2017 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Cavaliers

Film Study: Cleveland Cavaliers' mistakes leave Golden State Warriors open beyond the arc

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

CLEVELAND – In Game 2 of The Finals, the Golden State Warriors committed 16 more turnovers than they did in Game 1. They also scored 16 fewer points in the paint.

But the Warriors still scored 132 points on about 110 possessions, a more efficient performance than they had in Game 1 and their fourth most efficient performance of the postseason thus far. There’s more than one way to put the ball in the basket and the Warriors have explored them all in just 96 minutes in The Finals.

Three days after the Cavs got caught trying to defend the 3-point line and giving up layups, the Warriors attempted 43 3s, tied for the fourth most in a game in this postseason. According to SportVU, 31 of those 43 were uncontested.

With the talent the Warriors have, the Cavs have a thin margin for error in this series. With the shooting the Warriors have – no team has shot better on uncontested 3s this season – the Cavs need to be near perfect defensively.

On Sunday, they weren’t. Too often, the Warriors found themselves open beyond the arc. The Cavs played them even for about 30 minutes in Game 2, but the Warriors’ talent was eventually too much for a defense that has been only good enough to beat the opponents in its own conference.

NBA.com/Stats: Watch the Warriors shoot 18-for-43 from 3-point range in Game 2

The botched switches

The only game the Cavs lost before The Finals was Game 3 against Boston, with the Celtics scoring on their last four possessions. The final two buckets — Jonas Jerebko’s jumper and Avery Bradley’s game-winner — were both a result of the Cavs losing Bradley on a screen, because one player switched and his teammate didn’t.

Both blown assignments involved J.R. Smith. So did a couple of botched switches on Sunday.

After a timeout in the first quarter, the Warriors ran a baseline exchange between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson…

Kyrie Irving, who was originally defending Curry, switches onto Thompson. Smith, meanwhile, tries to chase Thompson around an additional screen …

That leaves LeBron James on the weak side with both Curry and Kevin Durant, a pick-your-poison situation if there ever was one. James follows Durant toward the top of the key and Draymond Green hits Curry in the left corner for a wide-open 3.

NBA.com/Stats: Watch the Cavs leave Curry open in the corner

That was a designed play from the Warriors. Early in the third quarter, Golden State was in semi-transition, with Durant, guarded by James, running down the left side of the floor, toward teammates Thompson and Zaza Pachulia …

James is looking for a Durant/Thompson exchange and decides to track Thompson, who goes away from the screen, toward the baseline …

James follows and so does Smith, until he realizes that he has left Durant alone on the left wing. Curry gets the ball to Durant and in Smith’s effort to recover, he fouls Durant (taking away his landing space) after he has already launched the 3 (that went in).

NBA.com/Stats: Watch Durant’s four-point play

The early abandonment

Sometimes, the Cavs aren’t switching. But on a ball screen, it’s still up to the screener’s defender to stop the ball and allow the ball-handler’s man to recover. Leave one second too early or hold on for one second too long and the Warriors will take advantage.

Midway through the first quarter, Curry and Green set a double-screen in transition for Durant …

Smith was defending Curry, but steps out to help James after the screen. But James never gets back in front of Durant and Smith leaves the area to recover back to Curry …

Seeing that Durant has a step on James, Tristan Thompson leaves Green to help in the paint. He’s able to cut off Durant’s path to the basket, but Durant finds Green wide open beyond the arc …

NBA.com/Stats: Cavs’ pick-and-roll coverage leaves Green alone for three

Screen the screener

When a ball screen is set for Curry, it’s the job of the screener’s defender to step up and take away the pull-up 3. But he can’t do it if he’s not there.

One thing that the Warriors (and a lot of other teams) do is set a screen for the big man as he goes to set a ball screen. It’s a move that can keep the big’s defender from being able to step out on the ball-handler.

The possession after Durant’s four-point play, the Warriors run a Curry/Pachulia pick-and-roll on the left side of the floor, with Durant first setting a screen on Kevin Love (Pachulia’s defender) …

With Love stuck in the paint (and James not switching the off-ball screen), there’s nobody to hedge onto Curry when Pachulia sets the ball screen …

And when Irving gets caught up on that ball screen, Curry is left alone near the top of the key. It’s a simple play, but can work when good screens are set and the opponent doesn’t communicate well.

NBA.com/Stats: Watch the screen-the-screener play free Curry for a pull-up three

No room for mistakes

If the opponent takes away their initial action, the Warriors keep moving, never taking the pressure off the defense on or off the ball. The Cavs showed defensive improvement in the conference semis and conference finals, but don’t have a full season of good habits to fall back on.

In this series, the Warriors have made the Cavs look more like the team that ranked 22nd defensively in the regular season than the one that ranked second over the second and third rounds of the playoffs. More than seven months into the season, mistakes in communication keep popping up. And no team is better equipped to take advantage of those mistakes than the offensive powerhouse that’s now 14-0 in this postseason.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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