-Windhorst with an article saying that the Cavs are through the tough part of their schedule with flying colors, and that the schedule gets significantly easier from here on out.
-Empty The Bench picks up where Sam Smith left off on the issue of LeBron’s low foul totals. The author uses a chi-square test to determine that there’s virtually no chance that LeBron’s low foul totals are a product of random chance, and goes from there to superstar treatment.
Here’s how the author describes LeBron’s defense:
“[The reason for the low foul totals is] not so obvious with LeBron, considering he’s regularly guarding extremely dynamic players who routinely go to the line, and he’s often banging with the big boys underneath, where a majority of fouls are called.”
I would disagree with this assessment. LeBron doesn’t guard the other team’s best scorer until crunch-time of games, if at all. And he almost never guards big men. In fact, fear of foul trouble is likely one of the major reasons that LeBron logs less minutes at the four than most Cavs fans believe he should. LeBron spends the vast majority of his time defending a non-threat on the perimeter, leaving him free to roam for weak-side blocks or steals.
I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t believe it, but LeBron is rarely involved in contact under the hoop. Most of his blocks are coming from the weak-side with great deal of separation between him and the man he’s blocking. LeBron prefers to use his length and leaping ability to contest shots rather than try to body up, and that’s the biggest reason his foul totals are low.
Also, a commenter pointed out that if foul totals are adjusted on a per-48 minute level, LeBron fouls less than Kevin Durant, Joe Johnson, and Brandon Roy. It certainly seems odd that a player who makes the kind of defensive impact LeBron commits so few fouls, especially since LeBron’s such a physical force. It’s easy to see how someone who doesn’t watch a ton of Cavs games could come to the conclusion that something fishy could be going on. But in my opinion, there are lots of factors other than superstar treatment that explain LeBron’s low foul totals.
Overview: In a game that featured spectacular bursts of scoring in between long stretches of offensive ineptitude, the Cavaliers were able to escape from Miani with a 92-91 win. LeBron James made the game-winning steal and free throws with four seconds remaining.
This is just getting ridiculous. Five of the Cavs’ past six games have come right down to the wire. The Cavs seem to have packed all of their bad breaks into the Sundiata Gaines game, and are 4-1 in those five games. It’s been fun to watch at times, there have been some agonizing moments, and I think all the stress has made me come down with a fever. The Cardiac Cavs are back.
Under the bad column, the offense. Not good. Boobie doesn’t look comfortable running anything, there’s no spacing to speak of, and the Cavs can’t get any sort of motion happening when somebody drives to the rim. Nobody was working well in tandem, and very few good things happened on the offensive end. The worst part is that there’s no clear solution to this problem in sight, other than getting Delonte and/or Mo back into playing shape.
-LeBron didn’t have his best all-around game. He struggled to find room to operate, turned the ball over, couldn’t find many lanes to drive or pass to. He also got baited into deuling with Wade late in the second quarter, and while he made a few jumpers, he took quite a few bad ones. 10 points on 17 shots from outside of the paint for LeBron tonight, which is not a good number. LeBron got forced into some of his bad looks, but he can probably find better ones if he’s really determined to.
Where LeBron was most effective in the game against the Heat was in the open floor, where the Heat had nothing resembling a chance of stopping him. At one point, the Heat had three defenders back in position, and LeBron just powered through all three of them for a layup. Transition opportunities were definitely what kept LeBron on track as he struggled to get good looks from the field.
Late in the game, LeBron shone. If there’s one thing I’ve tried to express about these types of situations, it’s that more often than not there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to why these things happen. With the Cavs down one and 41 seconds left, LeBron let the offense stagnate, fired up a three, and bricked it. Wade got fouled on a loose ball, and had two free throws to put the Cavs in serious trouble. He missed them both. What a break for the Cavs. On the ensuing a two-for-one opportunity, LeBron made just about the worst possible play, getting his eight-footer blocked and giving the ball to the Heat with 26 seconds left to play.
Then another lucky break came, and LeBron took advantage. With LeBron providing intense pressure on Wade, Wade inexplicably tried to make a cute behind-the-back pass to Udonis Haslem instead of calling time-out or waiting for an easier pass to present itself. LeBron made a fantastic steal, flew down the court, and got hammered by Wade going to the rim. (As many people on the Daily Dime Live pointed out, Wade grabbed the rim as he blocked the shot, which should have made the shot count automatically.) LeBron shook out the cobwebs, got himself ready, and knocked down the clutch free throws. On the Heat’s final shot, LeBron took the assignment on Wade, sniffed out his favorite step-back jumper going to his left, and forced him into a high-arcing, low-percentage heave. Game over. Cavs win.
