Tag: James Jones

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.”


Strength in Numbers is not just marketing slogan, it’s philosophy for Warriors

2015 NBA Finals - Game One

OAKLAND — What happened in Game 1 of the NBA Finals may have seemed like a playoff anomaly to people not used to watching Golden State — their starters bogged down to start the game, so Warriors coach Steve Kerr went deep into his bench early and trusted them to turn things around.

It wasn’t. It’s how the Warriors have played all season.

“We know we didn’t play that well, it wasn’t us,” Warriors’ Brazilian reserve guard Leandro Barbosa said of the start to the game. “We were excited and nervous because we hadn’t been in that position before, it was everything new for us, so many people, it was a different feeling. Once we got our momentum, everything was very good.”

“It’s oftentimes our second group that gets the ball moving and gets our team going, not just (in Game 1), but we’ve had several games where that’s been the case,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “Sometimes our starters get a little bogged down, and we go to Shaun (Livingston) and L.B (Barbosa). and Andre (Iguodala). Last night Mo (Marreese Speights) with his return, and the game can change. Sometimes you just need a different look. And I do believe that there is a certain chemistry that comes with relying on a lot of people too.”

It’s easy to point to Andre Iguodala coming off the bench and guarding LeBron James and saying that is how the Warriors’ bench contributed, but it was much more than that.

In Game 1, Golden State had a lineup with at least three bench players on the court for 14 minutes and were a +4 in that time, with some key lineups doing very well. It was the Warriors bench that sparked a comeback from 14 down in the first half.

source: Getty Images

Contrast that with the Cavaliers, where David Blatt played six guys at least 33 minutes, giving limited duty to anyone else, such as James Jones (17 minutes) and Matthew Dellavedova (nine minutes).

“I think in overtime they got a little bit tired, their rotation is a little bit shorter, and our rotation is a little bit longer, I think that affected the game last night,” Barbosa said, while adding it’s not why he thought the Warriors won.

What Blatt did in Game 1 is what most every coach does in the playoffs, tightening his rotations — and it almost worked. Behind the brilliance of LeBron, the Cavaliers were an Iman Shupert putback at the buzzer away from stealing Game 1 on the road.

But that’s not what the Warriors do. Those “Strength in Numbers” T-shirts everyone wears is not just a marketing slogan, it’s a philosophy.

“I think every team is different,” Kerr said. “I thought about it as soon as I got the job looking at the roster, and, in fact, the first meeting of the season the night before training camp, we had a team dinner, and that was a big theme was strength in numbers. We’re going to try to use our depth throughout the regular season and in the playoffs, and that’s been a big part of our team.”

“I don’t think it should change,” Barbosa said of the rotations. “(Kerr) did that the whole season and the whole playoffs. I think there’s a reason for him to do that, we kind of know what we have to do when we’re out there, he’s got a lot of confidence in us.”

As he should — that bench is a key reason Golden State is up 1-0 in the NBA Finals. And that bench will get its shot in Game 2.

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.

Draymond Green at center strikes again

Draymond Green, James Jones

Steve Kerr waited and waited and waited. Then, the Warriors coach finally played his trump card:

Draymond Green at center.

The lethal lineup didn’t appear until the final possessions of regulation, but it outscored the Cavaliers 8-2 in overtime of Golden State’s Game 1 win.

The Warriors have now played 367 minutes with Green at center and four wings/guards – a combination of Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and Brandon Rush – behind him. The results:

  • Offensive rating: 119.0
  • Defensive rating: 93.2
  • Net rating: +25.8

Thursday, Green was flanked by Curry, Thompson, Iguodala and Barnes the entire time.

The Warriors first used the lineup on the final two possessions of regulation.

With five shooters on the court for its final shot, Golden State spread the floor and cleared the lane of any defenders. Curry drove for what appeared to be an open layup, but Kyrie Irving made an incredible block at the rim.

The Warriors stuck with the small group to defend Cleveland’s final possession, which was essentially a one-on-one battle between LeBron James and Iguodala.

The unit reappeared in overtime, and that’s when Golden State went on a run to pull away.

Green drives it all.

Watch how he fortifies the paint defensively and gets the ball going the other direction quickly:

This lineup thrives because Green strong enough defensively to allow the Warriors to play four skilled and fast players behind him. Plus, Green is comfortable running with the rest.

Initially, the Cavaliers had Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson in the game against this group, but they couldn’t capitalize on their size advantage. David Blatt tried to match up by going smaller, inserting James Jones for Mozgov, but that played into Golden State’s hands. That’s a major talent drop for the Cavaliers, and Jones isn’t quick enough to keep up, anyway.

Unlike many small lineups, the Warriors don’t sacrifice defense for offense. The Cavaliers’ only overtime points came on this LeBron pity bucket:


Kevin Pelton of ESPN argues the game didn’t swing because of Golden State’s small lineup, but because of Irving’s injury costing the Cavaliers during a crucial defensive possession.

On the most pivotal play during small ball – Harrison Barnes’ corner 3 (starts 40 seconds into the Green highlight video above) – the Warriors were playing 5-on-4 because Irving couldn’t move. Pelton argues Cleveland, with a foul to give, should have hacked the Warriors to stop the game and get out Irving. Barnes’ open triple was due more to that numbers advantage than a size mismatch.

And that’s true.

But why didn’t the Cavaliers make the correct call to foul?

I’d argue they were too busy scrambling to keep up with Golden State’s up-tempo attack to realize they should have fouled. They just got matched up defensively and had a moment to catch their breaths when Barnes hit the shot.

With Green at center, the Warriors go quickly and pressure opponents into quick decisions.

