Tag: Kevin Love

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors

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

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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.

PBT Extra: Will Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade be moving on?

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Four

The summertime NBA rumor season is here. Even if there are a few games left to play (just a little thing like the NBA Finals with LeBron James and Stephen Curry).

Kevin Love says he will stay in Cleveland, but does he mean it?

Are the Nets going to try and move Deron Williams and Joe Johnson?

Could the Dwyane Wade posturing with Miami lead to him skipping town?

Jenna Corrado and I get into all of it in this PBT Extra.

LeBron James: “This is probably the best I’ve been”

LeBron James, Mike Muscala

This has been one of the weirdest seasons of LeBron James’ career. All the hype surrounding his return to Cleveland initially seemed to be headed for disappointment, but after a two-week break in January, he looked as good as he ever has. Now, he’s led an injured, shorthanded Cavaliers team back to the Finals after a ridiculous performance in the Eastern Conference Finals. He nearly averaged a triple-double in Cleveland’s four-game sweep of Atlanta, putting up 30.1 points, 11 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game in the series. Going into the Finals matchup with the Warriors, James says he’s playing as well as he ever has.

From ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin:

“I think if you put it all together, yeah,” James said. “If you put everything together as far as my mind, my body, my game. If you put everything in one bottle, this is probably the best I’ve been.”

When you look at the way he’s been able to bring it so consistently, shouldering this big a responsibility with Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving’s health in question, there’s certainly a case to be made that this season is up there with James’ best. I’d still give that title to either his 2008-09 campaign with the Cavs or his 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons with the Heat. But if he leads this Cavs team to a championship against this Warriors team, this season might take the crown.

LeBron James sticks up for coach David Blatt. Again.

Atlanta Hawks v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Four

What else was he going to say?

With the NBA Finals starting in a few days, LeBron James doesn’t want his relationship with his coach to be a distracting headline, so no matter how he really feels he’s going to stick up for his coach. And give him very conspicuously give him a hug on the sidelines late in the Game 4 sweep of Atlanta.

Monday at media availability, LeBron was again complimenting and sticking up for his coach, as reported by James Herbert of CBSSports.com’s Eye on Basketball.

“Well, any time someone is scrutinized really for nothing, I’m able to relate,” James said. “For him in his instance, obviously, we knew there were a lot of people that were going to say things that didn’t mean much, but that’s just what they have to do. That’s what helps sales.

“People love reading the negative things more than the positive things, and I think he’s handled the situation unbelievably,” he continued. “Being a rookie coach in the NBA and being able to take this team to the Finals, I think he’s done a hell of a job.”

LeBron is polished and incredibly conscious of what he says to the media — and through all the praise he has twice thrown his coach under the bus in these playoffs. When LeBron called his own number and changed the play call against the Bulls, it was LeBron who brought that up and told the media. He could have said nothing and nobody would have known outside the locker room, but he chose to make that statement. The same way he chose to question the defensive matchups Blatt had assigned earlier in the playoffs.

Two points need to be made here.

First, if LeBron wants David Blatt gone he will be gone — and people close to the Cavaliers are not sure what LeBron wants to that end.

Second, Blatt has done a good job and deserves to stay on. When you think about the role players stepping up on this team with Kevin Love out and Kyrie Irving down, some of that credit goes to Blatt for getting them in the right situation. It was Blatt who had the guts to go with James Jones over more expensive players these playoffs (hello Mike Miller!) and it has worked out. It was Blatt and the Cavs defensive schemes that dared cold Hawks shooters (Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and so on) to beat them from three, daring Atlanta to replicate their regular season success under more pressure.

Blatt deserves to stay on. Whether he will or not, LeBron will do nothing but praise him during the Finals.


Cavaliers rate well when adjusting for playoff rotations. Warriors rate better

Golden State Warriors v Cleveland Cavaliers
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This is the NBA Finals matchup we wanted all along.

Or close, at least.

It would have been a little better with a healthy Kevin Love and no injury questions about Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson.

But the teams are right.

The Warriors have ranked No. 1 when adjusting to playoff rotation at every step. The Cavaliers started second in the league (and way atop the Eastern Conference), dipped after Love’s injury and recovered to show their chops without him.

A reminder how these adjusted rankings are calculated:

In an attempt to get better data, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only the lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s post-season rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It doesn’t account for opponent or weigh lineups based on how often they’ll be used in the postseason, and it’s impossible to precisely predict a team’s playoff rotation.

Here are the NBA Finalists’ ratings – actual regular-season to projected based on expected rotations:

1. Golden State Warriors

Projected rotation: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 114.0
  • Defensive rating: 101.3 to 97.1
  • Net rating: +10.4 to +16.9

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

Projected rotation: Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 114.8
  • Defensive rating: 106.9 to 102.5
  • Net rating: +4.8 to +12.3


  • The big question is injuries. I included Klay Thompson (who reportedly expects to play Game 1) and Kyrie Irving (whom David Blatt said hasn’t looked like himself in practice) in their teams’ rotations.
  • The Warriors rate a little worse without Thompson with an offensive rating/defensive rating/net rating of 109.9/96.0/+13.9 in 429 minutes. The drop is entirely on offense, as the defense rates slightly better.
  • The Cavaliers actually rate better overall – the gains coming entirely on defense – without Irving (114.1/93.7/+20.4 in 405 minutes). It’s easy to see how Cleveland fares better defensively without Irving, and in that limited sample, the offense holds up behind heavy usage from LeBron. That’s probably unsustainable over the long run against Golden State. Irving is key to the Cavaliers not over-taxing LeBron.
  • The Cavaliers appear to have a small offensive advantage, the Warriors a significant defensive advantage.
  • Golden State has used a nine-man rotation for most of the playoffs, Cleveland eight. If the Warriors are challenged, they can probably shorten their rotation and improve.