With the Cleveland Cavaliers completing the sweep of the Boston Celtics on Sunday and the Milwaukee Bucks finding a way to extend their series with the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs next game won’t be until next Monday.
Unfortunately, that will have no affect on whether or not Kevin Love plays for the Cavs, coming off a sweep of the Celtics, in round two. Love dislocated his shoulder after Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk saw UFC President Dana White in the first row and figured he didn’t have any plans in the near future.
The Cavs (who swept the Celtics [who reign from Boston]) will also be without J.R. Smith for two games. The former Knick guard was penalized for hitting Jae Crowder in the face in game four of the series in which the Cavs swept the Boston Celtics.
Pettiness aside, the Cavs will no doubt be in a tough spot come Monday of next week. The good news is that David Blatt and his staff have a week to prepare for the winner of the Bulls/Bucks series. I don’t know about all of you, but I still fully expect the Bulls to close out the series, whether it’s in game six in Milwaukee or at home in game seven.
Before the injury of Love and suspension of J.R., I believed that Chicago would give the Cavs a tough series, even if it only went five or six games. Now, there’s little uncertainty the Bulls will give Cavs fits. And perhaps there’s even the tiniest bit of doubt that the Cavs won’t come out of this series.
It will be imperative for the Cavs to win at least one of their first two games of the next series, which will both be at home. If they drop both games, they’d face a 0-2 deficit heading into Chicago. Not good.
So what can the Cavs do from here? Obviously Blatt will have to make adjustments to the lineup. He’ll have to use some lineups he used while Love was on the bench during the regular season and he might even have to experiment with some completely new ones. It will all depend on the different situations the Cavs are in and which players the Bulls put on the floor.
Stretching the floor
This is something that is affected with both Love and J.R. out. Both players were in the top five in regards to Cavs 3-pt percentage and both hitting at or above the team average – Love at 36.7% and Smith at 39%.
It’s well known that Smith has started off poorly shooting from distance in the playoffs at 26.7% (8-30). At some point in the playoffs, there will be a game or two where the Cavs will need his hot shooting stroke. The suspension takes away two opportunities at getting that.
There is multiple ways David Blatt can go about this.
The initial thought would just to replace J.R. with Iman Shumpert and Love with Tristan Thompson in the starting lineup.
According to nba.com/stats, the lineup of Kyrie Irving – Shumpert – LeBron – Thompson – Timofey Mozgov was used in nine games this season for an average of 1.5 minutes in those games (in other words, not much). Surprisingly, the Cavs were able to shoot 55.6% from long range. Is that something the Cavs could keep up in the playoffs for a couple games? My guess would be no. Shumpert has severely cooled off from 3 (25% in the playoffs) and has never been a consistent shooter from there.
There are a few guys the Cavs are going to have to rely on if they want floor spacing: Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones, and Mike Miller.
At least one of these guys is bound to start. In a quick conversation with Fear The Sword’s David Zavac, he hinted at a starting lineup consisting of Kyrie, Shumpert, Miller, LeBron, and Mozgov.
@dano708 yeah that wasn't necessarily what I meant. Play Miller over Jones.
— David Zavac (@DavidZavac) April 28, 2015
Predictably, this was a lineup that Blatt never used in the regular season, simply because Mike Miller rarely played any important minutes in the second half of the season. Miller saw his minutes decrease after the additions of Smith and Shumpert, and because he just flat out was not shooting the ball well: 32.7% from 3 this season, his lowest season output in his 15-year career.
The good news is Miller has shot 43.6% in his 47 playoff games the last three years. Along with James Jones, Miller’s also been hyped up as a guy that is ready to play in any situation of the game. And by know, we should know that he can make a clutch shot or two in the playoffs.
Blatt also likes to utilize James Jones at the four to take the opposing team’s big man out of the paint. This is something the Cavs used against the Bulls in February when Love was out due to an eye injury. Jones playing in the frontcourt with Tristan Thompson forced Joakim Noah to play out of the paint and…
This lets guys like LeBron and Kyrie have a ton of room to operate when driving inside. On this specific play, the little movement Jones makes going inside then sliding back out is enough to draw Noah’s attention away from what’s going on in the paint.
