Cavaliers at Wizards 11/21/14

Four things the Cleveland Cavaliers must do to get back in the NBA Finals

When the Golden State Warriors found themselves down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals, many had already written them out of the playoff picture. Things are a bit different now.

With the Golden State Warriors win on Sunday night, they now have a 2-0 lead in the NBA finals. They have outscored the Cleveland Cavaliers by a combined 48 points in the first two games. If the Cavs want to make this a competitive series, there are a few things they must address before game three tonight.

Bench Production

The production of the Warriors’ bench and the lack of production from the Cavaliers bench has been a big story in the first two games of the NBA finals.  In the first two games, the Cavs bench has been outscored 85-37 and a bench player has reached double figures only once for the Cavs while it has happened four times for the Warriors. However, bench players usually play better at home, so a change of scenery may be all that is necessary for the Cavaliers bench to produce. If the bench does not improve when the series moves to Cleveland, then the burden on the starters will be too large for this to be a competitive series.

Shot Selection

The Warriors base their offense around ball movement and looking for the open shooter. Through the first two games of the NBA Finals this strategy has worked and they are shooting above 50 percent from the field and above 40 percent from three. For the Cavaliers, good shots have been harder to come by. After shooting only 38 percent in game one, the Cavs shot only 35 percent in game two. The Cavs have made half as many threes as the Warriors and need to make up this difference by getting to the lane and to the foul line. Despite leading the playoffs in offensive efficiency with 112.3, the Cavs have struggled in this series to score. Better ball movement and better shot selection through avoiding isolation situations will give the Cavs a chance in this series. If LeBron James keeps trying to back down a double team and if they are not driving to the rim, then the Cavs are in for a very short series.

Effort and Hustle

This area to address is more difficult to quantify in the box score, but the disparity in effort and commitment is clear to anybody who has watched the games. From not hustling back on defense, to not closing out to shooters, to not diving for loose balls, it looks like the Cavaliers have already accepted defeat. The Cavs are second to last in the playoffs closing out to shooters at only 57% closeout rate, and their deflection and loose ball recovery rates are in the bottom half of playoff teams. Maybe their home crowd will help inspire them, but there is no way to beat the Warriors and their offense without exemplary effort.

LeBron James

At times, it looks like LeBron James is unstoppable as he gets to the rim at will, creates turnovers by jumping passing lanes, and finishes the fast break with an alley-oop. Other times he looks frustrated as he walks back on defense while talking to a referee, and makes a move to the rim only to pass out to a teammate. LeBron James is one of the best passers in NBA history, but it seems like it is becoming his first choice on some plays. In the playoffs he is the only one of two forwards in the top 15 for passes made (the other being Draymond Green). Additionally, his usage rate is down to 29.4% percent after it was close to 40% in the playoffs last year. Some of that has to do with his teammates being healthy, but it also has to do with LeBron  deferring to them.  At some points in game two, he was the tallest player on the court, a distinction he likely has not held since high school. While he was able to make some plays, it feels like he should be dominating even more. It is hard to strike a balance between being a great player and being a great teammate, but LeBron James needs to do more to make himself successful, then he can try to bring his teammates with him. It’s clear that triple doubles and assists will not beat the Warriors. LeBron James needs to use something else. Like a 40 point game.

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