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.