Apr 26, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) looks to pass the ball while Boston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger (7) defends during the second half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
There were three sweeps this past week in the 1st round of the NBA playoffs. To borrow from a Clint Eastwood movie, the trio comprised of the Good (Warriors-Pelicans), the Bad (Wizards-Raptors), and…the ugly (this one). The culminating game of the Cavs-Celtics series resulted in multiple injuries, ejections, suspensions, and verbal shots fired in the post-game pressers. Regardless, the Cavaliers advanced. Here’s how they scored entering this match-up:
Clearly a 3pt and At The Rim-heavy attack. But what happens when you add up all these Hunting Grounds? We get a sense of court usage for a lineup. We can compare those and understand how they change over time. As I’ve mentioned before, measuring change is a great way to see how shooting patterns ebb and flow against different opponents. We’re looking for three types of change: shrinking, expanding, or constant activity. The result is changes to Hunting Grounds that reveal subtle yet important cues to how the offense generates points.
Interestingly, the Cavs reduced their space in Round 1. This is noteworthy because the other victors (Wizards, Warriors) doubled and tripled their court usage. So what gives? There’s massive reductions in the midrange baseline jumpers and elbows, as well as the right wing 3pt. The most notable reductionist is Lebron James. Despite having a healthy midrange attack in the regular season, almost everything successful has been at the rim in the postseason. How that changes – or remains the same – in Round 2 will be interesting, to say the least. And while Kyrie has been relatively consistent with his regular season shooting, most of the 3pt activity came from Kevin Love and JR Smith. That’s an interesting duo, considering the latest news has Love missing at least the next series (and possibly the entire playoffs) and Smith suspended for two games. Here’s what they specifically combined for against Boston:
These two account for four of the five 3pt Hunting Grounds in Round 1. While replacing them is not a simple task, three players come to mind:
Simply put: it’s not a perfect fit. Tristan Thompson mirrors some – some – of Love’s At The Rim scoring, but realistically he’s on the floor to rebound, defend, and dive to the rim. A very different, albeit incredibly useful, style. Iman Shumpert and James Jones have the 3pt tendencies, combining to roughly replicate what Smith brought in Round 1. The problem, however, is twofold: 1) the Cavs seem unlikely to play them together for long stretches, and 2) they don’t make-up for Love’s 3pt activity. Lebron and Kyrie thrive in a drive-and-kick capacity, making lineups using these two and maybe even Mike Miller constant fixtures going forward. There’s a real concern here: Cleveland’s defense is already so porous, how do they replace the scoring without slipping further defensively? Say what you will about Kevin Love’s role in this offense (don’t worry, most of the internet already has), but maybe – just maybe…