“Anything you can do I can do better”
The silent back and forth between Cleveland and Golden State continues, with the Cavs stepping up to the plate to knock the Celtics out of the park 117-104 in similar fashion to the Warriors’ runaway victory over the Spurs.
If the thought was that these teams were on a collision course at season’s beginning, they haven’t been any closer than where they are right now.
Cleveland don’t get much love for their system, but their defensive effort on Isaiah Thomas was the most successful any team has been in nullifying him this post-season. Cleveland haven’t exactly ‘flipped the switch’ like many predicted, instead making small improvements game-to-game. Since implementing their new trapping-style defense early in the Toronto series, they’ve allowed 101.6 points per game, down from their regular season average of 110 and playoff average of 114ppg.
Don’t let the garbage time points fool you – this was Cleveland’s best defensive showing all playoffs.
While most teams would be tempted to throw LeBron on one of the better scoring threats, having him guard corner shooters and act as a help defender worked wonders once again. This allows LBJ to play free safety and provide weak-side help whilst still staying at home on shooters. His close-outs are razor-sharp and he rarely falls for any of the basic tricks that get open corner threes.
LeBron James scored or assisted on 32 of the Cavaliers 61 first half points.
The Boston Celtics scored 39 as a team.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 18, 2017
To complement this trapping defense, Lebron is playing well off his shooter and lurking around the area next to the paint. As the ball-handler is facing pressure from the press, the split-second they have to survey the floor sees an open man unguarded in the corner, only to have the ball picked off by James time and time again. A small wrinkle by Tyronne Lue that worked wonders.
Typical Lebron greatness, essentially guarding two players and somehow anchoring a defense from the wing. Insane.
In countering, the more pressure Boston applied, the worse they hurt on the back end. Crowder presses up and plays LeBron tight, only to get blown-by and give up a Irving-Thompson alley-oop at the rim. Similar to the Spurs’ issue against the Warriors, the overwhelming firepower of the Cavs means any options Boston take leaves them short elsewhere.
This guy is the freakin’ terminator
I mean, what more is there to say? Not since maybe peak Tiger Woods in the early 2000s has describing an athlete’s performance been so futile. No superlative does justice to how truly dominant Lebron really is in comparison to the field.
Games like this one are just further reminders we’re witnessing an all-time great operating at a level well above the competition.
The cross-court passes, the hulking drives into the lane, the acrobatic finishes. The lurking weak-side defense, the defensive instinct and awareness, the athletic shot-blocking. Simply amazing, and that details his play on an average possession up and down the court.
His stats won’t highlight it as anything but an average game (38-9-7, because that’s the level he’s at this year) but when LBJ goes into chill mode, quarterbacking the offense and picking apart the D as he finds open shooter after open shooter, his greatness takes an unassuming yet overtly effective role, and you know he’s just on a different plateau. He isn’t picking up assists for these plays and the points get chalked up to someone else, but these easy buckets don’t happen without the King. A sublime showing.
— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) May 18, 2017
Kevin Love was tremendous, tallying an uber-efficient 32 points on only 16 shots, and was red-hot from three, going 6-9. His chemistry with LeBron, particularly on full-court transition plays, is second to none. They can both play either role, outlet passer or receiver, and destroyed Boston with it after missed buckets multiple times. Again, this is a byproduct of Lebron, but Love firing is an encouraging sign for the Cavs.
Honourable mention: The Boston Crowd.
You gotta love ’em. Down 19 in the final seconds of the third, Marcus Smart puts in an offensive rebound to end the quarter, cutting the lead to 17. The crowd cheers as if he’d hit the game-winning shot. It’s unwavering support like this that keeps teams fighting.
- If Cleveland are going to trap every IT p&r, Horford needs to slip the pick. K-Love was successful as the second man on the trap on a few possessions, his usual defensive deficiency tempting Isaiah to try burn him on the drive. Ineffective and inefficient. Move the basketball.
- Tyler Zeller isn’t the option. He can’t guard Irving in the p&r. Got burned three times in under a minute, his only non-garbage time. C’s don’t have that type of margin for error.
- JR Smith took two shots. This was due to the Boston’s tactic of sticking to shooters. That only works if you can prevent the initial reaction, which they didn’t. Focusing on shooters, only to give up open threes is counterintuitive, right?
- Whoever is checking Tristan Thompson needs to match his energy. It’s hard enough shutting them down for one possession, so giving them multiple is a death wish. He was instrumental in their early push, grabbing offensive boards or fouls on a few missed buckets.
- Having the home team be the severe underdog gives this series an interesting detail. If Boston go to Cleveland two games down, it’s hard to see how they muster up any energy to compete. The crowd really did keep them competing late into this game, being out of the series and behind big will be less encouraging away from home.