- This was an excellent game for the Cavaliers. They were dominant from the start, at least until about two minutes left in the fourth quarter, when the Spurs’ third-string outplayed the Cavs’ third-string. It still left questions for both teams, however, it was a meaningful result.
- Since Tyronn Lue took over for David Blatt, the Cavaliers are averaging 290.8 passes and 25 assists per contest. This is a decrease by roughly ten passes per game, but, it is an increase by about three assists per game. Essentially, this is indicative of the Cavs’ increased passing efficiency. They are actually moving the ball less, yet they are making more meaningful passes, thus assuaging a criticism made of David Blatt.
- The funny thing is that the Cavs’ “seconds per touch” has not noticeably improved. Before firing David Blatt, they held the ball 2.83 seconds per touch; however, after promoting Lue, this number has decreased to 2.78. It is thus an increase, but a minimal one. The real difference, rather, is in the type of touch. Prior to the firing, the Cavs averaged 14.4 elbow touches per game; yet afterwards, the Cavs are averaging 18.8 per game. This is crucial, because as I’ve noted previously, the Cavs have perhaps the best talent from the elbow in the NBA. Additionally, due to its location, elbow touches generate more open shots because they encourage movement without the ball.
- All of this points to the fact that, since Tyronn Lue became head coach, the Cavs have the third highest offensive efficiency (behind Golden State and Portland). Moreover, their points per 100 possessions since Lue took over (115.5) is an improvement by about ten points off their season average. I complained last week after the Cavs-Bulls match that this Cavs team has been simply boring to watch. They seemed completely complacent. This week, however, has shown the Cavaliers team myself, NBA fans, and Cleveland fans have been hoping to see for 1.5 years.
- Unfortunately for the Spurs, their week has not been as rewarding as it has been for the Cavs. Admittedly, part of this is due to Tim Duncan’s injury. He is their defensive anchor and makes Kawhi Leonard’s job significantly easier. That is because, when Duncan is in the game, Kawhi can slightly sag off his defender and go for steals while knowing that Duncan will prevent an easy basket. With Duncan hurt, though, Kawhi needs to play stricter man defense.
- With that said, this is a serious liability for the Spurs. The Spurs give up 4.4 points per 100 possessions more with Duncan off the court than when he is on. Moreover, during their two last games against the Warriors and Cavs, the Spurs gave up 52 points in the paint each contest. On the season, though, they only give up 39.6 paint points per game. This is important because, last year during the playoffs, Tim Duncan played 35.7 minutes per game. That means, with this weakness known, teams will be able to attack the paint freely for over twelve minutes per contest. The Spurs will need to adjust to this liability if they hope to win the NBA finals.
- The largest benefit tonight for the Spurs was that Jonathan Simmons adequately guarded LeBron. He looks to be developing into a future defensive stalwart in San Antonio. Nevertheless, it is curious why Patty Mills was guarding James when both Simmons and Leonard were in the game. The argument could be made that the Spurs needed to worry about Kyrie Irving, but to continuously switch Mills onto LeBron only played into the Cavs’ strategy. Regardless, come playoff time, expect Kawhi and Simmons to share duties guarding their opponent’s best perimeter player.
- This leads me to a conversation about Kyrie Irving. Irving undoubtedly has the best handles in the game, and they rival what Allen Iverson once did. Just watch this play:
— Cavs Nation (@CavsNationNet) January 31, 2016
and this one:
Still can't figure out how he made this lay up pic.twitter.com/kErTKwrbaM
— Dan (@CLE_Sports88) January 31, 2016
Seriously, the dude can dribble around players in a historically unique way. Nevertheless, since Kyrie’s return from injury, his three point shot has looked flat. Considering his ability with this skill, though, one has to assume it is only a matter of when it returns. At that point, defending the Cavs will become nearly impossible.
9. On that note, the Spurs generally have difficulty guarding the opposing team’s point guards. Said players’ average 9.7 points per game against San Antonio. This is the most out of any position. Let’s look at the breakdown below:
Figure 1 via Statmuse
This statistic will be something San Antonio needs to overcome because, outside of the Spurs, the four best NBA teams this season are Golden State, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, and the Los Angeles Clippers. All four have generationally great point guards. Tony Parker struggles defensively, and consequently, if the Spurs cannot adequately adjust they will not be able to win the finals this year.
10. If you are a Cavs fan, though, tonight provided a lot of positives. The biggest of which is that they were able to maintain a high-paced game off a back-to-back. One of Blatt’s greatest weaknesses was that the team simply did not show up in back-to-back games. For the Spurs, however, they also needed to take advantage of the Cavs’ assuredly tired legs. They were unable to guard the entire Cavs’ “big three” throughout specific points in the game. Nonetheless, this is a problem Cleveland should paint for every team, as the dynamic play of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love is unparalleled throughout the association.