LeBron got lucky, and he also submitted an incredible clutch performance. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, clutch performances are almost enabled by at least one lucky break. LeBron was almost the goat tonight. But Wade made some fluky mistakes, and LeBron was able to capitalize on them. Everyone gets lucky breaks sometimes. The difference is what they do with them.
-The Cavs have made it a signature of theirs to shut teams down late in games, especially their superstars. After a 30-point first half, Wade only managed two points in the entire second half. The Cavs threw traps at him up high, used their length, didn’t give cheap fouls, and made sure that Wade never had space to work. The only time the Cavs really got burned was when Udonis Haslem made three straight mid-range jumpers thanks to traps on Wade, and the Cavs even closed off that safety valve later on in the quarter. Mike Brown’s gotta be giddy about the way the Cavs played D down the stretch.
-Shaq served as an offensive safety net on Monday night. He was rarely given the ball in deep position, rarely put on the move, and rarely given good cutters to feed for easy baskets. He was tossed the ball on the left block 10-15 feet away from the rim and told to make the best of it. For the first half of the season, this strategy was a recipe for disaster. Against the Heat, however, Shaq found some of that old swagger. He put air under the hook shots he had previously leaving flat all season. He made strong moves to the basket. He punished the Heat every time they put him in single coverage. Even though the offense did get stagnant at times with Shaq simply sitting on the left block, it was a vital failsafe plan for the Cavs.
-Boobie Gibson, clutch assassin. Early in the chat, somebody said that Boobie would not be getting a shirt tonight. I told him to wait until the fourth quarter. Daniel Gibson may not be a point guard, but he’s won the Cavs two straight games with big shots. Two threes in the final quarter for Boobie, who went 4-6 from beyond the arc overall.
-JJ Hickson, on the other hand, had a bit of a setback game. 0-4 from the field, 1 rebound, and a -15 in 13 minutes. Not good stuff from JJ.
-Andy was his old self, making some clutch cuts, finishing around the basket, and swarming the Heat on the perimeter. He also made some great hustle plays, and got four gritty offensive rebounds.
-In games without ball movement, Anthony Parker does not look like much of a player on offense.
Alright, that’s it for me. I think I’m getting really sick. Fun game, see you guys tomorrow.
Offensive Efficiency: Cavs 108.1 (5th) vs. Heat 104.8 (14th)
Defensive Efficiency: Cavs 100.6 (6th) vs. Heat 102.7 (12th)
-The Heat got off to a good start thanks to their defense. When they stopped playing tough defense, they stopped looking like a serious contender.
-Aaah! Rafer Alston!
-It’ll be important for Boobie to keep his wits about him. Since the Cavs don’t really have anyone who can create off the dribble in their backcourt, Wade could be flying around the passing lanes and looking to get steals. The Cavs have to stay crisp on the perimeter.
-On the other end, expect LeBron to play some free safety of his own matched up against Quentin Richardson, who’s not a threat to take the ball to the hole.
-Windhorst mentioned it in his preview, but there’s a lot of talent and a lot of inconsistency at both starting power forward positions tonight. Let’s see if JJ Hickson can turn in a third consecutive strong game and keep Beasley from getting the shots he wants.
-Jamario Moon was active in shootarounds and looked like he might make his return tonight, but the latest chatter seems to be that he’s going to sit. More Danny Green!
-Shaq’s coming off a monster game, but he’s not going to be able to abuse Jermaine O’Neal the way he was able to abuse Krstic. It’ll be interesting to see if he tries to pick up where he left off in OKC.
-I have no idea how the Cavs are going to defend Wade on the high pick-and-roll. No Delonte, who’s the best choice to guard Wade on the perimeter. And Shaq’s screen-roll defense has gotten better every game this year, but Wade doesn’t need much daylight to split the trap.
-After this game, the Cavs get a day off in South Beach and a home game against the Timberwolves, both of which should be relaxing. Let’s see if they can make their mini-vacation that much sweeter by starting it off with a win.
-M. Haubs of The Painted Area has a very good post up on LeBron, which includes a link to Cameron’s post from yesterday. (Feedback loop!) I, too, miss the UCLA cuts in particular. My only issue with this one is that I think Haubs gives Kuester a little bit too much credit, personally.
-John Hollinger names his midseason award winners. (Insider) Not only does he have LeBron as the clear-cut choice for MVP, but Hollinger actually names Anderson Varejao as his defensive player of the year. That won’t be the most popular pick, but it’s always great to see Varejao get some recognition.
-Brian Windhorst on the different front-office strategies of the Heat and Cavaliers. Windhorst doesn’t mince words in this one.
Windhorst has the report, which originally comes from Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. (Coro did specify that the rumors were of other teams’ interest in Amare, not necessarily the Suns’ interest in trading him.)
