four point play….
1. I recently started a gig in a small town near(ish) Leipzig, Germany. Really, this town is about two hours from everywhere, deep in the heart of what used to be East Germany.
Rehearsals began on a Wednesday. Thankfully, I wasn’t called for the Saturday rehearsal, so I took that opportunity to head back to my home in Berlin for the weekend.
My friend joked about how sad I had been to leave her and Berlin for the six week rehearsal period before coming back home only hours later. For her, the two days seemed a few hours. For me, those two days were the longest three months of my life.
The job is fine. The colleagues are lovely. The town is simply dull. Toss in a lack of functioning wifi, and the ole’ hour glass was stuck on pause.
Some guy named Al talked about the relativity of time a while back. I don’t remember the specifics, but basically, not only do we not experience time in the same way at, well, all times, but time itself isn’t an absolute.
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity frequently comes to mind when watching LeBron James play basketball. His mastery is a less violent, albeit similarly destructive version of Sherlock Holmes in a prize fight.
It’s not only that LeBron knows the opponents’ set plays. That’s cool, but ultimately isn’t really a big deal. Any bright kid could learn a bunch of playbooks by heart. No, it’s that James uses that knowledge to manipulate and dictate the opponents’ action. In his real time.
He tosses the proverbial towel to distract high-level athletes with one action before pouncing on the ultimate goal. LeBron reads tendencies and angles like most of us read children’s books. Ya know, with funny voices and general glee.
Yes, for LeBron James, the game hasn’t just “slowed down” like it does for most veterans. The game is essentially his on demand, paused, sped up, or reversed, seemingly according to his will.
2. With smart players around him, LeBron is able to unlock his full arsenal. Zach Lowe did a great piece on the elegant freestyle between Kyle Korver and Kevin Love.
Lowe goes into detail over the things we have talked about at length here the C:tB. The Korver/Love action is essentially unstoppable against any defense that doesn’t feature two players who can both chase Korver and Love around ball screens, and also bang with Love in the post in switch action.
Additionally that defense is tasked with playing smart weakside defense against good to great shooters and cutters in J.R. Smith and George Hill.
And of course, the defense must have an additional guy who can pretend to hang with LeBron in one-on-one situations. It’s easy to look at the Indiana series and conclude that they must have had that combination of guys.
It’s true that Thaddeus Young abused a slightly injured Kevin Love and that Domantas Sabonis and Bojan Bogdanovic defended The King surprisingly well in isolation situations.
Still, the Cavs hadn’t really unlocked their best unit at that point with Love’s thumb injury and Hill’s back spasms. When Hill came back against the Pacers, his Pick and Roll game with Love and Bron put to rest any thoughts of a series upset.
In the Raptors series, Hill’s off-ball shooting and defensive presence were just as crucial to the Cavalier’s success as his underrated Pick and Roll game.
At full strength, this Cavs team is only now finding its flow. It’s hard to remember that Kevin Love and George Hill really haven’t played together much this season. Love was out with his broken hand when Koby Altman saved the season.
The Cavs current starting unit has already played more minutes together in the playoffs than they did in all of the regular season. And that’s with Hill missing about three games of the Pacers series.
Pet play action from this unit:
-Hill/Love PnR on the left side of the floor with LeBron threatening at the top of the arc.
-Hill/Bron PnR on the left side with Love ready to drill.
-LeBron/Korver high PnR to get switch or three.
-LeBron reigning post switch in the middle of the floor with the Kevin/Kyle ballet on the left side and Hill and JR ready to fire from the right wing and corner.
None of that requires a real play call. Each situation can happen on the fly with every player recognizing how to actively dictate a defensive switch to gain an advantage.
Love and LeBron’s post game unlocks much of the success. Few guys outside of Draymond Green are able to guard face up, chase and recover, and sturdily defend the post.
With Love’s invigorated post touch and LeBron’s dominance at all levels, this all shooting, all IQ lineup, is not going to be stopped. It will have to be outscored.
3. Awesome. What happens when Ty Lue has to go to the bench?
For the first time in weeks, I don’t have to beg Coach Lue to put in Cedi Osman! He did it! Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a Santa Clause. Replacing Rodney Hood with Cedi Osman was a great move, if a little disappointing. Obviously, I’m for the Cedi part of the equation, but it is rather discouraging to see Rodney Hood disintegrate in front of our eyes.
His reported refusal to take the floor in garbage time of Game 4 wasn’t particularly encouraging, but was probably made into a far bigger deal than it warranted. Clearly, his teammates’ laughter upon receiving his apology indicates their level of outrage.
At this point, Hood’s defense has been consistently poor enough for me to contentedly drop him from the rotation. The Cavs have enough guys who can get hot from deep. They don’t have defensive possessions to waste.
Cedi Osman is the better choice going forward. If Lue were to switch up the lineup enough to replace Clarkson’s minutes with some mild Hood burn, I’d be fine with that. Jordan has been at least as detrimental to the teams efficacy as Hood.
4. Who will be in the rotation, whether we like it or not, are Jeff Green and Tristan Thompson. With the Celtics’ size on the wing, it does make sense to give Green a chance to continue his hot shooting and mostly ok work on the other end. Still, his defense is prone to incredible lapses.
It could be argued that Korver should have dropped with Anunoby on the wing. Except, clearly Korver was Miles’s primary defender off the free throw as Korver saw Green was back in time, got into position to pick up Miles slightly past half-court assuming Green was going to claim Anunoby as he was assigned. Nope.
Green gets burned on this kind of stuff too frequently. It doesn’t matter. At this point, we know Lue thinks Green is worthy of big minutes off the bench. Fine. I’ll deal.
As far as Tristan Thompson is concerned, I’m ALL-IN on Tristan playing big minutes this series for one reason and one reason only.
He owns Al Horford. TT owned him when Horford was in Atlanta. He owned him last year. Much of the reason it is hard for Cavs fans to believe in the national media opinion that Al Horford is a great player stems from the fact he is incapable of handling Tristan Thompson.
It will be very interesting to see how Brad Stevens works his rotation against the Cavs. Last year, Stevens mostly used Al Horford on Kevin Love. It allowed TT run wild against the Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson.
On the other end, Horford has no speed advantage against Tristan, short circuiting Horford’s supreme short roll game.
Aron Baynes has been fantastic for the Celtics this postseason. He has shot the ball well from the outside and is a brick wall in the paint.
That being said, starting Baynes is death against Love at center. Baynes is an absolute force, but Stevens can’t afford to put Horford on LeBron and isn’t dumb enough to expect Baynes to chase J.R. Smith.
I’d expect Stevens to go to his small lineup starting Marcus Smart or Semi Ojeleye and playing Marcus Morris heavy minutes off the bench.
There is a chance that Stevens doesn’t even go to Baynes in this series, despite the big Aussie’s success. There really isn’t a place for him to hide against the Cavs.
In that case, Tristan’s bulk might not be as necessary if Love is prominently matched up against Horford. Larry Nance is probably the better matchup to guard Marcus Morris.
See, I’ve already talked myself out of playing Tristan again. In all likelihood, we will see all versions. Stevens isn’t one to sit on an ineffective lineup. Considering how dangerous the Cavs’ starters are, Stevens is going to have quite the challenge.
I say Cavs in six. Time will tell.