With tonight's win, the Cleveland Cavaliers now find themselves up three games to none on the Boston Celtics. At the end of the day, that's really all that matters. On Sunday, the Cavs will have a chance to sweep the Celtics and move onto game two. If Cleveland is able to complete the sweep, that's a huge win because it enables the Cavs to get some rest ahead of what could be a grueling second series against the Chicago Bulls.
But how the Cavs get to that end is worth noting. Down the stretch, the Cavs relied heavily on isolation and high pick and rolls with LeBron James, basically letting LeBron eat away clock at the top of the key and then attack after the shot clock went below 10. This isn't something new for the Cavs - we've seen this all year - and it makes sense. LeBron is one of the best in the league in isolation, scoring .93 points per possession in isolation this year and having the ability to get to the rim virtually whenever he wants. As a pick and roll ball handler, LeBron scores .82 points per possession and, when he runs the PNR with Tristan Thompson and shooters everywhere else on the floor, it's incredibly hard to defend and force a miss.
On top of that, the Cavs also have another player who is really, really good in isolation (and the pick and roll) in Kyrie Irving. Having those two players makes these play calls sort of obvious, as why wouldn't you play to the strengths of your best players when the game is on the line?
But as the Cavs advance, being so predictable at the end of games could become a problem. The Celtics, as pesky as they play, aren't capable of stopping these attacks. But the Bulls, a team that is coached by Tom Thibodeau and has Jimmy Butler to defend LeBron, probably are. The Atlanta Hawks, to some extent, probably are as well. And if the Cavs make the finals, running the same plays over and over in tight games in potential series with the Golden State Warriors,San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers isn't the best plan of attack.
The Warriors are long enough to switch everything, can use a variety of players to defend both LeBron and Kyrie and have rim protection. Running such simple offense in heavy doses won't cut it when the games matter.The Spurs have Kawhi Leonard to defend LeBron, Danny Green to defend Kyrie, if Tiago Splitter can get healthy, can defend the paint if the LeBron or Kyrie gets into the lane. The Clippers aren't quite as stout, but DeAndre Jordan will be lurking in the middle and can probably roam off Thompson to protect the rim.
The good news for the Cavs is that it shouldn't be that hard to fine tune their late game offense. The lineup the Cavs ran at the end of the game tonight - Kyrie, J.R.Smith, LeBron, Kevin Love and Thompson - is versatile enough where you can still run something simple and still give yourself a variety of ways to score. This is true even if the Cavs go with a LeBron isolation. For example:
Kyrie starts off with the ball here with 20 seconds left on the shot clock.
Kyrie then passes the ball to LeBron on the left wing. 11 second are left on the shot clock. Note that in some quick adjusting, Evan Turner is defending LeBron instead of Jae Crowder. And the entire Celtics defense is looking at LeBron and waiting to adjust to his move.
LeBron then holds the ball, dribbling away seconds on the clock before making his move with just 4.6 seconds left on the shot clock.
LeBron does have a very quick first step, so he's at the rim with 3.4 seconds left on the clock. Note that he's gotten past Turner and the entire Celtics defense is rotating back towards James at the rim. This leaves Love wide open for to take a three. LeBron has room to pass because Thompson keeps Brandon Bass from being able to slide down to the baseline and cut off LeBron.
Love makes his shot. It seals the game for the Cavs.
As this shows, the Cavs certainly have the personnel to force defenses to adjust to them instead of the other way around. Simple offensive attacks like this are going to be effective and the Cavs have the shooting to give LeBron (or Kyrie, although the spacing would be different) to drive and kick out if a shot at the rim isn't there.
But against the better teams, this type of play calling won't always work. A varied attack, even if the variation is posting up LeBron or running a Kyrie/LeBron pick and roll, makes the Cavs much more dangerous at the end of games.