I think that Amare ending up in a Cavs uniform this season is a long shot at best. It would just be too cruel of the Suns to trade Amare for salary reasons, especially with the Suns having a very good year this season. Even still, let’s run with some of the possible implications of an Amare trade.
Here’s the thing about an Amare trade. I’ve always dreamed about Amare Stoudemire on the Cavs. Always. LeBron James has had tremendous success running the pick-and-roll in his NBA career, despite the fact he’s never really had a truly dangerous big to run the pick-and-roll with. Z’s always been a pick-and-pop guy, and while his 18-foot jumper is nice, it’s always been a shot defenses can live with. Drew Gooden was Drew Gooden. Ben Wallace is one of the worst offensive players in NBA history. Shaq can’t run the high pick-and-roll. Varejao has evolved into a very smart cutter and a very crafty finisher around the basket, but he isn’t very dangerous if he doesn’t get the ball right under the basket, he’s not a great foul shooter, and he doesn’t finish with authority.
Meanwhile, Amare Stoudemire has already established himself as one of the great pick-and-roll big men of all time. He’s not the elemental force around the basket he once was, but he always takes it strong to the rim, he has great explosion and touch, and he’s both willing to take contact and able to knock down free throws. He’s even become a very good pick-and-pop guy. A pick-and-roll where the roll guy is almost as dangerous as LeBron is a scary, scary notion. That play could burn down the league. Every time I play NBA 2K, the first thing I do is play as the Cavaliers, try to sell the farm for Amare, and take fair trades off if I can’t get the trade to work.
If you’d told me in fourth grade that Brittney Spears would someday be considered unattractive at any point in time, I would have thought you were insane. Likewise, if you’d told me in 2007 that Amare Stoudemire would be considered anything less than an all-time slam dunk, I would have also thought you were off your rocker.
But here we stand in 2010, and I would have some misgivings about an Amare trade. First of all, Amare isn’t the most cerebral offensive player. His assist ratio ranks 61st of the 68 listed power forwards. His turnover ratio is 46th out of 68. He’s not as good of a finisher in traffic as he used to be, either. He only makes 56% of his layups, and doesn’t have a left hand to speak of, but he’s more than willing to try and force a right-handed shot in traffic. If the ball gets tossed to Amare, it’s probably not coming back. And those numbers come in an offense with amazing spacing and a directive to rotate the ball back to Steve Nash at the first sign of trouble. Do you really want a player like that on the floor with LeBron James, especially late in games?
Also, there’s the question of Amare’s defense. It’s pretty darn bad. Every time I watch a Suns game, there are at least one or two “Amare, what are you doing?” plays that lead to a basket, if not more. The Cavs are built on defense. If Amare was put into the starting lineup, the Cavs would be starting two bona fide defensive liabilities, and it wouldn’t just be a “show starter” situation like it is right now with JJ.
For Amare to be effective defensively alongside of Shaq, he’d have to be active on the perimeter, show on pick-and-rolls, and discourage opposing teams from hitting easy jumpers as Shaq sags back to shut down the paint. With Amare’s knees, it’s an open question whether or not he could handle that responsibility even if he had the desire to do so. And it’s a very open question whether he’ll ever develop the desire to do so.
There’s also this issue, which seems to get forgotten a lot during deadline talk. Anderson Varejao is the second-best player on the Cavaliers. It’s true. Say it aloud. It’ll help it sink in. As crazy as it sounds, the guy with the crazy hair who looks like he could get knocked over by a stiff breeze, has no game outside of 10 feet to speak of, and doesn’t dunk on people has become an absolutely vital piece for the Cavs.
How would Andy be able to play next to Amare? They would both need too many minutes to never play with each other. Almost all of Varejao’s offensive game is predicated on him setting the screen up high and/or cutting around the hoop and looking for easy baskets. When Amare’s in the game, it would be foolish not to use him in the high pick-and-roll offensively and try to set him up with as many dunk opportunities as possible. Andy can’t stretch the floor in those situations. Will there be enough space for Andy to be effective in the same lineup as Amare and LeBron? They might be able to figure it out. Or they might not be able to be, and the Cavs end up losing all of their momentum.
The Optimistic Point of View:
Let’s look at Amare next to JJ Hickson, who currently starts at power forward for the Cavs and does play 40% of the total minutes, despite his designation as a “show” starter. As bad of a decision-maker as Amare is, JJ has been worse. JJ ranks 66th among power forwards in assist ratio, and 53rd in turnover rate. Both of those ranks are worse than Amare’s.
When JJ Hickson is on the floor, the Cavs give up 111.1 points per 100 possessions. When Amare Stoudemire is on the floor, the Suns give up 111.6 points per 100 possessions. The players around Amare are much worse defenders than the players around JJ, and Phoenix has a much more lax defensive philosophy. If JJ’s defense is acceptable, Amare’s could be too, at least in the starting lineup.
