For the first time this postseason, the Cavaliers find themselves facing adversity, tied 2-2 going into Game 5 versus the Toronto Raptors. Both teams have protected their own home courts and the Cavs hope to do the same in Game 5. In order for the Cavs to maintain their edge on the Raptors, they should stick to what has been working for them throughout the postseason. That isn’t to say that an adjustment here and there isn’t needed; the way they’ve been switching every Kyle Lowry screen comes to mind as a potential adjustment – when Bismack Biyombo is the roller in a high screen, it might be smart for the Cavs to trap Lowry coming off of the screen, give the ball up to Biyombo and force Biz to make a play from the top of the key. That’s an area where Biyombo isn’t used to catching the ball.
The Cavaliers also may want to start using Channing Frye a bit more. Frye is on an absolutely scorching shooting run from the outside, hitting 20 of his last 32 three-pointers for a ridiculous 62.5%. Putting Frye in for Tristan Thompson will most likely hurt the Cavaliers on the defensive end and on both the offensive and defensive boards, but it could be worth it because of the spacing Frye provides the offense with his deadly three-point shooting. The lineup that finished Game 4 was fantastic down the stretch, but with Frye at center, they ended up giving up some key offensive rebounds to the Raptors. Having Love play in addition to Frye could help the Cavaliers on the defensive glass. So some adjustments here and there may be needed, but in game 4 in Toronto, the Cavs were down early to the Raptors and Coach Tyronn Lue, who’s been doing a fantastic job all playoffs, may have panicked a bit and hopefully he doesn’t make the same mistake in game 5.
What I’m specifically referring to is the Cavaliers bench rotations and when to rest their starters. In game 3 at Detroit in the First Round, Coach Lue made a brilliant move to take LeBron James out with a few minutes remaining in the first quarter and subbed Richard Jefferson in for James and played a lineup of Jefferson and the other four starters not named LeBron (Iman Shumpert has also checked in at this point for LeBron at times throughout the playoffs.) These lineups with either Jefferson or Shumpert with Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson have been about even when they’ve closed the first and third quarters and in those 3 minute stretches, it may not seem like a lot, but to play even with LeBron James on the bench is a win for the Cavaliers.
While staying even with LeBron on the bench helps, what has really worked for the Cavs is when all of the other starters come out, LeBron comes back in to start either the second or fourth quarter, and is joined by the rest of the Cavaliers rotation bench players, leaving a lineup of Matthew Dellavedova, Shumpert, Jefferson, James and Frye and those units have been deadly for the Cavaliers. That was the unit that made up the deficit vs. the Raptors in game 4, scoring on fourteen straight possessions.
That lineup has only played in 10 games together, averaging only 6.5 minutes per game, but stretched out to 100 possessions, that lineup has been outscoring the opposition by 45.4 points per 100 possessions. In game 4, they did end up playing together to start the second quarter, but that was with LeBron playing straight through and not getting his first rest until around the 10 minute mark in the second quarter, with Kyrie subbing in for James and playing with the bench unit. Kyrie would often play with the bench unit in the regular season and while Kyrie is a phenomenal individual talent offensively, he sometimes tends to over dribble when he’s paired with these bench players who have very specific strengths and limitations offensively and it forces Irving to go into God mode offensively, which he is capable of at times but can also be inefficient for the Cavs offense.
If the Cavaliers are down a few points near the end of the first and third quarters, LeBron should still come out of the game to end those quarters so he can come back in to start the second and fourth. If they’re down a few points, they can rely on how well the Cavs’ LeBron + bench lineups have been playing and hope their previous level of play continues and can make up any small deficit or add to a lead.
Obviously, each game is unique and calls for different adjustments; maybe the Cavs go small with Love at center by bringing Shumpert or Dellavedova in earlier than usual, or maybe Frye comes in earlier for Thompson and that’s perfectly fine, that shouldn’t take away from the LeBron + bench lineup. Frye can come in halfway through the first quarter if needed and still be in to start the second. The key is taking LeBron out close to the under three minute timeout in the first and third quarters. That still leaves LeBron at close to 42 minutes if he doesn’t get a rest for a couple minutes in the second quarter as well. 42 is still a lot of minutes but down from the 46 he played in Game 4.
It’s understandable that Coach Lue would want to leave LeBron in if the Cavs are struggling but I think it’s imperative that he gets those few minutes of rest at the end of the first and third quarters to get the peak LeBron James the Cavs need to be at their best and to stick to the lineups that have been working.