Last time in the film room, I gave the bench a standing ovation for their assist work. This week, I have the much less enjoyable task of breaking down just how the Cavaliers blew a 27-point lead against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, allowing the Heat to extend their win streak to 24 games. Not surprisingly, the three point shot played a huge role in that comeback. In less than eleven minutes of game action, Miami hit TEN three point shots to go from down 23 to up 7. As you’ll see in the film breakdown, however, it wasn’t just Miami getting hot. It was a systematical breakdown in the Cavaliers’ defense and a poor decision in personnel by Byron Scott that exacerbated the problem. Let’s dive in.
We’ll start with the first of the ten, which got Heat veteran forward Shane Battier rolling. The Heat have a lineup of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Chris Bosh. The Cavaliers have countered with Wayne Ellington, Shaun Livingston, Alonzo Gee, Luke Walton, and Tristan Thompson. Notice this puts the four man Walton in the position of guarding a spot-up shooter in either Allen or Battier, because Gee is going to check James, and Ellington needs to cover Wade.
As Miami gets into their set, Walton and Ellington are on the left side of the court, and judging by the way Walton is staying under the screen of Battier, that’s his man. Livingston is out and giving at least some pressure to Mario Chalmers.
Battier picks and goes opposite side. For some reason, Walton hangs around on the left side, presumably to help on a Wade drive from the left wing. Chris Bosh flashes to set a screen. Tristan Thompson is on him. What exactly is Walton doing below? His man, a three-point threat, has now floated to the other side of the paint, and Luke has lost all sight of him.
As Wade drives baseline side, notice that Battier stays wide and makes himself available, sliding up to the top of the key. As Walton challenges Wade, there are two guys (Livingston and Gee) to cover three shooters with Chalmers in the corner, LeBron on the right wing, and Battier up top.
Wade kicks it to Battier, and no one is within ten feet of Battier as he catches it. That’s going up, and there was no way that he’d miss it.
About one minute later in game action, we see almost the exact same thing occur. Wade has the ball on the left wing with Ellington guarding. Walton is still (supposed to be) guarding Battier. Notice how three Cavaliers have at least a foot in the paint to account for the dribble penetration of Wade and the post passing ability of LeBron.
LeBron sets a pick, effectively forming the most difficult pick and roll to defend in the league. Wade goes opposite the pick as Ellington tries to influence him to the help (Daniel Gibson).
Boobie actually does the job, setting up outside the charge circle, squared up to Wade, forcing a last second dumpoff to Bosh in the right post.
With Tristan firmly in front of Bosh, Walton tries to help him out. Notice Shane Battier begging for the ball on the right wing, no one within at least twelve feet of him again.
To be blunt, I have no idea why the hell Luke Walton is playing this apparent one-man roaming zone within the Cavaliers’ man-to-man defensive principles. If it’s a coaching decision1, then Byron Scott is brain dead. If it’s Luke, the NBA vet should know so much better than this, playing a part on NBA championship teams with the Lakers.
After all, Battier is only shooting a career-best 43.2% from three point range, having made 114 treys in 24.5 minutes per game. In his career best year in 2007 at age 28, Battier hit 157 and shot 42.1% while playing 36.4 minutes per game. You CANNOT leave him to stare down not just the hoop, but all of the airspace in front of him without anything at all in his field of vision.
You would think after all of that Luke would have learned his lesson. Yes, you’d think so, but here we are, just two Miami possessions later. The Cavaliers get all sorts of mixed up in transition, forcing Gibson to pick up James.
Notice again the attention on LeBron. There appears to be a miscommunication here as both Ellington and Thompson come to help on James. Walton has no choice but to rotate down and account for Bosh standing underneath the hoop. Alonzo Gee is now trying to split the difference between Wade at the top of the key, Battier on the wing, and Ray Allen in the corner. Sound familiar?
The ball goes to Allen in the corner for a wide open look, but he actually misses.
Walton inexplicably leaves box-out position on Bosh to go ball-side and stand there. Thompson is now boxed out himself by Bosh, who grabs the offensive rebound easily.
Bosh backs down Tristan on the block for a moment before firing it to Battier who’s calling for the ball, because he’s in the zone now and nobody seems to notice it (at least not Walton).
Here comes Luke finally… a day late and a dollar short. Battier has a clear look at the hoop, and he could’ve made that one sitting in a folding chair.
Where is your head at, LUKE? Why are you so worried about giving help to the guy guarding LeBron or Bosh when Battier’s the one heating up and torching you with wide open looks? If the Cavalier had matched up properly here with Gee on LeBron, Tristan on Bosh, and Ellington on Wade, throwing three guys at LeBron isn’t necessary. Alonzo Gee, as capable on defense as he is, can’t guard two knock-down spot-up shooters when one is in the corner and the other is on the wing.
And now, we have one more final breakdown of the Cavaliers’ breakdown in three point coverage. LeBron gets a high screen from Birdman. C.J. Miles and Marreese Speights are now in the game for this early fourth quarter possession. Livingston shares some blame in this too, though he was understandably gassed given the backcourt’s thin depth without both Irving and Waiters and the nightmarish play of the Cavs with Gibson manning the point spot.
Speights doesn’t cut James off, and around both Cavaliers he goes toward the basket. I’ve noticed quite a slip in Speights’s intensity on the defensive end in the last five or ten games. Has anyone else?
Again, for some reason, with all of Miami’s capable three point shooters, Livingston has a foot in the paint when Ray Allen is just one pass away at the top of the key.
The best three-point shooter in NBA history doesn’t miss on those looks.
Not shown here is LeBron’s trio of three pointers that actually put the Heat over the top and gave them the lead. We all remember how if LeBron gets one three pointer to fall, he’s probably not too far away from taking another one, especially if you let him size it up and feel a comfort zone near the line. After making two in the previous ninety seconds of game action, Livingston again (he was more concerned about James driving past him in transition on the previous LeBron three) let James have a buffer zone right up to the line.
These stats are nothing new for the Cavs, sadly, as they rank fifth-worst in the NBA when it comes to defending the three-point line (37.5%). I’m certain from watching the film that Coach Scott was trying to deploy something different with his defense and a defender roaming to help on Wade, LeBron, and Bosh, but it went terribly wrong as that man was repeatedly out of position on dynamite, knockdown three-point shooters. While James put them over the top, Battier and Allen are the ones that hit the threes in rapid succession to release the blood in the water for the shark to attack.
Kirk Lammers grew up on the Marblehead Peninsula and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. He now lives in Northeast Ohio, and you can find him at the ballpark, at the Q, or far too often on Twitter (@WFNYKirk)."