Cavs Get Gassed While Warriors Go Past

click to enlarge Precisely WHO is Draymond Green calling a "Bitch"?
Precisely WHO is Draymond Green calling a "Bitch"?
After a great first half of basketball, the Cavaliers slid into old bad habits as the second half turned into a botched bank robbery. Suddenly we’re tied to a chair, our mouth duct-taped, blood from a head wound dripping in our eye while a maniac with a stiletto dances around.

It could’ve been Michael Madsen or maybe Amin Elhassan, it’s hard to say, there was a lot of blood. Over the radio, they’re playing “Stuck in the Middle With Lue,” as the Cavaliers championship dreams were Van Goghed.

You could round up the Usual Suspects – bad transition defense, unimaginative ISO offense – and probably hang the rap on them or Keyser Soze, but it's a 108-97 loss anyway you cut it. It puts the Cavs behind 3 games to one in the best-of-seven series, meaning every game's for stave off elimination from here on out.

All the middle of the floor action that was so successful in Game 3 seemed to disappear like multinationals' tax bills. LeBron on the elbow? Middle of the floor screens and horns action? None of these schemes reappeared in any substantial form, as the team reverted back to the same kind of isolation breakdowns that proved ineffective the first two games.

Similarly, Head Coach Tyronn Lue’s rotations were free-form as Kramer's hair. Lue attempted to match the Warriors small lineups and in the process proceeded to run his squad into the ground. Irving, Smith and James all played the entire second half, while all the Warriors starters but Draymond Green got at least four minutes rest, and he got three. LeBron player 45 and a half minutes, Smith and Irving over 43.

While it’s hardly definitive, we feel the numerous mental and play breakdowns plaguing them in the fourth quarter might be due to tired players making poor or lazy decisions. (We’ll run them down later.)

There were several LeBron three-pointers (1-5) there were questionable to say the least, and the steady diet of one-on-one attacks contributed to the team’s transition issues, leaving the floor unbalanced. Rebounding also fell off.

Over the games last 18 minutes they were outrebounded 22-14, went 0-7 from 3s and 4-10 from the line and were outscored 44-28 despite fact that Warriors shot 37%. That’s what happens when you get SEVEN more shots or a quarter more than the Cavs doing that stretch (13-35 vs. 12-28).

Whether it was failing to get in Jefferson in to handle Livingston in the fourth allowing him to sink two baskets over the significantly smaller Irving during a 14-3 run that blew open the game.

There was a three James failed to adequately contest, a transition free throw line jumper by Iguodala where James just kept retreating, and finally a drive by Thompson right at James that he didn’t contest, then didn’t box Iguodala, who went over him to a rebound that he threw out to Harrison Barnes for three. The sequence is enough to make you throw objects, so don’t watch until you have your foam-wear plates in hand.

These are things we already knew about the Warriors. They get most of their damaging points in transition, and they score in bunches. If you lose your focus for a moment, you’re a fatality, like driving in Mexico.

It was not a good omen when after taking an eight-point lead in the third quarter, during the second half of the quarter they reverted to ISO drives that sucked any rhythm and continuity right out of the offense. A couple long rebounds, an uncalled foul and an illegal screen later and the Warriors have erased an 8-point lead.

In the second half, Irving and James took 33 of the team’s 38 shots and for the game had 198 of the team’s touches to 166 for their mates. On the other side of the court, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had 177 touches their mates 212. We aren’t expecting the Cavs to have as prolific ball movement as the Warriors but when they don’t have any; it makes them easier to defend than jaywalking.

“Our offense did stall a little bit in the fourth quarter,” said James, failing to acknowledge that the 22 point third quarter was hardly stellar. “We played a little too much random, trying to dribble drive and get guys look, and then we started settling a little bit for the three-point shot when we kind of got down.”

We feel that Lue bears significant responsibility for overworking his stars, failing to emphasize the ball movement that helped free Smith for 20 points in Game 3, and for making a handful of matchup mistakes (such as leaving Irving on Livingston, or playing the nearly useless Channing Frye down the stretch over Thompson), let alone failing to make the adjustments or perhaps adhere to the successful schematic adjustments of the prior game.