(Two quick disclaimers here. JJ has been a starter in name only for the Cavaliers so far this season. Amare would likely be a “true” starter, which would mean that his shortcomings would have more impact than JJ’s. I realize this. Also, JJ does seem to have experienced a kind of basketball Nirvana, and has played like a new man in the past two games. I’m of the opinion that selling high would be the correct play, but absolutely understand the notion that JJ is too talented and too young to be given up on. I just feel like we’ve seen this movie before with regard to falling in love with JJ’s potential.)
Additionally, ever since the Shaq trade, the buzz has been that the Cavs need a “stretch” four. Well, get this: Amare Stoudemire is a very good outside shooter for a big man. He doesn’t shoot threes, but Amare has been absolutely deadly on deep twos this season. He’s one of the best shooting power forwards from the 10-15 foot range and the 16-23 foot range this year, shooting 56.5%/47.0% from those ranges. To provide some contrast, Z’s career-high marks from those ranges are 43.0% and 44.0%, respectively. Overall, Amare’s eFG% on jumpers this season is a stellar 48.3%, which is a very good mark for a perimeter player. For a big man who doesn’t shoot threes and is regarded as a finisher, it’s almost unheard of. In fact, Antawn Jamison’s eFG% on jumpers is only 44.8%. Amare will never be as good shooting from outside as he is finishing at the rim, but he’s still a tremendous outside shooter for a big man.
The last question about Amare is how he’d fit in with Shaq. Windhorst mentioned in his article that Amare and Shaq got in each other’s way last season, and that’s certainly the opinion of the general public. On paper, it makes sense; Amare likes to pick-and-roll, and Shaq likes to sit in the lane. However, the numbers don’t support this thesis.
In 2007-08, Amare was one of the best finishers in the league, shooting 74% from the immediate basket area. In 08-09, Amare took the same proportion of his shots at the rim. However, he converted those opportunities at a significantly worse rate, with his eFG% on “close” shots dropping to 65.8%. The rate at which Amare drew fouls also dropped, going from 23.2% to 18.9%.
This drop in effectiveness occurred when Amare theoretically should’ve been a year further removed from microfracture surgery, and that much closer to regaining his once-fearsome hops. Faced with these facts, everyone came to the logical and understandable conclusion that Shaq was hurting Amare’s effectiveness at the rim. The data from this season, however, refutes this theory. Despite the fact that the Suns have replaced Shaq with three-point bomber Channing Frye and opened up the paint for Amare, his numbers at the basket remain identical to where they were last season. He takes 46% of his shots at the rim, up 1% from last season. He shoots 66.8% at the rim, up exactly 1% from last season. And his foul drawing rate is 18.2%, which is actually a little lower than it was last season. Whatever it was that caused Amare’s effectiveness at the basket to drop last season, it looks like it wasn’t Shaq.
Amare and Shaq were also quite effective when they played together, especially on the offensive end. Last season, Amare and Shaq’s two most used lineups had an average offensive rating of 1.14 and a defensive rating of 1.07.
This season, the Shaq/Hickson lineup has an offensive rating of 1.05 and a defensive rating of 1.12. The most-used Shaq/Varejao lineup has an offensive rating of 1.02 and a defensive rating of 1.02. Of Shaq’s 10 most-used lineups this season, only two have an offensive rating equal to or better than 1.14, and those lineups have been used for a combined 43 minutes. Now, that 82games data is 12 days old, and the lightbulb really seems to be turning on for Shaq and the Cavs over the last few games. However, the above data does show that Shaq was more effective playing alongside of Amare than he was playing with either JJ Hickson or Anderson Varejao. I think this should be taken into consideration before Shaq and Amare are labeled oil and water.
Well, after all that, I am profoundly ambivalent. On the one hand, it’s Amare. This could be the move that would make the league’s most dangerous offensive player the leader of the league’s best offense. On another hand, he doesn’t look like a good fit on either offense or defense. Plus, the Cavs are only now getting used to their one big acquisition, and do seem to be rolling on all cylinders. On a third hand, possibly an elbow, most of Amare’s perceived flaws don’t look very bad at all on paper. But then again, that’s what people were saying when the Magic signed Vince Carter. Ugh. It’s a good thing this trade probably won’t happen, because I’d probably drive myself crazy trying to figure out how I felt about it if it did go through. Well, I have class in five hours. Until tomorrow, everyone.
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(Ed. Note: I decided to take down the post above this one. It was a YouTube video about how LeBron was allegedly part of the “Illuminati.” I thought it was a little funny, but ultimately I realized that posting it didn’t feel right. I want to feel good about everything I post here, and I didn’t feel good about that one. This post is much more indicative of what I’m trying to do with this website.)
