Tag: J.R. Smith

Miami Heat v Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA Finals Game 2 Preview: Five things to expect


OAKLAND — The NBA Finals have a very different feel about them since Kyrie Irving went down in overtime of Game 1 with what was a fractured kneecap.

For 50 minutes Thursday night it looked like we were in for an excellent series, but now the Cavaliers will have to scramble to replace their second best player and the only guy they trusted to create shots outside LeBron James. On paper, it’s difficult to see how they do that in a way the Warriors don’t crush.

But as the cliche goes, the games are not played on paper. LeBron is the best player in the world and is on a mission to bring a title to Cleveland. J.R. Smith can get hot. A lot of things can happen that would again change the feel of this series.

Rather than what might be, here are five things I think will happen in Game 2.

1) Expect the Warriors to start the game on a run. The Warriors to a man do not think they played well at all in Game 1. They are not so much making adjustments for Game 2 as much as just trying to execute better what they wanted to do the first time around. That game saw them admittedly come out a little nervous and shoot 4-of-18 to open the contest, which will not happen this time. Look for the Warriors to start the game on a run, something even the Cavaliers’ Iman Shumpert said they expect. The Cavs just want to not turn the ball over to fuel the run, and withstand it, then climb back.

Also, expect the Warriors to try and play faster.

“I think we can still ramp it up a little bit more, get out in transition a little bit more,” Draymond Green said. “But LeBron, he controls the pace on offense, we’ve just got to make sure we’re ready to push the ball off a make or a miss. I still think we can get more into our pace.”

2) Matthew Dellavedova, it’s time for your closeup. With Irving out, Dellavedova will get put into the starting lineup for Cleveland. He was forced into a starting role against the Hawks and played well, particularly on defense where he had an average defender distance of 3.97 feet to his shooter — the best of any non-center in the Conference Finals (minimum of 50 shot attempts). But it’s one thing to do that against Jeff Teague, another to do it against Stephen Curry.

3) LeBron the distributor. LeBron attacked a lot in the last game in isolation, often trying to back different defenders down into the post. A few times the Warriors sent Andrew Bogut and others to double team and help out, but for the most part the Warriors defenders on the weak side stayed home and Golden State took their chances one-on-one with LeBron. He put up 44 points but didn’t get his teammates involved and going — the Warriors can live with that. The Cavs can’t.

“I’ve got to do a better job as well getting my other guys involved,” LeBron said. “I’m okay with getting big numbers and things of that nature, but I feel much better when I’m able to get my guys in rhythm and get them guys some more looks.

“So I think one of the things is trying to stay at home on a lot of my shooters. They didn’t give James Jones as much air space. J.R. got a couple good looks, it just didn’t go down.”

The Cavaliers on the weak side didn’t cut or flash into the lane in Game 1 but Cavs players said that was by design — they didn’t want to bring help defenders closer to LeBron, they wanted to space the floor. Expect that to change a little in Game 2.

“We’ve just got to continue to have movement on the back side, continue to add more cuts to make sure, one, that they can’t load up on LeBron and, two, that he has outlets just in case people are caught sleeping,” Shumpert said.

4) Be ready for some small ball. Golden State has had success all playoffs going small, playing Draymond Green at the five, but in Game 1 coach Steve Kerr sat on that lineup and didn’t break it out until overtime — when the Warriors went on a run and sealed the victory.

When Kyrie and Kevin Love have been out, the Cavaliers have had success going small with a lineup of Dellavedova, J.R. Smith, Shumpert, LeBron and Tristan Thompson — in 50 minutes this postseason that lineup has outscored opponents by 26.2 points per 100 possessions.

The Cavaliers are going to lean on this lineup some in Game 2. While it has worked against the Hawks and Bulls, the Warriors love it when teams try to play small and fast against them. Cavs GM David Griffin summed it up best, speaking about the good numbers they have had with Irving and Love out.

“From an analytics standpoint… it’s not a big sample size. I think you have to take a little bit of that with a grain of salt because it’s also about matchups and we were really fortunate the teams we played lent themselves to the style we were going to play. Golden State is a totally different animal. If you get to choose, you’ll always choose more talent. But I’m really grateful we’ve got the mentality we have.”

5) The Cavaliers don’t think this series is all but over. At their practice and team meeting Saturday the players were beat over the head with the numbers about how good the Cavaliers have been when Irving and Love are out. The players were reminded that a few years back Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals and the consensus was the Thunder would be back often after that and pick up multiple rings. Bottom line, they were told not to let up because Irving was out or they would pay a steep price. The players said they got the message.

“A lot of people are saying the series is over, but that’s not true,” Klay Thompson said. “This is a team that’s more than capable. They did beat the Atlanta Hawks twice without him, and that was the best team in the East. So you’ve got to respect what the other guys can do. Obviously, Kyrie’s a huge part of their team. He’s one of their best players. But you can’t let your guard down. They’ve still got guys who are more than capable of making plays.”

