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Cleveland Cavaliers playbook: How a Jae Crowder screen freed LeBron James in crunch time

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Crowder help a create the one mismatch Dallas wanted to avoid at all costs.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Dallas Mavericks Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Last night was not LeBron James’ best game. He never seemed in rhythm, at least until late when the Cavs turned over the offense to him. The Cavs were able to make this work, however, and leaned on old staples to get LeBron easier looks. All game, the Cavs sought mismatches for LeBron and tried to get Wesley Matthews switched off him.

Late, the Cavs used Jae Crowder — who was being defended by Dirk Nowitzki, the last person in the world Dallas would want on LeBron — to screen Matthews. They did with almost the same focus as they would have last year, when the entire late game offense was built around finding mismatches and attacking in isolation.

It didn’t always work — Matthews fought really, really hard to stay on LeBron — but when it did, the Cavs got LeBron free. Case in point:

Crowder’s screen is what makes this play work. Using his frame, he is able to hold off Matthews long enough to where the Mavericks have to switch. As Matthews tries to fight through it, you can see Crowder holding his ground while not moving his feet — anything else and he might be called for a foul When that happens, all James has to do is take a second to size up Dirk, drive, dunk and give the Cavs a five point lead with just over a minute to go.

Everyone on the floor seems to know what’s coming too. Once he realizes Dirk has to try to defend LeBron, Matthews visibly reacts. And right next to him, J.R. Smith jumps up in celebration just as LeBron takes off. Once the switch happened, the result was inevitable.