After last night’s game, a 79-76 loss, my brother called me to talk about the game. He was of the opinion that the Cavs — if they couldn’t win last night — had no chance in the series. He listed many of the factors Random Thoughts brought up in its recap:
Discouraged: Z had 22 points, Billups was shut down (7 TO’s), Webber was in foul trouble (and was useless on defense), Detroit’s bench was a non-factor, the Cavs grabbed 18 offensive boards (and out rebounded the Pistons 49-41) and yet they still lost.
I tried to cheer him up. My main argument was that LeBron James didn’t play his typical game. He didn’t attempt a free throw. He only scored 10 points. He had a lot of trouble navigating the defense. And in spite of that the Cavs still could have won had Marshall drilled that three-pointer. When your best player lays an egg and you still almost win — on the road, on shorter rest, in the team’s first trip to the ECF — you have to like your chances going forward. Maybe not to win the series, but who knows? If the Cavs can steal the next game…
But today I spent some time going over the boxscore and now I am not so sure the Cavs have any chance.
Let’s take a look at some numbers.
Through the first two rounds of the playoffs the players have posted these numbers:
Numbers in red are negative. WS is Win Score. WS/min is Win Score per minute. WSminAA is Win Score per minute above average, where average is relative to a player’s position. For example, in the first two rounds of the playoffs Donyell Marshall had a total Win Score of 11.5. His Win Score per minute was .185. Marshall plays power forward. Relative to the average power forward Marshall was slightly below average (-.030).
Here are the numbers for Monday’s game against the Pistons:
Notice that the front court played extremely well. Ilgauskas was outstanding and so was Varejao. Gooden and LBJ were the only other players who played above average basketball. The rest of the team? A lot to be desired. Pavlovic was pretty terrible. So was Snow. Marshall and Gibson didn’t do much, but they didn’t play much either. Hughes was Hughes — slightly less productive than the average point guard. (1)
What can we draw from these two sets of numbers? Well, if we look at them side by side…
As you can see, LBJ didn’t have an off game, at least not by his playoff standards this season. In fact, LBJ played slightly better than he has in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The final play of the game notwithstanding, LBJ didn’t play poorly. He played about as well as you can expect him to and, given the stakes and the competition, he probably out-performed what any reasonable person should expect.
What does this all mean?
I don’t know. But here are two thoughts for game two:
1) The Cavs have to run their offense through the post. When the guards pass around the perimeter too often Larry Hughes ends up chucking a low-percentage jumper. When the Cavs swing the ball down low Pavlovic tends to get better looks.
2) As a corollary, I would try to bring Z and Gooden away from the block fairly often. Z is much better as a face-up post player than he with his back to the basket, but by moving Z away from the block the lane should open up. LBJ has to attempt at least eight free throws every game. As you saw last night, though, he won’t be getting any calls if he’s trying to drive into three defenders. But if he’s driving against his man and a help defender, then he’ll start to get calls. Clearing the lane will ensure that happens.
1: Thank goodness Hughes isn’t paid too much money.