It’s been roughly three full years since LeBron James and Larry Hughes publicly criticized the Cavaliers offensive scheme. “We don’t get easy baskets,” James expressed after a February loss against Detroit in which the Cavs put only 78 points on the board. He also went on to suggest that he had only caught two lob passes 48 games into the 2006-07 season, which he felt was a career low. A December quote from LeBron best summarized the feelings of the players and fans midway through that season: “Our offense is what’s killing us right now.”
The rest is history. The offense began to take on a new shape, the team averaged 89.7 points per game in a six-game conference finals against Detroit to go to their first finals in franchise history, and slowly Danny Ferry began to ship out players like Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden in an attempt to surround LeBron James with smarter, more efficient offensive threats like Mo Williams and Delonte West.
And there’s no denying that the Cavaliers offense has grown dramatically since then, particularly over these past two seasons. After averaging 96.8 points per game in the 2006-07 season and 96.4 points per game in the 2007-08 season, the Cavs have averaged at least 100 points per game since. The team scored 100.3 points per game last season and currently average 100.9 points per game 45 games into this season.
Thanks for the easy basket support, Ferry.
But how much of this should be attributed to a change in offensive mentality that started back in 2007 and how much to a change in personnel that followed shortly thereafter? Last season John Kuester was hailed as an offensive genius, helping the Cavaliers offense flourish after Mike Brown fell short. The success was so widely known that it propelled Kuester into the head coaching position in Detroit.
However, Kuester’s Pistons are averaging only 92.2 points per game this season, two points per game fewer than Michael Curry’s Detroit team last year. And the Cavs? Oh, they’re averaging 0.6 points per game more than they did last season. Nothing against John Kuester, he’s in a very tough position, but you would’ve thought he took Cleveland’s offense with him judging by fan reaction this offseason.
The personnel change I had in mind originally was Mo Williams. Quite often Mo’s success is swept under the rug thanks to the notion that he’s a mainly just a very good shooter that plays off of LeBron. Then, such as in the eastern conference finals, there are times when fans give Mo Williams seemingly no credit at all and write him off as a streaky jumpshooter, undeserving of the moniker of a legitimate second option.
Even when fans acknowledge his ability to create shots for others, many feel he creates only with the second unit and rarely probes the defense when LeBron is on the floor. However, the numbers suggest that Mo Williams may be the closest thing to a true point guard that LeBron James has ever experienced. Ultimately, if nothing else, he’s a steady hand capable of feeding James those easy baskets that he has craved since 2007.
So far this season LeBron James has compiled 70 dunks through 45 games. This is roughly 1.56 dunks per game, a number that is very similar to his 1.58 dunks per game last season when James threw the hammer down 128 times. And, just as it was the case with the Cavs offense, these figures have increased since the lack-of-easy-basket days. During the 2007-08 season LeBron James had 109 dunks in 75 games, equivalent to 1.45 dunks per game.
Similarly, LeBron James has received a big helping hand on his layups this year, with 75 of his 167 layups being assisted (44.9%). While this number isn’t nearly as large, the likelihood of a dunk being assisted versus a layup being assisted are very unequal, especially for players like LeBron who will only use a layup when he doesn’t have a clear dunking lane.
So here’s the question everyone wants answered–who assists these easy baskets?
It’s fairly obvious from the pie charts that Mo Williams gets LeBron more easy buckets than any other Cavalier. He has assisted 53 of LeBron’s dunks and layups, accounting for 22.4% of LeBron’s 237 total easy baskets and 42.7% of the assisted easy baskets.
Furthermore, with these 53 assisted baskets, 24.2% of Mo Williams’ assists go to LeBron James for a dunk or layup. In the 43 games they’ve played together, Mo Williams has assisted LeBron James 74 times, accounting for 45.1% of LeBron’s assisted baskets (16.8% of his total 439 baskets through 43 games). That means that 33.8% of Mo Williams’ 219 assists so far this season have gone to LeBron James. Not bad for someone who supposedly only creates for the second unit.
Delonte West has also been important when it comes to feeding The King, combining with Mo Williams to account for 67 of James’ 124 assisted dunks and layups (54.0%). That’s what makes the Mo Williams loss doubly troublesome. With no Delonte West to replace him thanks to a broken finger suffered in Thursday night’s game, there is no guard left to set LeBron up with an easy dunk, outside of the slim production that Anthony Parker provides.
The lack of easy setup baskets has certainly showed, too. In the last two games without the aid of Mo Williams, LeBron James has not only failed to get an assisted dunk, but has zero dunks. He has managed to make seven layups over the past two games, with three of them being assisted, but there hasn’t been a single player to find him more than once for an easy basket over this span. Maybe the Cavaliers will be able to adapt to life without Williams for the time being and could possibly turn to a stable of players in an attempt to pick up the production. But one thing is for sure, it won’t be the same as when Mo Williams does it.
