2018 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Cavaliers

Finals Film Study: Golden State Warriors find easy path to rim in Game 2 victory

Cavs' self-inflicted defensive mistakes prove to be their undoing in defeat

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

This was the third straight season in which the Golden State Warriors set an NBA record for effective field goal percentage.

In the 2015-16 season, they did it with two of the 12 best 3-point shooters in NBA history. Then they added the *third best mid-range shooter of the last five years.

* Best mid-range FG% over the last five seasons (minimum 1,000 attempts): Chris Paul (48.3 percent), J.J. Redick (48.3 percent), Kevin Durant (47.6 percent).

Highest effective field goal percentage, NBA history

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have shot a combined 22-for-46 (48 percent) from 3-point range through the first two games of The Finals. Kevin Durant, meanwhile, is still shooting better than 50 percent from mid-range in the postseason, having attempted 28 more mid-range shots than any other player.

The Warriors can kill you with jumpers. But they’re aren’t completely dependent on them. And when they’re at their best, they’re leveraging their perimeter shooting to get even better shots.

Jumpers, when taken by the Warriors are good. Layups and dunks are better. And the Warriors don’t merely just shoot well from the outside.

In both the regular season (68.3 percent) and the playoffs (71.2 percent), the Warriors have ranked second in field goal percentage in the restricted area. Through the first two games of The Finals, Golden State has shot 41-for-50 (82 percent) in the restricted area.

The Warriors have guys who can finish. The 12 Warriors who took the most shots in the restricted area in the regular season all shot better than the league average (63.1 percent) there. But they also finish well because they get lots of clean looks at the basket.

In Game 2, the Warriors shot well from pretty much everywhere, registering their highest postseason effective field goal percentage (66.5 percent) since 2013. Curry set a Finals record with nine 3-pointers, but the Warriors’ ability to get layups and dunks (they were 20-for-25 in the restricted area) was critical. And it was about both their offensive execution and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defensive mistakes.

Offensive slippage

On the first possession of the game, JaVale McGee appeared to be setting a screen for Curry, which the Cavs were going to switch…

McGee slip

But before McGee actually set the screen, he slipped into the paint, with J.R. Smith unable to get between he and the basket.

McGee slip

Curry found McGee for an easy dunk.

Late in the first quarter, Shaun Livingston was the slip man in transition, acting like he was setting a screen for Curry on the left sideline.

Livingston slip

James was ready to switch the screen, but George Hill wasn’t, because he never felt the screen. And because James was looking to prevent a transition three from Curry, Livingston easily got on the other side of the defense and Curry knew to throw the pass before his teammate even had separation.

Livingston slip

There was no weak-side help, in part because a Jordan Bell was setting a screen for Thompson, keeping both of their defenders occupied.

In the fourth quarter, it was Livingston again, this time slipping an off-ball screen for Curry, with Jeff Green caught leaning toward the switch and Hill caught on the wrong side of the roll to the rim…

Livingston slip

Livingston slip

The Warriors didn’t slip screens too often in Game 2. One of McGee’s dunks (plus a Hill foul) came after he set a solid screen in transition early in the third quarter and rolled to the basket with no weak-side help from the Cavs. But slipping was a clear point of emphasis to take advantage of the Cavs’ switches.

Defensive slippage

The Warriors are one of the best offensive teams in NBA history, because of their shooting and because of their collective IQ on plays like the ones above. But much of the damage to the Cavs’ defense was self-inflicted, with Cleveland unable to contain the ball or just out of position away from it.

On the Warriors’ second possession of the game, Smith made the necessary adjustment to stay between McGee and the basket after the big man did the same thing he did on the first possession…

Smith adjustment

But when the ball was swung to Durant on the right wing, LeBron James was unable to contain the dribble, Smith was forced to help, and Durant found McGee under the basket for another dunk.

The Warriors are hard to guard, but the Cavs are not necessarily hard to score against. And the Warriors’ third restricted-area bucket was, in part a result, of some lazy and/or inattentive Cleveland defense.

