Game 4 of the NBA Finals got nasty. Seven technical fouls, non-stop in your face trash-talk, total confusion by the officiating crew and a good old fashioned groin punch.
When looking at the debacle surrounding Draymond Green’s fraudulent ejection and the blatant inconsistency in the rendering of flagrant fouls. While the officiating crew of John Goble, Marc Davis and crew chief Mike Callahan have fallen under the ridicule of many for their inability to keep the game under control, the Cavs would take this crew’s allotted level of physicality every time versus the Warriors.
The Cavs did a multitude of things better in Game 4 — including shoot the three ball — but it was their physical approach and execution that allowed them to be dominant. While all four games of the Finals thus far have been “physical” games, there were a number of hand-to-body defensive fouls called on the perimeter in the first three games that were not being called on Friday.
The Cavs used a combination of aggressive and physical defense, offensive execution and great shooting to accomplish what many thought was impossible until Game 4: slow down the Warriors pace while maintaining their own.
First, look at the way that Richard Jefferson gets his body in front of Kevin Durant and even puts both hands on him to turn him before he gets the ball.
Instead of getting the ball where he is a threat to score, Jefferson’s hand-to-hand defense forces him to catch the ball near half court. On the Cavs’ next possession, Durant throws an obvious shoulder in to Jefferson out of frustration and is called for the foul.
Here, we have Kyrie Irving doing an impressive job staying attached to Steph Curry on defense. Watch how Tristan Thompson is almost ignoring Zaza Pachulia in order to help Irving get physical with Curry.
The Cavs defense was at its best when they were able to key on one player early in on the playoffs against the likes of Paul George, DeMar Derozan and Isaiah Thomas. They have done this throughout the Finals against Durant and Curry when they are in the pick and roll. When playing this aggressively, rotations become vital.
In this play, the Cavs jump Durant on the pick and roll, but Durant quickly drives away from J.R. Smith. Smith peals off of the trap immediately and recovers in time to deflect Durant’s pass coming back to the weak-side. This kind of split second decision making and reaction has to be on point for the Cavs aggressive trapping to work.
The Cavs also found effective ways to remain physical with Steph Curry when they have the ball. Part of the Cavs game plan since Game one has been to get Curry in as many pick and rolls as possible, forcing a switch and a Cavs mismatch. The Warriors have done well in previous game to get Curry out of the area quickly before James or Irving can attack him. In Game four, the Cavs ran Curry and Thompson through multiple screens on the baselines and on the wing, another way they were physical with Golden State while at the same time creating good offense.
Here the Cavs take Curry through multiple screens with good physical contact at each level. Smith takes a “J.R. Smith shot” at the top of the key but the play is great example of how the Cavs are attacking Curry.
The Cavs other target on offense in Game 4 was Pachulia. Whenever he was in the game the Cavs put him in multiple pick and rolls. Here we see a perfect example of that. Jefferson realizes he has Pachulia guarding him and runs up high to set a screen on Andre Iguodala, who is guarding James. Iguodala is forced to help on James and the defense never recovers, resulting in an open Kyle Korver triple.
I mentioned earlier that the Warriors had made adjustments to the Cavs attempts to get Curry in mismatches by forcing him into switches in the pick and roll. Here is one of those adjustments.
Curry and Shaun Livingston sniff out the play and quickly get Livingston to switch on to Curry’s man as he heads up to set the screen. However, the Cavs have their own wrinkle to combat this. As Shumpert sees the switch, he runs directly at Curry forcing him to engage then follows the first player up and sets a second screen on the ball. James attacks and easily gets into the paint before kicking the ball to Jefferson in the corner, who swings the ball around the perimeter, resulting in another wide open three point attempt.
It is this kind of acclimation by the Cavs that makes a difference. By not allowing Golden State to simply avoid what the Cavs are trying to do, they force their plan onto the opponent despite their attempts throw them off.
The Cavs were able to get physical with the Warriors, when and where they wanted to. They wouldn’t be deterred from dictating their plan of attack onto the Warriors. By remaining physical and committed to execution on offense, the Cavs were able to slow down the Warriors, without sacrificing their transition game.
Certainly, Game 5 will be a whole new chapter in the saga between these two teams. The level of basketball being played by these two is reaching new heights, but just as soon as we thought this round was over, the Cavs became the aggressor. It will important for the Cavs to keep playing with a chip on their shoulder and a “nothing to lose” attitude on Monday night. They have to find a way to get their hands on Curry and Durant, make them play through contact all while executing offensively. The craziest thing is, that formula for beating Golden State was the same that worked last year.