And we’ve all seen how Mo creates these easy buckets for LeBron. After three to five seconds of Steve Nash-like probing, Williams escapes the paint and peers over his shoulder at the scrambling defense. It’s at this moment that he sees a cutting James and a confused defender looking at a spot on the floor that only contains remnants, a blurry number twenty-three jersey courtesy of persistence of motion and the fresh scent of talcum powder, of a ready-to-dunk James. Then it’s either a one-handed bullet pass, a quick bounce pass, or a lob pass for an alley oop.
With 17 alley-oops on the season, three of them from Williams, it’s a play that LeBron is starting to grow fond of. And why not? It sure beats the two lobs he got from Larry Hughes and company three years ago.
Overview: The Cavs started their third point guard in as many games, missed 20 free throws, and turned the ball over 17 times against the Thunder. Despite all that, they were able to pull out a 100-99 win, with Daniel Gibson hitting the go-ahead three with eight seconds left. LeBron had a final line of 37/9/12, and had a block on Kevin Durant and hit the game-sealing free throws in the final two seconds.
Definitely a strange game. The things that worked worked extremely well, and the things that went wrong went powerful wrong. Let’s start with the bad.
-The offense did not look in sync at all. Now, the Cavs were starting their third point guard in three games, and the Thunder are a very good defensive team. But Boobie had zero assists in 34 minutes, which is unacceptable. In fact, the entire Cavalier backcourt accounted for three assists, and two of those were from Danny Green.
The plan was to give the ball to LeBron and let him go to work. Not a bad idea without any other playmakers to speak of, but the Cavs were lucky to get away with it. LeBron was swarmed every time he got into the paint, turned the ball over six times, and only made one shot at the rim all game. One. Not sure when the last time that happened was.
-20 missed free throws. I mean, what is there to say? If the Cavs had lost this one, it would’ve been absolutely inexcusable. Nine of the 20 misses were courtesy of Shaq, which is somewhat acceptable. You’d like to see him shoot better than 40% from the line, but it’s not like this was an unprecedented occurrence.
LeBron accounted for six free throw misses. It was one of those games where LeBron didn’t look very comfortable at the line early on, and never really got into a free-throw groove. This has become much frequent in the last two seasons. It used to be an open question whether or not LeBron would have his free throw stroke working on a given night, but he’s become much more consistent from the stripe. In fact, LeBron’s six free throw misses tonight ties his season high, which he set against Toronto in the Cavs’ second game of the year. Even still, it was not fun to watch LeBron shoot free throws in this one.
Outside of Shaq and LeBron, the Cavs shot 1-6 from the line. Hickson split a pair, Z missed two, and Varejao biffed his free throws down the stretch. Zero free throw attempts by the Cavalier backcourt. Hurry back, Delonte.
-17 turnovers against 19 assists. Again, this was a product of the Cavs having zero offensive rhythm, but it still needs to improve. Credit the Cavs’ transition defense, I suppose, because the Cavs only gave up 17 points on their 17 turnovers. Meanwhile, they scored 13 points on the Thunder’s nine turnovers, so they somehow only gave up four net points on turnovers.
-Andy. Yikes. The lack of spacing and flow really killed Varejao’s ability to find room for his cuts and be effective. He also looked lost defensively, and had real trouble staying with the Thunder bigs on the perimeter. And those two missed free throws were bad. A game-low -16 for Andy in only 19 minutes.
-Defense in the third quarter. From 10:30 to 2:04, the Thunder scored on every single one of their possessions. They missed one shot, but got the offensive rebound and scored. Everything went wrong for the Cavs during this stretch. The Thunder were able to slice into the heart of the Cavs’ D and get layups. When the Cavs crowded the paint, they stepped out and knocked in an easy midrange jumper.
And the run wasn’t just the Thunder getting hot. In the course of the entire run, only one of the Thunder’s baskets was an unassisted jump shot. And that shot was a 14-footer by Kevin Durant, which isn’t exactly a low-percentage proposition. Everything broke down during that stretch. Basketball is a game of runs, but 30 straight points?
Somehow, despite all of that, the Cavs pulled out a win. How did they do it? See below.
Shaq. Whoa. Offensively, this might have been Shaq’s best game as a Cavalier. He was getting whatever he wanted in the paint all game long. The Thunder didn’t have enough size to discourage him on the offensive end, or enough frontcourt quickness to burn him on the defensive end.
Early on, Shaq was getting deep position time and time again. When he got it, he bullied his way through any resistance and got the easy basket. The only hope the Thunder had was to foul, and they weren’t even able to do that with regularity.
