2018 NBA Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Analysis provided by Synergy Sports Technology
Golden State Warriors Offense vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Defense
Though the Warriors’ 58 regular season win total fell well below the standard they have set in recent seasons, the reigning NBA Champions still secured the second seed in the Western Conference despite only one player on their roster appearing in over 73 games and Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry missing a combined 45 games. Making quick work of the Spurs and Pelicans to reach the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors were pushed to the brink of elimination by the Houston Rockets before capitalizing on a cold 3-point shooting stretch to take control in the 2nd half of Game 7. Shooting the ball less consistently on the road but committing fewer turnovers overall this postseason relative to their regular season standard, the Warriors weathered a sharp rise in one-on-one play against the Rockets. Golden State’s efficiency has dipped slightly from their torrid regular season pace, but they have averaged a remarkable 1.143 points per possession in the third quarter of games this postseason. The Warriors flipped the switch when they need to and get back to the opportunistic style that has brought them so much success since the arrival of Kevin Durant.
The Cavaliers, in contrast, have looked like a different team in the postseason, specifically on the defense end. Making several adjustments to their rotations and coverages in the half court has helped the Cleveland defense dramatically outperform their regular season standard. Granted, their uptick in shot defense in the half court and special situations has come against three teams that ranked outside of the top-third of the league in scoring efficiency during the regular season, but the Cavaliers are nonetheless peaking at the right time.
Golden State Warriors: PlayType Analysis
No team in modern NBA history has blended spacing, passing, and off ball actions quite like the Warriors. As much as the Rockets found the blueprint on how to coerce Golden State into resorting to one-on-one play, the Warriors still averaged a solid 1.020 points per possession in the Western Conference Finals, just below their season average. Golden State scored 1.060 points per Isolation possession over 19.1 Isolation possessions per game against Houston, a massive jump from the 0.931 points per possession over 7 possessions per game they had averaged prior to that series. Even when taken out of their comfort zone, there is only so much opposing defenses can do against their stable of elite scorers.
The Warriors remain perhaps the most unique team in the NBA to defend as the combination of shooting and unselfishness of their core of All-Stars allows them to play a style all their own. They generate significantly more offense from Cuts and Off Screen actions than any team in the NBA, and score both at a spectacular rate. Finishing the regular season averaging 1.336 points per Cut possession [3rd] and 1.131 points per Off Screen possession [1st], their efficiency and usage in both areas has dipped slightly during the postseason but only after their grueling series with Houston.
In total, the Warriors have scored 17.3 points per game off Cuts and 14.3 points per game on Off Screens. Cleveland’s defense ranks 10th in the NBA allowing 9.3 points off Cuts and 8th allowing only 5.7 points on Off Screens. However, the Warriors scored 18.5 points off Cuts and 10.5 from Off Screens against the Cavaliers as they still stand alone with regards to the kind of situations they can create and capitalize on in the half court against even the most talented and prepared defenses.
The bigger issue for the Cavaliers against the Warriors during the regular season was their inability to get stops in transition. Cleveland ranked 20th in the NBA allowing 1.110 points per Transition possession during the regular season and 27th surrendering 19.2 Transition points per game. Golden State gouged Cleveland’s defense for 32.5 Transition points per game in the regular season. The Cavaliers have fared a bit better this postseason allowing 1.012 points per Transition possession and 17.4 Transition points per game.
Golden State Warriors: Offensive Shot Chart
Beating the Cavaliers twice this season — once without Stephen Curry — while making a chilly 32.1% of their 3-point attempts within their half court offense, the Warriors present a major challenge for Cleveland’s defense. The Cavaliers have only recently found a formula to string together stops consistently by generating high percentage shots at the other end of the floor.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Defensive Shot Chart
The Cavaliers defensive struggles during the regular season are well documented, but they fared better on the perimeter against the Warriors than most. Despite that, their inability to contest shots around the rim, especially in transition, proved problematic.
Golden State Warriors: Spotlight Players
Curry missed over a month of action late in the season nursing a knee injury, an unfortunate asterisk on what has otherwise been the most efficient scoring regular season of the two-time Most Valuable Player’s NBA career. After missing the early part of the postseason, Curry has shown no ill-effects from his time out of Golden State’s lineup. Ranking among the NBA leaders averaging 1.086 points per Pick & Roll used by the Ball Handler [96th percentile] and 1.308 points per Spot Up possession [98th percentile] during the regular season, Curry’s small jump in efficiency this season from the elite pace he set the last few years is based on his improved consistency as a midrange scorer and finisher and the way he seeks out contact to get to the line. He has continued to score with terrific efficiency this postseason, notably scoring a remarkable 1.531 points per shot around the rim in the half court [93rd percentile] through 11 games.
Durant has not been quite as efficient in his second year with the Warriors as he was in his first due to a dip in his effectiveness in transition, but has otherwise been brilliant in a variety of areas. Scoring 1.435 points per Spot Up possession [100th percentile] and 1.543 points per Cut possession [93rd percentile] during the regular season, Durant can carry the Warriors offensively and double as the league’s best offensive role player on the nights Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson run hot.
He has gotten back on track in transition this postseason in a major way averaging 1.366 points per Transition possession [94th percentile] while also pouring in 1.025 points per Isolation possession [70th percentile] as he rose to the challenge to score one-on-one against Houston’s defense.
