The Cleveland Cavaliers offense — lead by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and surrounded by elite shooters — borders on the unguardable. Producing 112.0 points per 100 possessions, there are so many threats out there that at times it’s more about choosing the lesser evil than actually stopping the humming machine.
Take this particular Hornets strategy, per example. In order to get the Cavaliers out of their whizzing style of play you can try and simply switch any LeBron James - Kevin Love pick-and-rolls. It eliminates the advantage a screen gives the ball handler and limits possible future breakdowns. Moreover, the two are somewhat equal in height and thus there shouldn’t be that big of a size disadvantage on either side of the switch.
Yet Love’s good enough to go straight to the post and just score over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist anyway:
You just need such possessions to go your way if you wish to slow them down, just like your execution needs to be near flawless against this offensive juggernaut.
Yet there were plenty of defensive leaks by Charlotte that lead to an offensive efficiency of 128.6 for Cleveland in the first 24 minutes and a 15-point halftime deficit for the visitors.
Start with MKG losing LeBron James in transition and it quickly gets out of control. Kemba Walker — way too small for the assignment — picks up James, Cody Zeller hangs nearby to offer some help, yet it leaves Nicolas Batum alone on the weak side against a Tristan Thompson rim run and J.R. Smith, spotting up for the long-ball:
Cody Zeller in particular got caught ball-watching a bit too much. Tristan Thompson had the chance to convert two of such dunks:
Give up too many of these and you have close to no chance of fighting back in the second half when LeBron James and Kevin Love go 15 for 17 on contested field goal attempts.
Of course, for Hornets fans it might seem like there’s little probability of a W against LeBron James anyway. This is now the 27th loss for the Horncats against a team of LeBron’s in the last 28 contests.
Some other observations:
Despite the overbearing Cleveland offense, the starters showed that they’re capable of keeping up with the home team’s firepower. The main reason for that was Kemba Walker toying with Kevin Love in the pick-and-roll game.
Whether it was splitting the defenders before the big could come up to the level of the screen, using the hedge coverage against itself and hitting a 3-pointer while Love was still in Irving’s way or taking the big one-on-one after a switch, Walker had a plan for all of it.
When Cleveland eventually went to a trap, Kemba just decided that, hey, I can still just go around Kevin Love.
We all should be glad about the fact that Kemba Walker appears to be okay after that knee to knee collision with James and wants to play in the next game.
Meanwhile, if we’re talking about knee injuries, Roy Hibbert still is not looking fully healthy. Swelling in the right knee sidelined him at the start of the season and one has to wonder whether the knee is really feeling all that good for Hibbert.
It’s painful to watch him favor his right knee along whenever the play at hand requires him to sprint.
On a somewhat related note, lineups consisting of Hibbert and Frank Kaminsky gave up 146 points per 100 possessions against the speedy Cavs in the 12 minutes the two bigs played together.
Let’s not think about the number that Cleveland would have put up if Channing Frye was active.