While not necessarily known for an overly complex offense, the Cleveland Cavaliers will still break out set plays out of timeouts and out-of-bounds situations that build upon their base philosophies and even use the same actions the team normally employs, just with more pre-action to distract the defense and create a better opportunity. Down screens for Kyle Korver and George Hill-LeBron James side pick-and-rolls are a key feature of the Cavaliers’ offense and those actions get amplified, not replaced, when head coach Tyronn Lue digs into his after-timeout (ATO) and sidelines-out-of-bounds (SLOB) playbook.
To open Game 2 against the Boston Celtics, Cleveland went back to the Hill-James pick-and-roll on the left side of the floor that’s been so successful for them throughout these playoffs. However, instead of having Hill simply walk the ball up the court into the pick-and-roll, which Boston can see coming and load up their defense to stop, they ran a bunch of other action to disguise their true intentions:
Hill, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson all set staggered screens for J.R. Smith to come across the court to get the ball on the right wing, then Love and Thompson follow Smith into what looks like a two-sided pick-and-roll with Smith as the ball handler, Thompson rolling to the rim, and Love popping to the three-point line. This sort of set is difficult to guard with the three defenders involved in the main action, but as soon as the Boston defense settles in to guard what they believe is the main action, Smith swings the ball quickly to Hill through James and the pair run that left side pick-and-roll at absolute breakneck speed — James is sprinting to follow his pass to Hill and gets a wide-open roll to the rim as a result. James turns it over trying to get it to Thompson for a dunk, but the idea behind the play worked to perfection.
A lot of what makes Cleveland’s Corner set so dangerous is Korver’s ability to shoot off screens in the tightest possible windows. Getting Korver going off wide pindowns is a huge part of the Cavaliers’ offense, whether it be to distract the defense from the main action, to get him an open shot, or to hit the screener when he cuts to the rim after the defense sells out to stop Korver. With Larry Nance Jr. inserted into the game, Lue used his strong screen-setting and handoff skills to get Korver going on multiple occasions:
Nance isn’t a threat to shoot from outside of about five feet and the Cavaliers don’t have such a strong pull-up artist in their ball-handling core that Baynes needs to be at the level of the screen to take away the early three-pointer, so Boston has Baynes hang back in the paint in pick-and-roll defense to guard the rim. This plays right into Cleveland’s hands in this set, however, because Nance doesn’t roll to the rim — he pops to the top of the key and quickly maneuvers into a dribble handoff (DHO) with Korver, who comes flying out of the corner to get a shot. Baynes stays put in the paint and as long as Nance gets in the way of the trailing Jayson Tatum, Korver’s going to be able to rise and fire on the jumper. f
If Baynes ever does venture out of the paint, Nance is rolling straight to the rim and Korver can find him for a dunk; he’s racked up hundreds of assists over the years in very similar situations. The same set doesn’t work as well with the other Cleveland big men: Love has so much gravity as a shooter that Baynes would never be hanging that far back in the paint when he’s involved in pick-and-roll action and Thompson doesn’t have the same ball skills as Nance to execute that DHO-and-roll.
In a similar three-man set, Nance and Hill work together to get Korver a shot on the move. The ball is entered to Nance at the elbow, then Hill runs off a down screen from Korver to get the DHO from Nance (also known as “Chicago” action), but instead of curling into the paint or looking to score, Hill holds and waits for Korver to come off a screen from Nance for the jumper:
The execution here isn’t perfect—Korver could have tried to make contact on his screen for Hill and Hill should take a dribble after the DHO to offer Korver a bit more space in case he wants to curl into the lane or needs to take a dribble himself before hoisting the shot, but this sort of small action preceding the down screen for Korver is what the Cavaliers need more of throughout the game, not just after timeouts or in other special situations.
Moving the ball from side to side and executing pre-actions to set up the main action isn’t something Lue can change overnight, but working on things like this in practice over the next few days before Game 3 will give Cleveland’s offense more juice and break up the stalwart performance the Boston defense has put up in the first two games of this series.