To a man the Cavaliers think they still can win, they have a history of success these playoffs without Irving in the lineup. They still have the best player on the planet, they still have an improved defense, and they could have won Game 1.

“You know, I said it’s going to be one of the most challenging seasons of my career from the beginning, and this just adds on to it,” LeBron said Saturday. “You know, we’re undermanned right now. But we’ve got guys in the locker room that are ready for the challenge, and we look forward to the challenge tomorrow night.”


Cavaliers’ second-most used lineup of playoffs should get more run in Game 2 of NBA Finals

Miami Heat v Cleveland Cavaliers

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.

With Irving out, three things to look for from Cavaliers in Game 2

Matthew Dellavedova

OAKLAND — Even before we had all learned Kyrie Irving was out for the rest of the playoffs, the Cavaliers were trying to sell that they’ve been in this position before.

“We’ve played games without Kevin (Love), without Kyrie (Irving),” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said to the media less than an hour before Irving’s fractured kneecap was revealed. “We know how we want to play when they’re not in there. From that standpoint, we can prepare.”

The truth is the Cavaliers have never been quite here before.

These Cavaliers have never been in the Finals before, let alone against a 67 win team that has the best backcourt in the NBA, plus rolls out a deep and effective bench every night.

The Cavaliers already had no margin for error in this series. Then they dropped a winnable Game 1 and in the process Kyrie Irving fractured his kneecap to the point it will require surgery.

1) More Matthew Dellavedova. He’s going to get the start in place of Kyrie Irving, where he will bring some pesky defense, but a lot less athleticism and scoring. The Cavs need Dellavedova to be brilliant.

“Well, you all saw he played terrifically,” Blatt said about Dellavedova in the previous series against the Hawks when he started three games due to Irving injuries. “Matty has been a rotation player for us the whole year. He stepped in and did a great job, and the team believes in him and we believe in him. If necessary, he has to play significant minutes again, he’ll be ready, and we’ll know how to play with him.”

“Just watch some film, see what they are doing at both ends, then be ready for whatever the team needs,” Delladedova said of his preparation.

2) Even more LeBron James. Just when you thought the offensive burden on LeBron couldn’t get any bigger…

LeBron put on a little show for the media Friday. The Cavaliers were not practicing but had media obligations, LeBron came out, had the media moved off one end of the court and took 20 minutes worth of shots. Not in private on a side court, in full view of everyone. He is now the only guy on that team who can be relied upon to create shots, and he’s going to have to do it efficiently for himself and others.

“When guys  myself, Kyrie, Mozzy (Timofey Mozgov)  you know, we did a good job of putting points on the board, and every addition that we had was big for us,” LeBron said. “We’ve got to do a better job, obviously, of getting guys involved.”

What the Cavaliers need is one crazy good J.R. Smith game. You know it’s coming.

3) Play Tristan Thompson at the five and bomb away from three. Going small and shooting threes against the Warriors is far from an ideal strategy — that’s how Golden State prefers to play. But the Cavaliers need to generate offense, and that has happened for them through much of the playoffs when they have played Thompson at the five with LeBron, James Jones, J.R. Smith, and a point guard. The Cavs don’t have many choices here, they need offense and they need to try some small ball, and then hope Smith gets hot.

The two lineups with Thompson at center and Dellavedova at the point were -11 in 10 minutes in Game 1. It didn’t work. But desperate times call for desperate measures and the Cavaliers are desperate.

If they’re not, they should be.

LeBron James: “You don’t let me have 40. I go and get 40.”

LeBron James

OAKLAND — LeBron James has always been a master of controlling the narrative. When you’re the most powerful person in the sport of basketball, any little public action will immediately change the conversation. That’s exactly what he did on Friday.

Thursday night, James missed a stepback jumper at the end of regulation of Game 1 of the Finals, which would have given the Cavs a road victory over the Warriors, and it’s still eating away at him. At the beginning of Cavs practice on Tuesday, he took an unusual step: before his media availability, he walked out onto the Oracle Arena floor and worked up a legitimate sweat, practicing the exact shot he missed to force an overtime. The missed shot and missed opportunity were clearly still eating away at him a day later.

“It’s not a great feeling, for sure,” James said. “I didn’t get much sleep last night.  You just play  your mind just plays with you so much throughout the course of the night.  Different plays, different scenarios, different points of the game where you could have made a play here, could have made a play there to help your team win. So the mind never lets you at ease.  So it’s always a tough 24 or 48 or whatever case, how many hours it is.  But at some point you get to the film room, which I’ve already started, and you start to prepare yourself mentally on what needs to be done going into Game 2.”