“I don’t think we made the right plays at the right time at times and we just didn’t make shots,” said Lue. The kind of thing that makes you feel he has a real good idea what worked and what didn’t, right?

Lue went on to explain that when the Warriors went to the bench, he stuck with his starters, who were outhustled badly in the aforementioned 14-3 run.

“I thought if we could keep our starter in for a few minutes, we could kind of make a run and then get guys out slowly,” Lue said. “But they were able to go on the run.”

Meanwhile Lue never got his starters out, and they had nothing left down the stretch to mount a comeback. Advantage Steve Kerr. At least when Blatt stuck doggedly with his starters it was because he had no choice.

We’re not trying to start anything, but much of the run happened with Love on the floor, and we certainly weren’t impressed with his rebounding (whiffing in boxing out Anderson Varejao three times) during this segment (in the 14-3 4th quarter run) which ended with Shumpert and LeBron getting unnecessarily tangled, giving Curry an easy reverse layup.

The Game

The Cavaliers played a fine first half despite a lull in the second quarter. They had balanced scoring with Smith and Thompson both adding 10, and James and Love each with 7 behind team leader Kyrie with 17. They had more assists (10-9) less turnovers (4 to 5) more rebounds (21-18) more free throw attempts (16-15), and a better shooting percentage (47%-43%).

We’ve heard some complain that LeBron should’ve taken over earlier but we’re satisfied with the six (counting the technical foul FT shot to start the second half) point halftime lead. If the team hadn’t abandoned the things that made them successful, we believe we’d be offering a far different post-mortem.

Rather than play from the middle and the elbow, the Cavs reverted to their sided PnR plays which just aren’t as effective against quick defenders like the Warriors have.

On the below play LeBron drives, collapses lane and dishes to the boundary, but the rotations are quick enough not to yield anything more than Richard Jefferson attacking Draymond Green on a closeout, not a super great option, indeed, next time they ran it on the other side, Green stole the ball form Jefferson.

If this is what you’re working for, then maybe you should find another line of work.

There were silly transition errors. In the above play Kyrie for some reasons is running baseline as the ball comes off the rim, opening up a Warrior fastbreak because he’s unbalanced the floor. Even though it looks like the Cavs have guys back, the bigs don’t pick up Curry spotting up for the wide-open three.

Later they would screen Steph Curry with Klay Thompson. Way, way out just across halfcourt. We doubt they really want to contest this far from the basket, as it allows Thompson to sink an uncontested three. It seems something the team should be better prepared to defend.
Another Thompson three in the third would come off an illegal screen by Andrew Bogut who grabbed Kyrie Irving’s arm as he came over the pick, in clear view of Danny Crawford, who calls nothing.
This was hardly the only one. Mike Callahan hit the trifecta. He tripped Iman Shumpert, resulting in a turnover, failed to correctly call the play where Iguodala launched the ball out-of-bounds directly in front of him, and then on a Kyrie drive stopped on the wing about 10 feet up the baseline to watch the play. No wonder he didn’t call a foul he had a terrible view. (As a onetime ref we also know they aren’t supposed to stop there, but continue under the basket, to get the better view.)

But it did seem like the refs were bad both ways; the Cavs may have gotten the worse of it since they drove more often, but their problems were far deeper than the referees. Teams don’t win that have 5 second half assists against 7 turnovers.

Re-watching the second half, the slide into ISO ball began slowly. It essentially starts, we’d say, with the realization that Kevin Love sets some lousy screens, making it very hard to get open off them.

Tristan Thompson sets better screens but missed two free throws in the fourth and five in the game. This might’ve spooked Lue, leading him to limit Thompson to five fourth quarter minutes. (Frye played the final four and change but did little other than give Klay Thompson an open three.)

