Hudl Analysis: How the Cavaliers Bounced Back in Game Three

Cleveland emerged from its slumber to dominate Golden State in Game Three. Take a look at Hudl’s Advanced Reports to see how.

Hudl Analysis: How the Cavaliers Bounced Back in Game Three

Cleveland emerged from its slumber to dominate Golden State in Game Three. Take a look at Hudl’s Advanced Reports to see how.

The Cavaliers’ eulogy was already being written Wednesday afternoon. Golden State outscored Cleveland 214-167 in taking the first two games of the NBA Finals, and though the series moved to Ohio for Game Three, it seemed the Cavs’ coffin was already in the ground. 

But the pundits will have to put down their shovels for a few more days at least, as Cleveland took apart the Warriors 120-90 despite being without the services of Kevin Love, who sat out with a concussion.

How were the Cavaliers able to completely flip the script and inject some life back into the series? We tagged the game and broke it down through Hudl’s advanced reports to unearth some answers.

Long Live the King

LeBron James was far from awful in the first two games of the series, averaging 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. But he was the first to admit his effort wasn’t good enough, as both his shooting (42.1 percent) and turnover (5.5 per game) numbers were ugly.

James returned to form in Game Three, crushing the Warriors with 32 points on 14-for 26 shooting, 11 boards and six assists. Gone were so many of the ugly isolation plays that gummed up Cleveland’s offense earlier in the series. The Cavs pinged the ball around with great efficiency and did a much better job exploiting matchups en route to their best offensive output of the Finals.

With Love out, James was able to play power forward almost full-time, causing matchup issues when the Warriors turned to their deathly small-ball lineup. He was particularly dominant in the second half, when the Cavs awoke from a sleepy second quarter to outscore Golden State 69-47.

Cleveland finally exploited Golden State’s switch-everything defense, using a 1-4 pick-and-roll with James and Kyrie Irving to get Stephen Curry switched onto James. Though Curry is a passable defender, he’s toast against James in the post. Check out this fourth-quarter bucket, which we were easily able to pull thanks to Hudl’s interactive shot charts.

Even with Klay Thompson almost completely ignoring Iman Shumpert in the right corner, J.R. Smith (far corner), Channing Frye (5) and Irving (top of the key, not pictured) are all shooting threats, limiting Golden State’s ability to help. Even with late help from Thompson, Curry didn’t stand a chance on this post-up.

James also finally unleashed his jump shot Wednesday night. The Warriors ducked under every screen as usual, a tactic that stymied most James pick-and-rolls in the first two contests. But James made five of his nine shots outside the paint in Game Three, punishing Golden State for sagging off.

To put the finishing touches on his performance, James reminded us he is not of this world.

Return of the Defense

As talented of an offensive player as Love is, he makes things difficult on Tyronn Lue in this matchup. His slow feet and limited athleticism are death against the Warriors, particularly when Steve Kerr goes small with Draymond Green at center. Golden State simply puts Love’s man in a pick-and-roll and feasts.

But with Love out, James playing the four and Tristan Thompson as the center, the Cavs can switch almost any screen they please. The Warriors shot just 42.1 percent and were a ghastly 9-for-33 on 3-pointers. Curry, Thompson and Green combined for 35 points, their lowest combined output of the season.

Cleveland has done a fantastic job frustrating Curry, the two-time MVP. He hasn’t been himself for much of the series, and the Cavaliers completely bottled him up in the first half of Game Three.

Curry didn’t make a 3-pointer until midway through the third quarter, when Cleveland was beginning to put its stranglehold on the game. He briefly came alive in that period and finished with 19 points, but it was too late.

The Cavaliers’ ability to switch freely helped put the clamps on Curry, but some of his struggles are due to Cleveland simply trying harder. The Warriors gorged on Irving’s defensive flaws early in the series, but the guard seemed energized by the home crowd and showed a greater willingness to fight through screens and hand-offs. Look at this contest off a hand-off from Anderson Varejao:

Even great shooters like Curry stand little chance with that kind of pressure.

Supporting Cast Shows Some Life

Irving rebounded to form after a dismal first two games (12-for-36 shooting), torching Golden State with 30 points and eight assists. But the other role players’ ascensions were just as important.

J.R. Smith bricked his way to eight points in the first two contests but was lights out on Wednesday, pouring in 20 points and sinking five shots from deep. His improved shooting forced the Warriors to respect him and opened driving lanes for James and Irving.

Thompson crushed the Warriors on the boards, hauling in seven offensive rebounds, and Richard Jefferson chipped in nine points and eight rebounds. The Cavaliers had easily their most efficient offensive performance of the series, averaging 1.3 points per possession.

Now the question becomes whether this effort is sustainable. Love is likely to be back for Game Four, leaving Lue with the awkward decision of whether or not to bring the three-time All-Star off the bench and leave Jefferson, clearly a better fit for this matchup, in the starting lineup.

And the Cavs didn’t score a single bench point until the fourth quarter. Asking the starting five to carry such a heavy burden will have a tiring effect and could cut into their efficiency, particularly on the defensive end.

Those challenges will come Friday when the Cavs try to even the series at two games apiece. Lue will have to intensely study the numbers to pinpoint where Cleveland found some edges and try and attack those spots in a pivotal Game Four.

Examining these numbers helps provide insight to Cleveland’s dominance – and they’re available to any basketball coach using Hudl. To experience the power of these statistical breakdowns, click here.

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