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Anatomy of a Play: Making Adjustments on the Fly

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The Cavs ran the same play twice in a row in the fourth quarter Thursday night. The first resulted in a turnover. The second a four-point play. What changed?

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

In the fourth quarter of last week’s 115-112 win over the Bulls, the Cavs made an adjustment that allowed them to take a 100-96 lead.

They ran back-to-back staggered screens on the left side of the floor for Kyle Korver. The first resulted in a turnover. The second resulted in a four-point play.

What changed?

Watch the first play that results in a Korver turnover.

The Cavs have Kevin Love — guarded by Robin Lopez — set the first screen in the stagger. This leaves Jae Crowder — guarded by Lauri Markkanen — to set the second screen.

This favors the Bulls, who let Lopez help off Love with a foot in the paint to cut off a potential LeBron James drive. The Bulls likely scouted what happened to the Hawks on this same set when both Hawks bigs were captivated by the stagger action.

Markkanen, more used to switching out on the perimeter, was able to apply pressure to Korver on the catch, forcing the turnover.

Now watch the very next possession. The Cavs run the same set, but the result is a four-point play for Korver.

This time the Cavs invert the screening action, having Crowder set the initial screen and Love set the second screen.

Lopez is not typically forced to guard the perimeter. By switching Love and Crowder, the Cavs put him in an unnatural position defensively. Rather than greeting Korver on the catch, he’s late to help. He both fails to contest the shot and fouls Korver in the act, leading to a four-point play for Mr. Fourth Korver.

This is an example of the constant dance engaged in by NBA offenses and defenses on a possession-by-possession basis.

The Bulls were able to force a turnover on the Cavs original set, but Cleveland also saw something they could exploit in the process. By switching Love and Crowder, they put a weaker perimeter defender in Lopez in a vulnerable position away from the hoop.

Lopez was forced to make one of many split-second decisions that bridge the gap between success and failure. He was late to react and the Cavs morphed a turnover into four points.

All stats as of Dec. 23