Thursday, June 7, 2007

Keys to Victory

Maybe, as reader robino2001 pointed out in this comment, I have let the delay before Game 1 convince me that the Cavs have a chance to win when, in fact, they don't. My brain still tells me that we are going to lose (though in 6 games or even 7), but my gut says that we have a chance. Here are three things we can do to win the series, and three things that San Antonio can do to help us win.


1.) Attack the rim.

I've read recaps and watched footage from the few games that San Antonio has lost this postseason. For us to win, we have to get Tim Duncan in early foul trouble. I'd like to see LeBron drive to the rim hard his first few trips down the floor. He can get past Bowen pretty much whenever he wants to, and is one of the rare people out there who can finish at the rim over Duncan. If we can get two fouls on Duncan early, and put in Varejao, Duncan is probably going to play more tentatively since he knows Varejao is a good charge-taker. But it's not just LeBron who can do this--Daniel Gibson showed a nice teardrop jumper against Detroit that will probably work against Duncan in addition to a knack for drawing contact and hitting free throws. Sasha is deceptively athletic enough to get to the rim--the question is whether he can make good decisions once he's there. Either way, I think the Cavs have enough penetrating wing players to get Duncan in trouble--we just need to get them moving instead of standing around and letting LeBron pound the ball.

2.) Get into the offense earlier.

I expect San Antonio to run some trapping defense since the Pistons had great success with it against the Cavs. I'd like to see us move the ball up the floor much faster. The Cavs are a team that seems to mirror the way the ball is brought up in their offensive intensity. When LeBron brings the ball up slow, Cavs players get entrenched in the positions they happen to be in and we end up with a bad shot. When the ball gets into the frontcourt quickly, I always see more motion, more cuts. When the Cavs get moving on offense, they are a very good team--they all pass well (save the occasional time when Sasha or Drew thinks they are LeBron and makes a one-handed blind skip pass into the stands) and find each other for cuts and jump shots. But they have to get over that inertial hump that seems to arise every time we bring the ball up slowly.

3.) Trap Tony Parker.

I am nervous about doing this because the Spurs are, in theory, a better three-point shooting team than Detroit. During the regular season, they had Bowen and Finley shooting at 46 percent, Ginobli at 37 percent, and Robert Horry at 35 percent, whereas the Pistons had nobody over 40 percent. If Parker can fight through the traps, he in theory will have a chance to kick a pass out for an open three. But on the flip side, Parker, like Billups, is the engine that gets that team into its offense. By trapping Billups, we were able to disrupt the Pistons' offensive rhythm (on good possessions, they didn't get the ball down low to their more athletic big men until later in the clock). I think we can do the same against Parker. If you can keep Parker on the perimeter, you can negate the worst of the damage he can do--he's not a great long range shooter. At the very least, I can't think of any other way to stop the guy from getting into the middle of our defense, which is his wheelhouse and our weak spot. Especially with Larry Hughes injured, we don't have the personnel to bother Parker one-on-one (Gibson isn't that great of a defender yet).


1.) Let LeBron relax a bit on defense.

LeBron hasn't really been challenged on defense at all during the playoffs. He did well against Prince but Prince was in a huge slump, and the Nets really didn't make him expend too much energy either. Instead, he's been "roaming" a lot and then getting to the rim for loose rebounds. If the Spurs can get him to use some energy on the defensive end, they can take away from his explosiveness on the other end. With Bruce Bowen as his primary man, I'm not sure if LeBron will have to do much aside from force him away from the three-point line. Still, Bowen's a veteran and may find a way to get this job done.

2.) Let the Cavs get emotional.

The Cavs are a team that thrives on emotion, some players more than others (Drew Gooden in particular). The few times that they've taken hard playoff fouls (Sasha getting hacked by Mikki Moore, for example) or given them (Drew Gooden hacking Rasheed Wallace) they have come back with big runs. Also, when LeBron James throws down a sick dunk, the team seems to respond well (see the first half of Game 2 in Detroit). But when these plays don't happen (see the second half of Game 2 in Detroit) the team seems to flounder a bit. The Spurs would do well to avoid a cheap foul (a la Robert Horry's hip check) or a sick LeBron dunk (like the time he posterized Duncan) because I do believe that the Cavs, like the Warriors, thrive on those moments more than some other teams and take their game to a different level. The Spurs do play very controlled, methodical basketball, so I think they'll have a good chance at avoiding this pitfall.

3.) Let Daniel Gibson hit a couple threes.

Gibson's explosion in Game 6 proves one of my fundamental observations about the Cavs--when they have a three-point threat on the floor, they are twice the offensive team they are otherwise (read: I wish we had Michael Redd.) This observation may seem obvious, but it's nonetheless salient. The Cavs have a lot of slashers on their team (Sasha, Larry, and LeBron come to mind) and one of those slashers is one of the best passers in the game (guess which.) When we have a legitimate three-point threat out there, other teams can't sag towards LeBron, and when they do, he can make them pay with a good pass. Gibson's the best shooter we have right now (sorry, Damon, you're no longer the "best shooter in the world." And earth to Donyell, wake up!) Gibson is pretty streaky, but when he's on, he's on. The Spurs can't let him hit a few because the second they do, the Cavs develop a new (and deadly) dimension on offense. You'll note how scared the Pistons were in Game 5 of the kickout because of Gibson's solid performance in Game 4 (so much so that they let LeBron go on an absolute tear). The Pistons distanced themselves from that approach in Game 6, and Boobie made them pay. If Gibson can get started early in the series (i.e. tonight) it may rattle the Spurs a bit more on defense and open up lanes for LeBron.

All in all, I still think the Spurs are the better team but am ready to be pleasantly surprised. Should be a good Game 1 tonight--I would note that the last time the Spurs starters had this long of a layoff before a playoff game, they lost to the Nuggets (Game 1 this year). Here's hoping tonight goes just as well for the Cavs, and that the following games go much, much better.

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