The Warriors have been wildly successful this season when using a small lineup that features Draymond Green at the five, surrounded by various combinations of guards and wings.
As it turns out, the same has been true for the Cavaliers, albeit in a smaller sample size.
With Kyrie Irving ruled out for the remainder of the postseason due to a knee injury, a silver lining for Cleveland around this darkest of clouds may be found in Matthew Dellavedova, who has played well as part of the team’s second-most used lineup in these playoffs — one that doesn’t feature Irving at all, but has dominated its opponents.
The Cavaliers have had to adjust on the fly this postseason, thanks to Kevin Love being lost in the first round due to injury, J.R. Smith missing two games in the second round due to a suspension, and Irving sitting out two games of the Eastern Conference Finals. Because of all that, Cleveland was forced to try out more lineups than expected, and one in particular has yielded a significant level of success.
The guys the Cavs have rolled out in these playoffs the most have been the members of their preferred starting lineup: Irving, LeBron James, Timofey Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert. Including Game 1 of the Finals, this group has played together a total of 105 postseason minutes, has a win-loss record of 7-3, and has outscored opponents by 8.2 points per 100 possessions.
The lineup that’s second on the team’s most-used list is a little less traditional.
When the Cavaliers have gone small with Thompson at center, surrounded by James, Shumpert, Dellavedova and J.R. Smith, they were undefeated in eight games before the Finals, and played 50 total minutes while outscoring their opponents by 26.2 points per 100 possessions.
With Irving out, this might be an option for Cleveland in longer stretches than it has been willing to experiment with to this point of the postseason. There’s (of course) the problem of how well the Warriors may be able to match up, and play their preferred style of uptempo basketball that leads to Green pushing the break, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson getting loose for open looks in transition.
But as we saw in Game 1, it’s difficult for the Cavaliers if LeBron has to try to drag his team to victory all by himself. Without Irving, he will have even less help in Game 2, and they’ll have to get a little bit desperate. The small lineup has proven to work in short bursts, and now seems like the perfect time to unleash it fully, just to see what havoc it may be able to bring.