In the third, the only reason the Cavs were able to stay in the game during OKC’s 30-point run is because of how effective they were running the offense through Shaq. The Cavs scored 17 points of their own during the Thunder’s insane stretch, with 12 of those points either scored or assisted by Shaq. They set Shaq up on the left block, gave him the ball, and re-posted him when he tossed it back out. When the Thunder swarmed Shaq, the Cavs ran Hickson on a cut through the middle and Boobie off a scissor cut to the corner, and Shaq found them for buckets on both occasions. I just learned from a Daily Thunder commenter that Krstic had his lowest single-game defensive score of the season against the Cavs, and that comes as no surprise to anyone who saw the game.
Defensively, Shaq was effective. Krstic was able to step out on Shaq and hit a few mid-range jumpers during the 30-point run, but Shaq didn’t get baited into leaving the paint.
The Thunder only shot 47% at the rim on Saturday, and Shaq was the biggest reason why. Durant, who’s actually been a LeBron-level finisher this season, was only 3-8 on shots at the rim. Jeff Green missed all five of his shots at the rim. Krstic was only 2-4 at the rim. Oddly, the only Thunder player who had success in the immediate basket area was Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has struggled to finish in traffic throughout his brief NBA career, but made all five of his layups against the Cavs.
Overall, Shaq finished with a game-high +16, and looked completely dominant when he was in the game. Shaq missed five of his six free throws in the final quarter, but the good far outweighed the bad from Shaq in this one.
-LeBron picked the right time to find his outside shot, didn’t he? After going 1-16 from three in his last two games, LeBron set a season high by hitting six of his 10 threes. (Of course LeBron would set his season high for threes in a game on the same night he tied his season high for missed free throws in a game. I try not to think about these things.)
On a night where LeBron only made one layup or dunk, LeBron scored 22 points on 15 shots from outside of 15 feet. What’s even more impressive than how well LeBron shot the ball is what type of shots he was making. Only one of LeBron’s 16-23 foot shots came off a pass, and none of LeBron’s six threes were assisted. That’s almost unheard of from any player not named Steve Nash.
LeBron had no conscience from beyond the arc. He was draining contested pull-up threes, off-balance threes, clean threes when the defense went under the screen, threes from everywhere. It almost looked like LeBron was making a case for why he’s so determined to add the three to his game. A three-point stroke won’t be as consistent as a post-up game or a set of moves from 10-15 feet, and we saw how ineffective threes can be in the last two games.
But every now and then, LeBron can use his three-ball to go Deus ex Machina on some helpless team. Even when the offense broke down and LeBron wasn’t able to get where he wanted to go on the court, he was able to bury a few ridiculous shots, and it got the Cavs a win in a game they probably had no business winning. LeBron’s threes allowed him to score six points in 33 seconds to close out the first half and give the Cavs a 13-point cushion, which they’d end up needing. And in the fourth, with the Cavs down five and the game slipping away, LeBron bombed in threes on consecutive possessions to keep the Cavs in it. No other shot can change fortunes that quickly.
And a great block on Durant on the Thunder’s last possession, along with some gut-wrenching free throws to seal the game. (By the way, there was some body contact from Parker on that play. In my opinion, that’s honestly a 50-50 call, if that. I’ve seen it made before, but it would’ve been a bailout foul. Whatever you think, LeBron doesn’t have a whistle. He played his hardest, and it worked.)
-Boobie Gibson. Yes, he looked horrible running the offense. However, there was a time not that long ago when Boobie was considered indispensable to this team. This is why. Down the stretch, Boobie is the prototypical late-game sniper to put alongside of LeBron. He’s quick enough to get to a spot beyond the arc when the play breaks down and he can’t just camp out in the corner. He knows where LeBron will see him and be able to get him the ball. He’s a knock-down shooter when his feet are set. LeBron knows where he’ll be and trusts Boobie when he’s open. And he’s absolutely fearless when it comes to taking big shots.
In the fourth quarter, LeBron and Boobie accounted for all but two of the Cavs’ points, and all of their field goals. With the Cavs down three with six minutes to play, LeBron was swarmed at the top of the arc, but Boobie got free off a back-screen and drilled the three. He made a floater to tie it two possessions later.
And on the Cavs’ last possession, with the game on the line, LeBron went out in transition, saw the Thunder were packing the lane to protect against his drive, looked up, and there Boobie was, ready to hit the big shot. LeBron trusted that Boobie would knock it down. And knock it down he did. Mo Williams has made Gibson obsolete in late-game situations to a degree, but against the Thunder Boobie showed why he’ll always have a place in the hearts of Cavs fans everywhere.
