

No one has taken so many Knicks to the promise land since Patrick Ewing (I bet Knicks fans can appreciate his greatness in a new light these days).

Power matchup
Can two non-canonical power forwards determine the outcome of this series?

Draymond Green was runner up for the defensive player of the year and is averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists in the playoffs. He shoots 5 three pointers a game (though at only 26%) and takes 12 shots a game total.

Tristan Thompson is averaging 9 points and 10 rebounds a game on 6 shots. He is widely regarded the best offensive rebounder in the NBA.

Can Thompson guard Green on the perimeter? Will Green help off Thompson? And if so, will that just enable Thompson to dominate the offensive glass even more? If and when the Cavs go small with LeBron at the 4, will Green guard him? If and when the Warriors put Thompson in a Curry screen, will Thompson hedge out on the shooter?

No Post 
Talk about transformation of the NBA. When was the lsat time there wasn't at least one All-star post player in the NBA Finals???
Think about it...
Duncan, Bosh, Nowitzki, Gasol, Garnett, Shaq, Malone, Kemp, Olajuwon, Barkley....
Could it be 1992 with the Bulls vs. Trailblazers?
23 years???

Real talk: LeBron James is the best post-up player in this series.

Shooting out the lights
Klay Thompson did this earlier in the season:

37 points in a quater, 52 in a game.
All-star season. 20 points a game in the playoffs

Kyrie Irving did this earlier in the season:

57 points in a game (after he scored 55 points in an earlier game)
All-star season, after a world cup MVP and gold medal.
19 points a game in the playoffs.

Klay got concussed.
Kyrie got hobbled.

These are the second dudes.....who will have a breakout game in the Finals? Who can potentially "steal" a game? Seems to me that Klay is be better off the ball, and will look to run around screens, maybe with an occasional post-up. Whereas Kyrie is better dancing with the ball....can he put some pressure on Curry to defend. Or will Klay guard Kyrie, if need be?

On point
We talk about all the shooting from Curry and Kyrie...lest we forget these guys are point guards (though they don't really put up point guard assists).
                                                 POINT GUARD PROJECT!
And as two of the top three ball handlers in the NBA (Curry, Kyrie, and Harden - though I'm not sure who is the best). How fun will it be to watch them do things like this:


Makes perfect


Makes perfect (One of my boys put me on to this):

That's right. That's Kyrie breaking down the entire USA olympic team.....Kobe (twice) Durant, and Harden in one play.

How about we just let these guys go one on one for a quarter of each game???

X factor(s)
The Knicks.
Or more specifically, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.

LeBron went home to better his community and himself.
As a New Yorker - for the past 15 years, its been obvious that Knicks have to leave New York to have better opportunities.....which in turn makes New Yorkers (such as myself) proud.

Therefore, how cool, if not ironic, is it that JR and Shumpert can potentially be the biggest difference makers in the Finals?

It's not a coincidence that the Cavs finished 34-9 when these two played with LeBron, nor that they are 12-2 in the playoffs. They represent everything that Cleveland needed to become a legitimate team: toughness, swag, and skill.....all things associated with New York, by the way.

Here is a question for you:
Is it a coincidence that after the Love and Irving injuries, Cleveland went from 20th in defensive efficiency to 3rd in the playoffs?

That's right, put Dellavadova on the point, LeBron at the 4, Thompson at the 5, with JR and Shump guarding the wings. Now you have the capability to switch everything and guard out on the perimeter.

Another question:
Is it a coincidence that after the Love and Irving injuries, Cleveland went from 4th in offensive efficiency to 1st in the playoffs?

That's right, reduce the isolation heavy offense, and surround LeBron with spot up three point shooters, as well as one of the best offensive rebounders in the game.

This isn't to say the Cavs are better without Love and Irving... but JR and Shump give them the versatility and toughness to survive and thrive on both ends of the floor without them. There are consequences, LeBron has had uncharacteristically low efficiency this playoffs - mostly due to shouldering a ton of the offensive load, and pretty much all of the play making load. But still....

Shump is averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds a game....while being a lock down perimeter defender. He can also make spot up threes. He was tasked at times with guarding Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague. I'm sure he'll have his opportunities with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

JR is averaging 13.5 points and 5 rebounds a game.....while being a capable defender and a play maker. Is he mercurial? Of course. Is he another John Starks type (except more athletic and with a better handle)? Probably.

Yes. He can punch a dude in the face to get suspended for two playoff games.
But he can also make 8 three pointers (most in Cavs history) in an Eastern conference finals playoff game...on the road. He is also a former 6th man of the year and I'm sure he'll have his chance to mix it up with Klay Thompson.

The great thing about JR Smith is that he's not afraid to take any shot.
The bad thing about JR Smith is that he's not afraid to take any shot.

Bottom line: JR Smith doesn't give a F%$K.

But sometimes you need that.
Sometimes you need a guy that will post something like this (click it):

As New Yorkers, every time JR has made a big play in the playoffs with the Cavs, my brother and I text each other:
"F%$king JR Smith"
In the past few weeks....there have been almost a dozen such texts.

You always feel that someone like JR Smith can help you smoke out your're just not sure if he'll burn down your house in the process.

But you know what? If you're team, and you're entire city, are underdogs facing one of the best teams in NBA history, trying to end a 50 year championship drought......perhaps you need a mentality like JR Smith.

And sometimes, this mentality rubs off on your a good way.
Case in point: down 2 games to 1 against Chicago....on the road, with ~2 seconds to go....
LeBron: "just give me the ball and I'll win us the game."


Wondering who LeBron is looking at???

F%$king JR Smith

New Era
It will be for either Oakland or Cleveland.

The last time, two teams this dominant (24-5 combined) in the playoffs met in the Finals?
1991 when the Bulls met the Lakers. In case you don't remember, that's when Magic (31 and in his prime) unexpectedly led a rookie coach and bunch of young inexperienced players to the Finals (sound familiar)......only to get smoked in 5 games by the upstart Bulls....initiating their dynasty.

We compare LeBron to Jordan. But maybe that's archaic.
What about Curry? Has the NBA evolved that much? Does he fit the mold for what the dominant players in the NBA should look like.....or he is what dominant players in the NBA will look like?
By the way, Jordan and Pippen didn't have a dominant low post player (unless you count Jordan during the last three peat.....they also didn't shoot many threes, although that had others who did - including Steve Kerr). Can Curry and Thompson follow and similar path, and become one of the best back courts to play the game? Certainly, if they win it this year, you'd expect more to come, right?


Stats tell you one thing.
Does Golden State have the better team? Yes.
Does Golden State have the best player this year? Yes.
But.....maybe this is bigger than stats?

Sometimes the game is weird. Sometimes it has a purpose bigger than numbers.
It's hard to explain.
In 2011 the Heat were huge favorites over Dallas. But Dallas was a team of destiny, that was driven to win a title after their 2006 meltdown.
They won.

Last year, the Heat were two time defending champs. But San Antonio was a team of destiny, that was driven to win a tittle after their missed opportunity the previous year.
They won.

It seems like for the first time in his career, LeBron may actually be on the team of destiny, with a whole city supporting him. This is why he came home.....perhaps this is bigger than stats?

I can't tell you how this will end.
So, perhaps it's best to borrow a line from LeBron himself, the veteran, the leader.....the underdog, in his first year back home, when talking about the Finals:

"I can't guarantee we'll win.....but I guarantee we'll play our a$$es off."

And that's all we want.
That is all we want.