The Cavs Are Losing Not Because of Their Offense, But Because of Their Terrible Terrible Defense

With 5:42 left to go in the 4th and the Warriors up 30 on the Cavs, ABC put up a graphic to illustrate just how woeful the Cavs' offense has been:

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The problem with the Cavs is not their offense. Because even if their offense was great, they'd still lose. Why? Because their defense is terrible.

What makes the Warriors great? Steph? Klay? Draymond? The Death Lineup? Iggy's D? Quality backups like Livingston? Kerr's coaching? The front office?

I would argue that what makes the Warriors great is they relentlessly focus on getting good looks. Notice that this isn't outcome-oriented. It's quality of looks. You rarely see iso-ball with them. You see them taking deep 3s which are typically bad shots but good for them because they have the shooters. You see them taking quick shots in transition whereas other teams insist on setting up the offense. Why? Because those are good shots for them.

The Thunder series was so difficult because the Thunder were able to disrupt these looks. They had excellent perimeter defenders. Excellent help defense. They took away the 3s and the backdoor cuts. Finishing around the rim became an adventure. Everything that seemed to work against the rest of the league didn't seem to work against the Thunder.

The Cavs, however, are so far doing none of that. Game 2 was particularly bad -- so let's look at the ways the Cavs' D failed them in a blowout loss. I've grouped them into three main categories:

  1. Mental Mistakes
  2. Help D
  3. Transition D

Mental Mistakes

a. Here Curry has the ball. They're running a pick-and-roll with Draymond.

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Curry passes to Bogut. Keep an eye on Iguodala in the upper left hand corner.

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Because of the original pick-and-roll action, Thompson is now on Curry -- a very bad matchup for him. Notice LeBron sees Bogut is unguarded and wanders towards him.

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Bogut passes to Curry who has a wide open jumper. However, LeBron has completely forgotten about his man, Iggy.

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Leading to an Iguodala dunk.

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b. Livingston is bringing up the ball. Iggy appears to be setting a screen for Curry in the paint.

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LeBron takes Curry and J.R. Smith... Well, he's definitely not on Curry and he's completely turned around on Iggy.

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Which leads to an open Iggy in the paint and a bucket (and a foul on a late arriving James).

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c. Here Iggy is bringing the ball up -- notice he's pointing. It's hard to see, but Klay is motioning to Barbosa as well.

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Klay goes to the corner and Barbosa runs the baseline. Notice both J.R. Smith and Jefferson are focused on Klay.

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Leading to a Barbosa layup.

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Help D

Many of the wide open shots came on help. It's a tough call. The Cavs simply have a lot of personnel that can't stay with their Warriors counterpart leading to the Cavs to help. If you want to play that personnel, you're going to run into problems defensively.

a. Here Klay has the ball. He's about to drive on Shumpert.

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He beats Shumpert so James goes to help.

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Leading to a wide open Draymond 3-pointer.

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It's pick your poison -- a Klay drive to the hoop or a wide open Draymond three. But Shumpert has to reasonably guard Klay -- otherwise, why is he on the floor?

b. This is literally the next Warriors possession down the court. Klay has the ball. He's driving on Jefferson.

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He easily beats Jefferson so James goes to help. Notice Draymond is already setting up for the 3-pointer.

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Leading to back-to-back 3s for Draymond.

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c. In the post game of Game 1, Kenny Smith had Shaun Livingston (6'7") stand up to illustrate just how much taller he is than Kenny (6'3") and Isaiah Thomas (6'1"). They're not all next to each other, so it's difficult to accurately gauge, but it's pretty clear that Livingston is much taller than either of them.

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Here Livingston is posting up Kyrie (listed as 6'3" but probably shorter). The combination of Livingston's height and excellent post skills makes this a matchup nightmare for Kyrie.

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So in response, Love doubles so Livingston passes out.

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Leading to quite possibly the widest open 3 possible.

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Transition D

The Warriors exploited the Cavs' awful transition defense all night. The Cavs' personnel led to bad matchups and mental errors led to unguarded players.

a. Curry's bringing up the ball in transition.

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Curry passes half court. Notice LeBron pointing. I think he's pointing at Kevin Love to pick up Curry. (Which is a terrible matchup, but there's no one else.) Notice Draymond is in position to be pretty open near the hoop.

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Love doesn't pick up Curry and LeBron oddly doesn't bother to challenge the Curry 3-pointer. Draymond ended up being super open but Curry buries the 3-pointer.

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b. Curry is bringing up the ball in transition. Notice Richard Jefferson -- I'm guessing he's pointing to Kyrie to pick him up. (Why he would need to do that, I'm not sure.)

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Curry drives towards the hoop, literally using Jefferson to screen Kyrie.

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Leading to a Curry layup.

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c. Here Curry has just received the ball. Keep an eye out for Klay trailing the play.

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Curry works himself into space, but notice Klay now has his arm raised. Also notice Kyrie in transition. He doesn't need to pick up Draymond -- Kevin Love is there. He needs to pick up Klay.

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But he doesn't, leading to a wide open Klay 3-pointer.

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There were additional ways in which the Cavs' D was deficient. The Cavs frequently gave too much air space to Klay and Steph -- two shooters who need far less room than your typical shooter to get off an excellent shot.

And, of course, the Warriors continued to attack Love on the pick-and-roll. If the Cavs double, someone is open. If they switch, then Love is singled up on someone like Curry -- an easy win for the Warriors.

In the postgame press conference, Coach Lue was asked, "What do you think your team has to do to come back in the series?" His response:

  1. Take care of the basketball. (Especially in transition.)
  2. Make tougher plays. 50/50 balls.
  3. Being physical. Being on the guys' bodies.

So it doesn't really seem like the defensive deficiencies are top of mind for Coach Lue. There were a lot of problems for Cleveland in Game 2 -- a lot. But I think everything starts with their defense. As long as they're unable to make the Warriors settle for anything less than a good shot (and often an excellent shot) -- they won't be competitive in this series. The offense will get the blame, but their defense is the real problem.

Additional Random Thoughts

How much do the seats cost where you get to chat it up with Iggy?

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That awkward moment when you realize it's not an appropriate time to ask for a selfie with Kyrie Irving.

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