-Ultimate Jawad with one of his best games. He looks more comfortable as a swingman than as a stretch four, and was banging in threes and making great cuts on his way to 12 points on 7 shots. Although Mike Brown continues to throw Jawad to the wolves on the defensive end. Jawad is a quality defender, but he doesn’t have much chance against the likes of Durant, and gave some cheap fouls.
-I really like Danny Green. He’s got NBA range, and he loves doing the little things. He looks like the kid in the pickup game who rounds out the rotation for the varsity and everyone kinda thinks they could take on-on-one. But when the game starts, he’s making backdoor cuts, setting up dribble handoffs, and getting everyone else good shots. I’m not sure if there will be room in the rotation for him this year, but he’s looked like he can play in the NBA in his limited minutes.
-Finally, JJ Hickson. The man looks born again. Nine rebounds. 4-6 from the floor. Grabbing loose balls and making tough finishes at the rim. Playing great defense down the stretch. Only one turnover all game. If JJ can keep this up, it’ll take a ton of pressure off of Ferry at the trade deadline.
Alright, that’s all for now. These last couple of recaps have been massive, I know, but these have been crazy games. Congrats for reading through them. See you after the weekend.
Offensive Efficiency: Thunder 102.8 (21st) vs. Cavs 108.1 (5th)
Defensive Efficiency: Thunder 100.3 (5th) vs. Cavs 100.4 (6th)
Get excited for LeBron vs. Durant. In my opinion, these are the two best scorers in the NBA this season. In my opinion, it doesn’t get better than LeBron’s 29.7 ppg on 61.1% TS or Durant’s 29.2 ppg on 60.1% TS.
Despite Durant’s offensive brilliance, the Thunder’s success this season has been because of their work at the defensive end. The Thunder absolutely shut down the 16-23 foot range and are excellent at defending the three, so it will be important for the Cavs not to settle. Additionally, OKC allows tons of shots at the rim, so the Cavs should look to attack the basket early and often.
-Russell Westbrook is an X-Factor’s X-Factor. His shot is shaky, he doesn’t make half of his layup attempts, and he’s prone to silly turnovers. But he has range on his shot, can get to the rim at will, and is capable of making brilliant passes. He’s a nightmare on defense, and can get the Thunder into a deadly full-court game. He’s not consistent by any stretch of the imagination, but when he’s on, watch out.
-Thabo Sefolosha has been getting some all-defense buzz, and Scott Brooks loves his length and athleticism on the perimeter. We’ll see how he does against LeBron.
-James Harden is another guy who can make plays and shoot from the perimeter, and plays under control. The problem: failure to finish inside is the silent killer, and Harden shoots an unbelievably bad 35.2% on layups. Yeesh.
-First game starting at the point for Boobie. Hopefully he can play within himself and knock down open shots when they’re there.
-Delonte West will miss the Cavs’ next game with a fractured left ring finger. I think Delonte will be back on the court soon, but wonder if the injury will have a lingering impact on his shooting touch. He’s only started to get confident from beyond the arc in the last week or two.
-The current plan is that Boobie Gibson will start the next game at the point for the Cavs. Things can change just that fast in this league.
-Cedric Jackson of the Erie Bayhawks has been called up to give the Cavs some point guard help. He’s putting up some nice numbers for Erie, but hasn’t been a tremendously efficient scorer.
-Also on Fanhouse, Tom Ziller wonders how much the Cavs are really going to miss Mo Williams.
-Who told LeBron to go to the hole just before he made his fast-break layup? Shaq.
-Finally, LeBron rapping along to the last verse of “Forever” just before he had to take crucial free throws in last night’s game has turned into one of LeBron’s patented mini-controversies. If Varejao hadn’t rebounded LeBron’s missed free throw, it would probably be a bigger deal.
I mention this only so that I can talk about my bigger issue with LeBron and “Forever,” one of my favorite songs of the summer. (Warning: R-Rated language in music video) In the music video of the song, why is LeBron playing video poker in a limo? Of the 15 seconds LeBron appears on camera in the video, they honestly couldn’t think of anything else for him to do? What is the possible message he hopes to send by showing him playing pocket fours against strangers online?
At some point during the making of this video, people talked about this, right? A director, LeBron, and other people sat down and came to the decision that LeBron should lead off the music video by playing online poker. That’s what you do when you’re on top of the world? What were the other choices they considered? LeBron playing Farmville? This has been bothering me for months. Not since “Dunk Contests are Bourgeois” has LeBron left me this completely confused.
Nate Smith is an Associate Editor. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and moved to NE Ohio in 2000. He adopted the Cavs in 2003 and graduated from Kent State in 2009 with a BA in English. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @oldseaminer on Twitter.
Tom Pestak is an Associate Editor. He's from the west side of Cleveland and lives and (mostly) dies by the success and (mostly) failures of his beloved teams. You can watch his fanaticism during Cavs games @tompestak.
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