James couldn’t have done much more than he did in Game 1. He scored 44 points, a Finals career high. But that’s exactly what the Warriors wanted — if he scores that much and his teammates can’t get going, this banged-up Cavs roster is much more solvable than it is when he’s in distributor mode.

“You definitely take the 44 with not as many assists,” Golden State forward Harrison Barnes said on Friday. “As opposed to him getting 25 and 10 assists, and then J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Dellavedova, those guys having big games. So we’re forcing him to be a scorer. You kind of let him do that and try to limit everybody else.”

James took exception to the notion that any team was letting him score as a primary defensive option.

“First of all, you don’t let me have 40,” he said defiantly. “I go get 40.  It’s not like they’re just getting out of the way.  So those guys aren’t saying we’re okay with letting him have 40.  You don’t let me have 40; I’m making those shots.”

There are different kinds of LeBron James 40-point games, something the Warriors understand well. Sometimes he’s such a force of nature that the defense is helpless to contain him. Other times, he gets his points but has to take difficult shots. That’s what the Warriors forced him to do, and that’s why they were able to overcome the will of the greatest player in the world.

“There were some times when he played the defense perfectly,” Barnes said. “Got into the paint, the help was there, we contested a shot, and he makes a difficult shot. You have to live with those. And then there are other times when, OK, you got beat under a screen and he was too wide open and you let him get into his rhythm. You have to know the difference between, ‘he made a tough shot’ and ‘we could have made that shot tougher for him.'”

That’s how the Warriors are going to continue to play James, and he’s going to have to make them pay, especially with the news that Kyrie Irving is out for several months with a knee fracture. That’s why he was working on the exact shot he missed at the end on Thursday.

“When you take a shot and you miss you have so many different thoughts in your mind saying okay, I should have done this or I should have done that,” James said. “When you take a shot and you make it, there is really nothing else to think about.  But for me I got to a spot where I’m comfortable making the shot. Stepback going left, that’s a shot that I’m very capable of making obviously in rhythm, which I was.  It just didn’t go down for me.”

For the Cavs to not get swept, it will have to.

LeBron James couldn’t get to rim against Warriors defense in Game 1

Andre Iguodala, LeBron James

This was LeBron James’ easiest shot in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, a late layup conceded by the Warriors after they’d sewn up the win:

That was also his only shot within two feet.

LeBron was awesome in the Finals’ opening game, scoring 44 points. But Golden State made him work for it.

In the regular season and first three rounds of the playoffs, LeBron took 42% of his 2-pointers within two feet. Thursday, he attempted only one of his 30 2-pointers (3%) within two feet.

Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green took turns bodying LeBron. A big man – usually Andrew Bogut – usually shaded toward LeBron when the Cavaliers star neared the paint. The result: The Warriors prevented LeBron from getting all the way to the rim and made him work from the mid-range.

Here’s LeBron’s shot distribution in the regular season and playoffs entering the Finals (wine) and Game 1 (gold):


That late layup wasn’t LeBron’s only easy bucket. There were also these two:

But this was LeBron’s fourth-closest attempt:

Though not overwhelming difficult for LeBron, that’s not an easy shot. And every single one of his other 34 shots came from farther out.

Because the Warriors stayed home on Cleveland’s shooters, LeBron couldn’t just kick the ball out when he couldn’t get closer to the rim. Often, him shooting in isolation was the best option as plays unfolded.

LeBron’s jumper, which had been horrific of late, came around. So, that outcome didn’t devastate Cleveland.

But it was also far from ideal.

The Cavs scoring just 98.7 points per 100 possessions – only a slight tick better than Golden State’s league-leading regular-season defensive rating.

Maybe LeBron can just put his head down and bull his way to the rim a little more. He’s the NBA’s most powerful player. Plus, if he draws fouls, his job gets easier.

Maybe Timofey Mozgov, whose man often took a step or two toward LeBron, can do more. Mozgov doesn’t have the jumper to make the Warriors pay for ignoring him, but he could drift out to screen away from the ball on perimeter. Not only could that spring shooters like J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert (and Kyrie Irving if he’s healthy) to receive passes from a posting LeBron, it could draw a three-second violation on the Warriors. They got whistled for (a quick) one Thursday when Marreese Speights planted in the paint and kept his eyes on LeBron as Tristan Thompson remained near the 3-point arc.

On one hand, that strategy could hurt Cleveland’s offensive rebounding by taking a big away from the rim. On the other hand, Mozgov could still try darting into the paint as shots go up, and it’d be more difficult for the Warriors to find him and box him out. If that approach allows the Cavaliers to get more kickout 3s on LeBron post-ups, longer shots would give Mozgov more time to get inside.

Cleveland has options.

But the Warriors – powerful enough defensively to keep LeBron away from the rim – have forced an adjustment.