The Cavaliers, already in a bad spot due to their injury misfortune, couldn’t handle it. Maybe they would have fared better against small ball without that possession. Or maybe they would have fouled if Golden State weren’t pushing the pace.

But the Warriors weren’t waiting to find out.

They’re going to play Green at center and show no mercy.

Steve Kerr and David Blatt meet again, this time as rookie coaches in the NBA Finals

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
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When they first met last June (something set up by their shared agent), David Blatt and Steve Kerr found they had a common vision for how the game of basketball should be played — ball movement, spacing, player movement off the ball, playing uptempo. All of it designed to create just a little space, which is all the best players need to make the defense pay. The two became fast friends and got along so well that after a couple of meetings Kerr offered Blatt a seat next to him as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.

But before Blatt accepted, his phone rang. That call ultimately became owner Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers offering Blatt their head coaching job.

Now Blatt and Kerr meet again, but this time as opposing head coaches in the NBA Finals — the first time rookie head coaches have met in the NBA Finals since 1947, the first season the league existed.

However, the pairs’ paths from when they first met to this point couldn’t be much different.

Kerr, patient in taking over for Mark Jackson, got his budding superstar Stephen Curry to buy into all those offensive philosophies he had discussed with Blatt. With the help of lead assistant Alvin Gentry (who will take over as the head coach in New Orleans after these Finals), Kerr built a thoroughly modern NBA offense around Curry and a variety of versatile weapons. The Warriors had the second best offense in the NBA, won 67 games and have been the best team in the Association since the season tipped off. Kerr was a serious candidate for Coach of the Year.

Blatt’s path changed dramatically just a couple weeks after he took the job when LeBron James decided to return to Cleveland — this went from a rebuilding project to a team that could win the title instantly (especially with the addition of Kevin Love). Blatt’s offensive system had to bend to the weight of the NBA’s star system — and that process was not fast and not always pretty. Blatt took criticism at every turn (deserved or not), it seemed everything that went wrong was on him, everything good was on LeBron. The offense struggled some early until the Cavaliers went with something more conventional and comfortable for LeBron and Kyrie Irving. After LeBron James’ mid-season sabbatical, the Cavaliers’ became an offensive force with those conventional looks. From the All-Star Game through the end of the season, the Cavs had the third best offense in the NBA scoring 108.9 points per 100 possessions (trailing only the Spurs and Warriors).

Both teams are in the Finals because of their defense. Again the Warriors have been phenomenal on that end all season. Meanwhile the Cavaliers have started to finally peak on that end in the playoffs (and especially since Tristan Thompson replaced the injured Kevin Love).

What will be most interesting these playoffs is how the two coaches — the two friends — will probe and test those defenses.

Kerr will use the depth and versatility of his offense to find weaknesses in that Cavalier defense. One matchup to watch early is whomever Kyrie Irving is guarding — Irving is not 100 percent, and there is nowhere to hide a player defensively against the Warriors. If he starts out on Stephen Curry, well, Curry will test him both off the dribble and keeping up with him off the ball. Same with Klay Thompson. Maybe the best bet is to hide Irving on Harrison Barnes, but he is another guy who moves incredibly well off the ball, and one who has the size and strength to score on Irving inside.

Golden State also is a team that makes opponents pay for ball watching — and key Cavaliers will do that. Specifically J.R. Smith and LeBron, both of whom could end up trying to track Klay Thompson at times — lose him and the result will be three Warriors points.

Finally, in the regular season the Cavaliers defense — even after the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert — struggled to move laterally well if the ball switched sides quickly. Good passing would lead to good shots against Cleveland. However, no team has exploited that in the postseason — the Celtics and Bulls were not really built to do so, and the Hawks team that shared the ball to 60 wins didn’t show up for the postseason. Golden State will be a real test of how far Cavaliers defense has come.

On the other sideline, Blatt’s European roots have shown at times in these playoffs, both in good and bad ways.

The most talked about instance led to criticism. In Europe it is common on key late-game possessions to have your best passer — even if it’s your best player — take the ball out of bounds, finding the open man. With the score tied 84-84 in Game 4 against Chicago, and just 1.1 seconds on the clock, Blatt called for LeBron to take the ball out of bounds. LeBron overruled him. LeBron called his own number, which ended up being a step-back corner three to win it for the Cavaliers. After the game, it was LeBron who told the media how that play came to be, reinforcing the idea in the minds of some that he was the real guy in charge. He may well be.

But Blatt has also made decisions — ones influenced by his European roots — that have worked brilliantly for Atlanta. Because there is no real star system in Europe coaches will simply go with the player they think is best, regardless of contract, which is how James Jones has been on the court and playing well instead of guys like Mike Miller in the postseason.

Blatt also has had strong defensive game plans. He looked at a star-less Atlanta team — one that had shot the three ball well most of the season but was not the same by the time of the Eastern Conference Finals — and decided to dare Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and basically any Hawk not named Kyle Korver to beat them from three. The Cavaliers went under picks and stayed back. The January Hawks would have carved up that defensive strategy, but these were not the same Hawks. They couldn’t take advantage.

Blatt will need a different defensive strategy this round (I don’t recommend going under picks against Curry), but he has his team peaking at the right time. And he has LeBron’s endorsement (at least publicly). Kerr’s advantage is he has more pieces on the chess board, more and more versatile players he can use to find matchups that work — and he has done that with adjustments each round that the opposing coach simply could not counter.

However the series ends, Blatt and Kerr will hug it out as friends. That hasn’t changed since they first met last June. It’s just everything else since then that has been different.