Are you ready for some buckets? The Cleveland Cavaliers (120.7) and the Golden State Warriors (115.8) boast the NBA’s two best offensive ratings in the playoffs, as they’ve gone a combined 24-1 on their way to what seemed in many ways like an inevitable NBA Finals three-match.
And now, as they’re set to meet for an unprecedented third consecutive year in The Finals beginning June 1 (9 p.m. ET, ABC), we’ll likely once again get to see plenty of what have become two of the NBA’s more familiar offensive attacks.
To get an inside look at what makes the Warriors and Cavaliers so dominant, we spoke to an NBA assistant coach who has coached against both Golden State and Cleveland the last few seasons.
How Golden State’s offense works
“When they are in the half-court offense,” said our coach, “the thing that I think makes them the best in the NBA is when they run that split action that they do, using [Stephen] Curry and [Klay] Thompson. Basically, you’ll see the ball be entered into Draymond [Green] at either the elbow or at the top of the key, and then Draymond will read what happens and make a decision where to go with the ball. And as good as Draymond is defensively, to me his greatest strength is his passing.
“When Draymond has the ball, he’ll be the trigger man, and then maybe Klay will be in the corner and Steph will be on the wing. Then Steph might set a pin-down and Klay can curl to the rim, or Klay might set a back screen or a flair screen and Steph can come off of that. Basically, there’s a million different things those two can do, and they do it better than anybody.”
Golden State’s offense is similar to the triangle offense in some ways, as the Warriors can use a triumvirate of All-Stars to pass, cut and move to find open shots. Oh, and if they weren’t potent enough on offense, they’ve also added former Kia MVP winner Kevin Durant to the mix. While the Warriors will probably break out more Curry/Durant pick-and-rolls than we saw them use during the regular season, as FiveThirtyEight.com recently explained, one facet of their offense that makes them so dangerous is their skill at screening away from the ball to spring players to the basket.
“if they’re using KD and Steph in a ball screen, you have to look at where they put Klay or Draymond,” says the coach. “Now that they have Durant, they can use him in that split action, too.
“He’s so versatile, he can really play anywhere on the court. KD just stepped right into their style of play, which is almost a free style of play where they look at what matchups to utilize when they need to take advantage.”
- What you should be watching for …
The “elevator doors” play has started to be used by more and more teams around the NBA. The Warriors were the ones who popularized it over the last few seasons, employing it to spring Curry and Thompson for wide open jumpers either at the top of the key or rotating it to create shots on the wings. Watch Curry on this play, as he sprints up the lane and the two big men slide together, effectively shutting the door on the defender and creating an open look for one of the NBA’s best 3-point shooters.
And here’s a compilation of them running it the last few seasons put together by Mike Prada of SBNation.com
How Cleveland’s offense works
When Cleveland has the ball in the half-court offense, things tend to become thoughtful, as LeBron James plays a point-forward role and searches for mismatches.
James often creates cross-matches by pointing to specific teammates to come and set screens for him, and when James can get a mismatched defender to switch onto him following the screen, he’ll either shoot over the top or drive to the basket, which draws help defenders and allows James to show off his passing ability.
“LeBron is going to get to wherever he wants to go,” says the coach. “He’s their best passer, and he’s usually the best passer on the court. What makes his passing so great is his precision.
"People might not realize how important his ability to pass to the right spot is for his teammates. They’ve surrounded LeBron with shooters, and shooters need the ball right in that shooting pocket so they can catch and release quickly. You know, the same as people want to shoot the ball perfectly, right down to the millimeter, the great players can pass the ball just as precisely. That’s what James does.
“Cleveland might not play with the same pace as they did in the regular season, but that’s what happens as the playoffs go along -- teams become slower and slower, especially when you’re playing against the same team over and over and you’re seeing all the same stuff and getting better at recognizing it.”
- What you should be watching for …
One of Cleveland’s favorite offensive sets is featured on this video from the great BBallBreakdown.com, where they highlight the “Iverson series” the Cavs use in their halfcourt offense or in set plays after timeouts.
As you can see in this video, the wing players are basically interchangeable and there are numerous results that can come out of this set, depending on the reaction of the defense.
What about the defenses?
And just so we’re not completely focused on the offensive end, we also talked a little defense. These teams have played against each other 19 times over the last three years, so they’ll be used to seeing a lot of the offensive sets and plays the other team runs.
With two offenses that are this high-powered squaring off, the way they match up and defend those plays will be crucial to giving themselves a chance in this series.
“I’m really interested to see how they match up defensively,” said the coach. “Because I think LeBron is going to have to spend time guarding KD. Golden State can put Draymond on LeBron, and KD can guard Love, but when Golden State has the ball, I think you’ll see LeBron on KD a good bit.
“One other thing to watch defensively is if Cleveland is able to do what they did last year, which is they did a great job against Curry. You have to make Curry shoot 2s. No matter what, you have to get out on him and chase him off the 3-point line and try to make him drive to the basket.
“I thought Tristan Thompson did a really great job of jamming Curry and getting into his space on the perimeter, which got him off the arc and on the move. The same is true for Golden State with Kyrie to a degree -- you have to press and jam him.”
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