Delly, who averaged 10 minutes per game in the Celtics series, will probably be asked to step up from an offensive standpoint as well. And while people will groan at that, his 40.7% from the 3-pt line was actually the second best on the Cavs behind only Kyrie Irving’s 41.5%. He’s currently 2-7 in the playoffs, so he’ll have to get going in these next two games.
Defensively the Cavs might be okay. The trick for David Blatt will be picking the right matchups, depending who is on the floor for the Bulls.
Chicago’s most common lineup is their starting one: Derrick Rose – Jimmy Butler – Mike Dunleavy – Pau Gasol – Joakim Noah.
With the suggested Cavs lineup above, we could see defensive matchups consisting of: Kyrie on Rose, Shumpert on Butler, Miller on Dunleavy, Thompson on Gasol, and LeBron on Noah.
This lineup lets Shumpert, arguably the best pure perimeter defender the Cavs have, guard the Bull’s best consistent offensive player in Jimmy Butler. This is something I’d like to see early and often. With Love out, LeBron should play more in the frontcourt on defense instead of relying so much on Jones or, God forbid, Kendrick Perkins.
Miller, perhaps the worst defender of those five, will be stashed away on Dunleavy, who shoots 54.7% of his shots from the 3-pt line.
When Nikola Mirotic comes off the bench, that’s when a guy like James Jones can come to clear the paint on offense for the Cavs.
Delly could have a rough time overall in this series if he doesn’t get his shot going. He’s okay defensively, but he really struggles on quicker guards, which the Bulls have in Rose and Aaron Brooks.
Tristan Thompson will have his hands full in the second round on both sides of the floor. That said, I think he can come out smelling like a… rose… against Chicago. His versatility will be on display, likely having to guard every big the Bulls have to throw at him. (Selfishly, I’d like to see him get switched onto guys like Rose and Brooks just to see how he would do. That’s not a plan for success, he just gives his assignment a tough battle every time and I think it would be fun to see.)
Limiting offensive opportunities for the opponent
Speaking of Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love being hurt means the Cavs lose their best defensive rebounder – 7.9 per game, 26.3% defensive rebound percentage.
Tristan’s known for his offensive rebounding ability; he’s one of the best in the league and is the best left in the Eastern Conference playoffs. For whatever reason, he hasn’t been as productive on the defensive side, only grabbing 4.7 during the season at a 19.7% clip (behind Love, Mozgov, and Varejao).
Part of this is certainly due to him having more responsibility/ground to cover than the rest of the Cavs’ bigs. Tristan is the one that is usually tasked with being put on the more mobile of a given opponent’s frontcourt players.
Defensive rebounds is something that shouldn’t be overlooked in the upcoming series, even though it’s something that is expected from a team coming off an opponent’s miss.
If you want to know how devastating offensive rebounds are for the opposing team, just ask Brad Stevens. Thompson’s five offensive rebounds in game two, and more specifically, his two in the fourth quarter that led to 3-pointers, led to the Celtics’ demise.
Love being out may increase Chicago’s ability to create second chances for their offense.
Luckily, the Cavs as a whole stepped up in Love’s absence in game four. Four players for the Cavs grabbed double digit rebounds: Mozgov, LeBron, Shumpert (!), and Kyrie (!!!). I’m not saying to expect Kyrie to have that type of offensive performance every game, but it’s clear he understands that the Cavs have to dig deep on all areas of the floor to win playoff games.
Another thing that could help the Cavs prevent second chance opportunities for their opponent is hustle. It sounds painfully trite but I really think it can make a difference in what should be a close series.
Going back to game four against Boston (again), there were multiple times (that I couldn’t find video) where the Cavs stuck their hand in the cookie jar on defense and stripped the ball away in the paint. Shumpert is a guy that did this on Sunday and needs to continue it.
Missing J.R. for the first two games means one less guy that will be able to play the passing lanes for the Cavs. This was one of his better tools that he was able to use for the Cavs this year. J.R. had a steal percentage of 2.3% with Cleveland. For reference, Shumpert was 13th in the league in this category at 2.7%. So Smith’s impact on the defensive end was felt in most of the games he played in, one way or another. Shumpert and LeBron will have to stay on their game as far as playing the passing lanes are concerned.
The Cavs swept the Celtics.