We begin in the final three minutes with Tristan coming to set a screen early in the possession after Irving dribbles up the court off a missed shot. Tristan sets up on the inside of Westbrook initially.
Quickly, Thompson flips sides and seals Westbrook off successfully. A tap of the turbo button, and Kyrie has his matchup 1-on-1 with Perkins with space between them and the hoop.
Off he goes. Irving’s shoulders get in front of Perk, and it’s essentially game over for the Thunder center. Kyrie’s probably going to get to the line, score, or both in this situation. OKC’s last resort chance is a blocked shot from behind. For some reason, Westbrook hangs out around the perimeter with Tristan, because, you know, that’s where he does all his damage (tongue in cheek).
Ibaka recognizes the Irving drive and is looking to come over and slam his shot attempt off of the backboard. He’s got a lot of ground to cover, however, as Irving begins to gather to go up for the shot.
With Perk in his dust and Ibaka going airborne from eight feet out, Irving kisses it home off the glass.
This time, next possession, we start high on the left side. Both Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are preventing Irving from beginning any sort of drive.
Watch Tristan’s adjustment though, as he slips before actually setting the pick, considering how far away from the basket the quartet are. Thompson catches the pass, and with a handoff turned screen, Irving’s back into open court space.
This is a very effective yet simple move. It’s so hard to defend when you have a competent big man who can slip and burn you for a bucket along with a lightning quick guard who knows how to effectively use the human roadblock.
So often, as shown below, when Irving runs pick and rolls, he ends up with the guard on his backside and the big man in front of him. This is usually advantageous, but it can cause problems if Irving gets too loose with his handle or tries to crossover behind his back.
Irving’s fairly-new high dribble turned gather is something that I’ve yet to see anyone stop or have any response to except “What the heck just happened?” If not for the gather, it would obviously be a carry and a turnover, but the NBA rules of traveling (a can of worms I’m not about to open after nine years combined of watching All-Stars James and Irving as Cavaliers) allow Kyrie to bring that sky dribble to a 1-2 and up move.
Kyrie finishes with his left as all of Ibaka’s momentum to jump is lost as he backpedals. Ibaka’s an elite defender and shotblocker, and it’s jaw-dropping to see him rendered so helpless. The ability of Irving to finish with both hands at so many different angles from 8-10 feet in makes him so difficult to stop.
Same set as last time, same four guys involved. The pinch on Kyrie is even tighter this time.
In a wrinkle for OKC, both guys follow Irving as he dribbles left corner. Thompson stands alone on the left wing just inside the arc, something that as of two months ago would’ve been not even a hint of a threat to any team in the association.
Irving throws it to Tristan, who is met by Thabo Sefolosha, but his main concern lies in his man, Dion Waiters, standing hungrily on the right wing, able to step into a three at a split second’s notice. Perkins is also accounting for Speights underneath the bucket, but he is simultaneously preventing an open lane for Tristan to stroll all the way through for a throwdown.
Here, truly, is the development of Tristan on the display. With two small dribbles, Tristan measures a 12-foot half hook, which goes down. Tristan, too, has shown an ability to finish with either hand, having the knack for such ambidexterity since childhood in various sports. It’s this half hook, whether off pick and rolls or post feeds from the block, that has allowed him to score 14.5 points per game and shoot 53% since Andy’s injury (h/t to our own Jacob Rosen). It’s a shot that, unlike many of Tristan’s early dunk attempts and putback tries, cannot be blocked. It’s a game-changer in the ascent of the Cavs.
It was also so crucial that someone else put a bucket in for the Cavs to ease the scoring burden for Irving. That will continue to be a point of emphasis as time goes by to me.
This time, we’re looking at the same four performers once again, this time at the top of the key. Tristan sets the screen on Westbrook’s backside, setting up the front-back separation mentioned previously.
The gap opens, and there’s plenty of open space between Ibaka on the elbow and the hoop.
Irving straddles the foul line with his dribble, as we see the trigger-happy Ibaka just itching to leap into the air to swat the shot. Below, we see Irving hesitate with his dribble and a fake which get Ibaka’s momentum moving upright and forward.
Now, it’s a dash to the hoop as Irving gets the step he needed from that hesitation, kissing off-balance off the glass.
Those four plays diagrammed above, a barrage of Tristan Thompson pick and rolls with Irving attacking the hoop, set up the dagger in OKC’s heart. Here, we see Tristan initially come for a pick and roll at the top of the key. But wait, Irving waves Thompson off, and Tristan heads back under the hoop. It’s isolation that Irving wants. Him vs. Westbrook in an elite point guard battle.
No help comes, as it remains a 1-on-1 bout. Kyrie slowly approaches the three-point line and fires with about 8 seconds on the shot clock. It clearly catches the quick defender Westbrook off guard, considering the time on the shot clock and the fact that Irving didn’t try to drive as he did the last several times.
This doesn’t differ much from the Toronto game, where nearly all of the action in the final three minutes was pick and rolls with either Irving or Waiters and Thompson. Most of them were actually unsuccessful with a pair of turnovers (one each for Irving and Thompson) and a couple missed shots, but all of that laid the groundwork for this final possession against Alan Anderson.
Anderson, above, is clearly waiting and looking for that pick to come.
As you recall, Irving got to walk the ball up the court and walk his way into this nearly 30 foot shot.
Too late, Alan. Kyrie doesn’t miss with that type of separation.
Back to the OKC game, and we look to one last exploitation of Westbrook and Ibaka on the defensive end. Another 1-4 look, with Westbrook respecting the three-point shot a little more this time.
That’s all the opportunity Kyrie needed, as he starts to skate by Westbrook. He’s banking on backline help from either Ibaka or Perk.
A jumpstop and a pump fake gets Ibaka in the air.
And as he falls back to Earth, Irving converts another one.
Some interesting stats on the developing pick-and-roll combo. Irving runs the pick and roll in just under 29% of his possessions used this season, scoring 0.83 ppp (points per possession), hitting 40.9% of his shots (38.9% from three), and turning it over 16.7% of the time (mostly from those crossovers gone wrong and the resulting knockaway). Irving scores in all on 38.5% of these type of possessions.
For his part as a roll man, Tristan’s shooting just 42.4% (28-of-66) in those scenarios, posting 0.83 ppp, scoring 42.3% of the time. Tristan is instead elevating his field goal percentage much more on cuts, transitions, and offensive rebound opportunities. But, as the Cavaliers progress through the rest of the season, I expect to see more of these opportunities for double T (just 13.3% of his possessions used at this point). We’ll continue to monitor these too.
What’s more telling is that Irving is much more effective statistically when he waves off Thompson or whoever is the screener and goes isolation, running such scenarios 30.4% of the time, resulting in 1.08 ppp, 49.3% shooting (45.6% from three), and turning it over only 8.8% of the time and scoring 48.9% of those trips.
As long as Irving keeps changing it up, going from iso to pick and roll and back, looking to score both early and late in the shot clock, attacking the bucket then gaining separation for three-point buckets, keeping it for himself then dumping it to the big man, he will continue to be nearly impossible to stop in the final three minutes of a game (or the other 45 for that matter).
That’s it for this week, and until next time, the film room is closed!