Here are three things LeBron James and the Cavs can do to get momentum back:
Stay the course and maintain the slow pace
The pace of Game 4 was even slower than the previous two games. However, that doesn’t mean that the Cavs’ defense was as sharp. According to Vantage Sports, in Game 4, the Cavs were beat back on defense — defined as when a defender is beaten by his man to the opponent’s three-point line in transition defense — 2.34 times per 100 chances compared to just 0.98 in the previous three games. While this didn’t necessarily lead to any more fast-break points, the opportunities were there, and that’s what the Cavs need to avoid.
Additionally, while the pace of the game was still slow, the Cavs did not do as good a job of milking the clock as they had in the previous three games:
This strategy is vital for the Cavs, as they are at a talent disadvantage and need to minimize the number of possessions to increase their chances of winning. One good sign for the Cavs is that while they’d like to milk the clock, they still want to try to get good shots at the end of the shot clock. Their shot selection late in the clock was much better in Game 4 than it was in the previous three games:
Unfortunately, the results weren’t there (35 percent effective field goal percentage in Games 1-3 vs. 30 percent eFG% in Game 4). But trust the process and the results will come.
Adapt to the Warriors’ strategy change
The Warriors made a big adjustment in the way they guarded James. In the previous three games, they had double teamed him a total of seven times, including twice on isolations. But in Game 4, the Warriors double teamed him ten times, including five times on isolations. This kept the ball out of James’s hands:
Additionally, the strategy change wasn’t just limited to James. In the first three games, according to Vantage Sports, the Warriors had just one non-James double team. In Game 4, they had seven non-James double teams (most of these were doubles on Timofey Mozgov). This led to a series high 12.5 double teams per 100 chances compared to a 1.78 average in the first three games.
So how can the Cavs counter this? Ping the ball around more. Find the open shooter. The Cavs did this in Game 4, where they had 293 passes (a series high) after averaging just 245 in the previous three games. Unfortunately, that led to only 29 uncontested shots. However, their overall shot selection was better late in the shot clock, where they want to take most of their shots.
One way to improve those looks would be to go small and put more shooters around James so that when he is doubled, he can kick it out for threes. Specifically, two of the lineups where the Cavs broke even were lineups with James Jones (who’s shooting 37.3 percent on threes in the playoffs) in there as an extra shooter.
Another alternative could be to go big so that there are more offensive rebounds available off of misses where James can shoot right before he’s about to be double teamed, which will free up his teammates to crash the boards. This worked in Game 4 with the Cavs big lineup outscoring the Warriors by eight.
It may be too simple, but perhaps the biggest issue the Cavs had was that they were 6 for 29 on uncontested shots. With the pace of play, the talent disadvantage and the Warriors’ adjustment on James, the Cavs simply can’t shoot this poorly on uncontested shots.
In Game 4, they were 1 for 7 on wide-open threes and just 3 for 10 on open threes. And while James has struggled with his jump shot, the Cavs need J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova to shoot better. They could also look to create some looks for Jones, who did not take an open three in Game 4 but has been the Cavs’ best available shooter. (This may seem extreme but the Cavs don’t exactly have a ton of options on offense).
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