four point play… special weekend edition
1. Kenny Smith might have been the only guy on TNT’s post game coverage that understood the Raptor’s primary problem. While Chuck and Shaq were busy either being disappointed in the Raptors’ players or marveling (properly) at the brilliance of LeBron, Kenny pointed out the main reason the Raptors are losing.
They have refused to double-team. While I totally agree that hard-trapping one of the greatest passers of all time is not a great plan, at some point, Dwane Casey has to recognize that allowing LeBron James to go one-on-one with space is not the recipe for success.
It’s one thing to trust your defenders to guard LeBron when he is surrounded by an traditional old school lineup. It’s another thing to put your defenders out on an island against the potential GOAT when he has four good to great shooters around him.
Not only did the King and Kevin Love have the opportunity go against over matched guys in the post, they had an absurd amount of real estate in which to operate. With Casey afraid to let his guys leave shooters, both Love and Bron had plenty of time and space to dribble into their post rhythm. As Kevin love explained, those were literally practice shots from LeBron and Love in Game 2.
Yes, doubling can cause a chain reaction leading to all sorts of horrible things. Guys like Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith can get hot and end the evening in a hurry. It’s not a great strategy. Unfortunately, for the Raptors, the “not great strategy” might be the only one.
2. The Cavs are doing what they couldn’t do against the Pacers for basic reasons. The Pacers don’t employ Jonas Valanciunas. Jalen Rose did a nice job of breaking down the slaughter of the talented young Lithuanian. (I’m shocked by the real basketball content from ESPN too),
Against the Pacers, another talented Lithuanian big man, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner were both able to hang with Love on the perimeter with more consistency. More importantly, Sabonis did a rather remarkable job of staying in front of LeBron.
Combine that with excellent ball pressure, and the Pacers at least gave themselves a chance. The Cavs also missed some open shots from their role players, but that brings us back to the point.
If you double, you put the onus on the Cavaliers’ role players to make shots. If they drop, you tip your cap. It’s better than giving LeBron James and Kevin Love practice shots.
As ridiculously difficult as those turnarounds seemed, they are shots that LeBron makes with regularity. Normally, he doesn’t get so much room in consecutive possessions that he can keep hoisting until he gets bored.
There is no contest from the primary defender, and the help defenders are all too far away busily adhering to Casey’s archaic gameplan. With space like that, LeBron is chillin in the gym.
Same for Kevin Love. I applaud the Cavs for realizing that the Raptors’ determination to shut down Kyle Korver on Korver/Love screen action was leaving Love open with a trailing JV, or leaving Love left with a mismatch on the block.
C.J. Miles is actually a decent post defender. He has been used in that capacity for the last few seasons even if the senile Hubie Brown doesn’t know it.
That being said, our old pal doesn’t have a chance against Kevin frickin Love. Thad Young is a supreme post defender and a tough matchup for Kevin. The Raptors don’t have anyone who can both stick with him on the block and chase him around the perimeter. When the Kyle Korver/Love screen action dictates a switch, even if the primary defender can check Love, the switched defender will need help.
The media think someone is washed anytime they have a mild injury or if they go against a troublesome matchup. Kevin had both. Now, he is liberated from Thad Young’s vice grip, and not so coincidentally, it seems like his skier’s thumb is feeling a bit better.
If I’m Dwane Casey, I do one of two things. Either I stay with my starting lineup and double Love and LeBron after one dribble, or I yank Jonas from the starting lineup for Pascal Siakam and hope he makes enough shots to survive. The Raptors are getting swept otherwise.
3. “But Ben! Why should you we do anything you say? You are the one who has said that Ty Lue is a bad coach, Jeff Green, Jordan Clarkson, and Tristan Thompson shouldn’t be in the rotation, and that the Sixers are going to mow through the Celtics!”
Fair points, dear reader.
Look: I’m thrilled that the Cavs are up 2-0. Lue went the veterans he trusts, and so far it has worked out.
It pleases me that Tristan Thompson finally got healthy and in shape enough to do a decent impersonation of his previous self. His rugged play did wonders to neutralize the physicality advantage the Pacers enjoyed. TT has done a great job in the very switch situations that he had struggled with all season. Great. I’m more than happy to be proven wrong.
Still, let’s not pretend all is hunky dory with the lineups. Jordan Clarkson is still bleeding points in his minutes on the floor. I audibly said “of course he hits these now” when he started drilling jumpers in garbage time.
Jordan isn’t a consistent shooter. He isn’t a long and effective defender. I still think Cedi should take his minutes. Basically, the only concern is whether the team has someone else who can bring up the ball when Hill and LeBron don’t. I get it. I’m just fine with the idea of J.R. shouldering that load. I’ll risk it.
The best playoff lineups feature either Hill or no point guard. Really, if Lue had so much faith in Clarkson’s ball-handling abilities, why did he attempt to play him exclusively with other ball-handlers? The reason is because Jordan can’t be trusted to handle without chucking.
Jeff Green has been playing out of his mind for the past week. As much as it pains me to say this, he probably should continue to play going forward. The Playoffs are all about matchups and if Green is given the correct matchups, he doesn’t kill team defense so consistently.
He also has been doing a silly thing like “trying”. His focus wavers more frequently than even J.R. In the playoffs, both have been locked in. J.R. is still a much smarter defender, but Green has been better than his usual.
In the past week, his hot shooting has made up for Green’s still occasional defensive mishaps. The defensive lapses have come less frequently and his shots have gone down more consistently. It’s a great combination, but one I still fear won’t last. It doesn’t really matter though. The Cavs just need good Jeff Green for two weeks in June.
4. Which brings us to the Finals question. Yes, I know the media need something to talk about. I realize they don’t cover the Cavaliers with the same intensity that we do here at C: TB.
But for the love of basketball, Brian Windhorst should know better. I get that he doesn’t “trust this team” etc…, but what about the last three seasons did he “trust” before the Cavs found their groove?
This is a completely different team! Only, it’s not now. Basically, Lue has gone back to the small crunch time lineup from last year with George Hill in place of Kyrie Irving and Green for Richard Jefferson.
If they stay big with the now non-comatosa Tristan Thompson, they are 4/5ths the same lineup. Hill has a completely different game than Kyrie, but in some ways, he makes Love and LeBron better. Hill has been brilliant as the primary ball-handler in the left wing Pick and Roll with either LeBron or Kevin. He is comfortable playing boringly effective ball.
He might not be able to do what Kyrie did one-on-one, but he is steady. His absence for much of the first round has curiously been overlooked by the media as relevant factor.
With Hill, Smith, Korver, Bron, and Love finishing games, I see no reason to question whether the Cavs are going to make the Finals.