Cleveland Cavaliers Offense vs. Golden State Warriors Defense
A lot has changed for the Cavaliers this season following the flurry of trades they made in February. With a dramatically different rotation than the one that took them to the 2017 NBA Finals, the formula for the Cavaliers remains largely unchanged on the offensive end from last season and hasn’t varied much this postseason. Cleveland once again ranks among the NBA’s more prolific one-on-one and pick & roll offenses with LeBron James carrying a massive burden offensively surrounded by one of the league’s most efficient groups of shooters. The Cavaliers have not scored with consistent efficiency this postseason and their role players ran cold from the perimeter all at once with Kevin Love out of the lineup in Game 7 against Boston, but they have made timely shots to reach the NBA Finals.
After a somewhat disappointing regular season defensively by their lofty standards, the Warriors have gotten back on track in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, apart from a few less than stellar road performances. The potential absence of Andre Iguodala stings, particularly against James and the Cavaliers, but Golden State has nonetheless played some of its best defensive basketball of the year this postseason, especially in the second half of games when they’ve held playoff opponents to only 0.762 points per Transition possession.
Cleveland Cavaliers: PlayType Analysis
Cleveland has leaned heavily on James to make things happen one-on-one this postseason, but the fact remains their shooters are the x-factor when the Cavaliers are at their best offensively.
The Cavaliers finished the regular season scoring 1.082 points per Spot Up possession [1st] and 0.907 points per Pick & Roll Ball Handler possession [4th] with 10.2% of their possessions coming in Isolation situations [3rd] and another 7.2% on Post Ups. At age 33, LeBron James has been nothing short of outstanding in the 2018 postseason as the Cavaliers one-on-one usage has trended up to 22% of their total possessions. Kevin Love has been key for the Cavaliers as well ranking as the most prolific Spot Up threat on the NBA’s top Spot Up shooting team, but has also missed several stretches in the midst of the most efficient offensive season of his career and struggled in the first round of the playoffs before returning to form in Cleveland’s sweep of Toronto. Despite the considerable turnover they have gone through in the last year and their ups and downs this postseason, the Cavaliers remain one of the NBA’s most explosive offensive teams.
Cleveland has looked outstanding on the offensive end for stretches this postseason thanks to the performance of James, who has raised his level of play to create, assist, or score an otherworldly 68.6 points per-48 minutes while generating almost half of his points in the half court in one-on-one situations and still rank as the postseason’s most efficient volume scorer. However, the Cavaliers have struggled at times as well. They averaged an impressive 1.020 points per possession in Quicken Loans Arena, but just 0.962 points per possession on the road with Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Jeff Green being their only major contributors holding up as well or better in road games as home games.
The Warriors managed to hold James to 26 points per game and 0.880 points per possession during their regular season matchups, both of which came before the trade deadline.
Cleveland has poured it on thick on their best nights offensively this season shooting 40.2% from beyond the arc within their half court offense in wins compared to just 31% in losses. If Golden State’s defense has done one thing particularly well this postseason, it has been closing out shooters. The Warriors have been the top defense in the 2018 NBA Playoffs due in no small part to the stellar 0.883 points per Spot Up possession [2nd] they have allowed, a considerable improvement from their regular season standard. Cleveland’s ability to get shots to fall from the perimeter against the Warriors, particularly on the road, is a major point of interest in this series.
Golden State held the Cavaliers to just 33% shooting from beyond the arc in the half court in their pair of regular season matchups, but more importantly allowed only 0.981 points per shot around the rim in the half court on 48% shooting, a huge drop from the 1.310 points per shot around the rim in the half court on 64% shooting the Cavaliers averaged the rest of the season. James has created quality looks for his teammates in bunches this postseason, and their ability to convert them from the inside and out to take some pressure off him to score and make it more difficult for the Warriors to get out and run could be key to the Cavaliers’ fortunes.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Offensive Shot Chart
The Cavaliers have done their best work offensively inside this season thanks in large part to the transcendent talent of LeBron James. Going 15-for-19 around the rim in two games against the Warriors, James held up his end of the bargain for Cleveland, but the rest of the Cavaliers shot just 20-for-51 in close.
Golden State Warriors: Defensive Shot Chart
The Warriors were not quite as good defensively this season as they have been in recent years, but gave the Cavaliers fits around the rim and allowed them to get very little going from the perimeter as well.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Spotlight Players
James ranks 1st in the 2018 NBA Playoffs scoring, assisting, or creating 68.6 points per-48 minutes. Among the top interior scorers in the NBA, James averaged 1.472 points per shot around the rim in the half court [97th percentile] during the regular season and 1.536 points per shot around the rim [94th percentile] in the postseason. Getting 54% of his offense from Isolations and Pick & Rolls during Cleveland’s playoff run, James is shooting a combined eFG% of 52.7% in those situations as he remains one of the league’s most explosive scorers off the dribble even as he has taken on an even bigger role late in the year. He has also been very effective going one-on-one on the block this season scoring 1.036 points per Post Up possession [88th percentile] while doing some of his best work as a passer down low surveying the defense playing with his back to the basket and threading the needle to the weakside. After a grueling series against the Celtics, James will have little time to recover before what figures to be an even more daunting challenge.
Love was one of the most efficient players in the NBA during the regular season ranking 5th in points per possession among players using over 15 possessions per game despite only appearing in 59 games due to a variety of circumstances. Love plays a unique role with 40% of his possessions coming from a balanced mix of Spot Ups and Post Ups and excelled at scoring the ball in both areas averaging 1.271 points per Spot Up possession [96th percentile] and 0.983 points per Post Up possession [79th percentile] during the regular season. Love’s ability to run hot from the perimeter has been one of the driving factors behind Cleveland’s best offensive performances this season, and the miserable 0.780 points per possession he scored in the first round of the postseason was one of the reasons Indiana pushed the Cavaliers to the brink of elimination. Love found his footing against the Raptors, but his availability and impact after entering the NBA’s concussion protocol late in Cleveland’s series against the Celtics is a question mark moving forward.