However, Love was not good at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth, helping cause some of the defensive issues, as on this botched switch with J.R. Smith. He hustled but was out of position and outrebounded on several occasions as he failed to box out.
When the Cavs got the lead in the third there were a number of bad shots, as though they relaxed, such as this 3 from LeBron when it appears he has RJ under the hoop.
“We played hard. Some defensive breakdowns gave Steph and Klay open shots,” Lue said. “I thought we competed. I just thought we made some defensive mistakes that cost us. And every time we made a mistake they made us pay.”

One of the big differences beside the middle of the floor schemes was the speed with which the team attacked. The Cavaliers tendency to push the ball fell (probably because they were tired) and they wound up shooting late in the clock.

Over the four games with Golden State, the Cavs have taken 34 shots in the final 4 seconds or less of the clock, approximately 10%. In the Game 3 win they took just 5; last night they took 15 (and made 4) – that was almost 20% of their shots.

After getting 21 deflections in Game 3 they dropped to 11 last night, trailing the Warriors 13. The Warriors also hit their open shots. Where the team shot 39% on uncontested jumpers in Game 3, that jumped up to 49% in Game 4.

To us, it looked like they had enough to battle for 40 minutes. Too bad the game's 48 minutes long.

Final Analysis

We would’ve loved to have gone into a bit more depth but it was pretty straightforward what happened – the ball and people movement died, and like anything without oxygen, the offense died shortly thereafter. As the offense flailed, Wine and Gold transition defense faltered and the rebounding turned horrific, eliminating any opportunity they had to stage a comeback.

Irving and James produced pretty efficient games offensively, but we wonder how often they can continue to convert heavily contested shots around the rim and if at some point it might not be wiser to run a few more sets so Golden State’s job isn’t so simplified. They pretty much knew every play was coming to the rim, and that didn’t prove to be so hard to stop, with a little help from swallowed whistles.

Mostly we’re disappointed in Tyronn Lue. This team had an opportunity to put the Warriors on their heels. They lost it because Lue didn’t trust his bench, couldn’t/didn’t get his team to run some offense for LONG stretches of the last 18 minutes, and failed to address matchup issues he knew existed in a game that might’ve come down to a basket or two.

We aren’t giving LeBron (7 turnovers, poor decisionmaking) a pass. Or the poor free throw shooting (15-26, 58%). Iman Shumpert was a raging tire fire during most of the game, squelching or fumbling away a half-dozen possessions with his poor shooting and dribbling. His defense has been pretty mediocre too as he gets caught on screens like he his uni’s coated in stickum. Love had good moments (first half) and bad (second half).

Ultimately it’s about putting your players in a position to succeed and Lue failed them by not providing the rest or support they needed. He made a decision about keeping his starters in based on some wishful thinking rather than trusting the bench and it bit him in the ass.

Of course what do you expect after he pretty much killed the bench rotations' continuity by moving RJ out of the lineup, and then limiting their second half minutes dramatically, making it that much harder to get in rhythm.

At least last year’s team had a good excuse for being outscored by double-digits in the last 18 minutes of Games 4-6. The only answer is for the Cavaliers to win the next three. While putatively possible – the Warriors just did it to the Thunder, two of their three were at home, not the reverse, which the Cavs face.

Perhaps LeBron James will bring one of those epic performances of his past back to the spotlight. It will take nothing less to win Game 5 Monday in Oakland. However, there hasn’t been a whole lot of indication that James can take over a game like he once did, and that drive and dish offense doesn’t do shit against the Warriors. Why they persist in running it when it’s repeatedly proved wanting against the Warriors is a question for a rookie coach and his headstrong superstar.

We’ll be in Oakland for Game Five. It will take nothing short of a miracle, but anyone waiting on a Cleveland Championship already knew this. We’ll be cataloging the action with live video, analysis and snark. You can follow along on Twitter @CRS_1ne and read our postgame Tuesday morning. You can hear us discussing the Cavs on Monday morning from Oakland on the Defend Cleveland Show with Michael James at 11 a.m. on WRUW, 91.1.
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