The Cavaliers scored just six points on 12 possessions – an offensive rating of 50.0 – when LeBron James rested during Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
And that was with Kyrie Irving.
Irving played all seven LeBron sat, scoring four of Cleveland’s six points and assisting the other basket. As you might have heard, Irving is out for the rest of the series.
What will the Cavaliers do now when LeBron is on the bench?
Let’s start with reviewing what happened in Game 1.
Here are Cleveland’s three buckets without LeBron, two by Irving and one by Timofey Mozgov from Irving:
Otherwise, the possessions featured nine missed shots, no offensive rebounds, no trips to the free-throw line and no turnovers. Only one of those nine shots – a missed Mozgov layup – came within 15 feet. The Cavaliers just stagnated and settled for jumpers.
Irving generated the only looks Cleveland got going toward the basket without LeBron.
This possession, in which Irving didn’t touch the ball, could preview what we’ll see in Game 2:
So what should the Cavaliers do with LeBron off the court?
The simplest answer if for him never to rest. Can LeBron play 48 minutes per game? He might have to do it only three more nights.
If that proves unrealistic, Cleveland shouldn’t settle for running its base offense through Matthew Dellavedova or Iman Shumpert. That’s unlikely to yield positive enough results.
- Maximize LeBron’s minutes. In basic terms, it’s up to LeBron to determine how much he can handle. But David Blatt could help by intentionally fouling Andre Iguodala and/or Andrew Bogut. Iguodala (59.6 percent free-throwing shooting this season, 71.7 percent for his career) and Bogut (52.4, 56.1) probably aren’t bad enough free-throw shooters to validate the strategy in a vacuum, but there are benefits. It could keep LeBron on the court while resting during defensive possessions spent watching the Warriors shoot freebies. Hack-a-Shaq limits running opportunities, but the Cavaliers don’t push the ball much, anyway.
- Focus on defense. If the Cavaliers aren’t going to score anyway, they might as well do their best to ensure the Warriors score as little as possible while LeBron rests. Maybe that means a rotation role for Shawn Marion.
- Slow the pace. If the Cavs bleed the shot clock while LeBron sits – something they naturally did in Game 1, anyway – they can limit the number of possessions LeBron misses. That gives Golden State fewer opportunities to use this time to pull away.
- Bomb 3-pointers. Cleveland can become a true live-by-the-3, die-by-the-3 team. Let J.R. Smith run wild. If you’re going to take a bad shot, might as well take one worth an extra point if it goes in.
- Crash the offensive glass. The Cavaliers’ deadly offensive-rebounding combination, Mozgov and Tristan Thompson, didn’t share the court without LeBron in Game 1. But Cleveland could turn to the duo in Game 2. There will likely be plenty of offensive-rebounding opportunities. However, crashing the offensive glass would run counter to getting back on defense. Plus, the Warriors’ defensive game plan against LeBron is more conducive to offensive-rebounding than Golden State’s tamer defense when he sits.
Without Irving, the Cavaliers need to increase variance, period.
Those seemingly doomed minutes with LeBron on the bench would be a great place to start.