A Curry-Durant exchange on the weak side of the floor got Durant isolated on Smith …

Durant isolation

If that was James isolated at the high post, the Warriors’ defender (or the Celtics’ defender in the conference finals) in either Kevin Love’s or Tristan Thompson’s position would be sagging off his man, doing the “2.9 dance,” where he has his feet planted in the paint for 2.9 seconds, quickly shuffles outside the paint to avoid a defensive 3-second violation, and then gets back into the paint to “zone up” on James.

The other one (Love or Thompson) would be responsible for both McGee and Draymond Green. Since neither can shoot very well, that’s OK.

Green set a flare screen for Klay Thompson, keeping Tristan Thompson somewhat occupied, but Love never leaves McGee. Maybe Love doesn’t believe there would be a teammate behind him ready to rotate to McGee, so if he helps, the result would be another drive-and-dish assist for Durant.

In any case, Love remained 10 feet from the basket defending a guy who has made 15 shots from outside of 10 feet this season. Durant beat Smith off the dribble and got a layup.

Each of the two restricted-area buckets above could have been avoided with better one-on-one defense from the Cavs. Same with the next one.

On the Warriors’ fifth possession of the game, Curry gave the ball up early, but quickly got a switch onto Love, thanks to a screen from McGee (who may have initially been trying to set a ball screen).

Curry isolation

On the catch, Curry gave Love a subtle pump fake, drawing him out past the 3-point line, with absolutely no help in the paint, because again, the Cavs were defending the Warriors’ non-shooters (McGee and Green) tightly on the perimeter.

With a live dribble, Curry went right past Love for a layup. James might have been able to help from the weak-side baseline, but didn’t make the effort, maybe thinking that no one would help him if the ball was kicked out to his man (Durant) in the corner.

Restricted-area bucket No. 5 was a result of the Cavs (mostly James) complaining about a call. While Cleveland was still out of sorts over the Warriors getting the ball under their own basket, Curry inbounded to Thompson for an easy layup.

Restricted-area bucket No. 6? A Green dunk in transition, with the Cavs out of position after James’ pass was deflected with one second left on the shot clock. The Cavs trailed by nine less than four minutes into Game 2 (they would never tie or take the lead) and the deficit was largely avoidable.

Later in the first quarter, the Warriors got creative. After Draymond Green set a screen for Durant (prompting a Jeff Green switch onto Draymond Green), Curry set a back-screen for Green…

Curry back-screen

Smith did not switch and Green was unguarded on his roll to the basket…

Green roll

Love came to help from the weak side, but had no help behind him, where Jordan Bell caught Green’s lob for a dunk.

The Cavs were back within two three possessions later, but another botched switch between Smith and Jeff Green resulted in another Curry layup.

Time to kill the switch?

The Cavs’ defense wasn’t thoroughly dreadful in Game 2. They had enough solid possessions to stick around in the second and third quarters, and the Warriors made a handful of shots that no team could defend. Still, the Cavs may have to rethink their “switch everything” game plan on defense, because …

  1. They screw it up sometimes.
  2. The Warriors know how to take advantage even when they don’t screw up so bad.
  3. Curry seems to enjoy picking on Love.

Even if the Cavs initially stay in front of the Warriors, layups can still be had, because…

  1. They Cavs don’t contain the dribble very well.
  2. Help defenders don’t trust the guys behind them to make the next rotation (or just choose not to make an effort).

It’s a good time for a reminder that the Cavs ranked 29th defensively in the regular season. They’re the first bottom-three defensive team to make The Finals in the 41 years since the league started counting turnovers, but getting here doesn’t erase who they’ve been all season.

The margin for error is thin against the Warriors, who could get an additional playmaker — Andre Iguodala — back for Game 3 on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, ABC). To have a chance in this series, the Cavs’ defense needs to figure out how to make fewer errors, both in effort and execution.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail himhere, findhis archive hereandfollow him on Twitter.

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