We’ll be writing a lot about the Cavs leading up to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals on Saturday. In a way, I feel like I have too many days to think about a team I already know too well—too many visions of LeBron dancing through the paint, of Anthony Parker nailing corner threes, of Anderson Varejao out-hustling everyone, of Shaq ripping Glen Davis’ thumb clean off his hand and eating it.
Let’s start the dialogue with a few questions that have been rolling around my brain since the C’s finished off Miami:
1) How will Boston defend LeBron James?
This has been rolling around my brain since long before the C’s took care of Miami. We know the basics: The assignment falls mainly to Paul Pierce, and the goal is to turn LeBron into a jump-shooter by going under screens on the screen/roll and pleading with the basketball gods to make LeBron jumper-happy.
But how do you make this happen? And can you do it without compromising the integrity of the defense?
In the final Cleveland-Boston game, we saw the C’s try and deter LBJ from driving by bringing an extra defender over to the strong side on LeBron screen/rolls. The C’s used this strategy often against Dwyane Wade, but it’s a a more dangerous proposition against Cleveland.
First, here’s a visual taken from the April 4 Boston-Cleveland game to illustrate what I’m talking about:
You see LBJ handling the ball with J.J. Hickson in position to either post up or pop out and set a screen for LeBron. You can also see Rajon Rondo standing by himself in the paint. He has left Mo Williams alone in the left corner in order to give the C’s a third defender to handle LeBron on the strong side.
How do you think this play ended?
LeBron skipped the ball to Williams in the corner, and Mo hit a three.
Here’s the thing: Cleveland is a great three-point shooting team. Not a good one. A great one. The Cavs knocked down 38 percent of their three-pointers this season, the 2nd-best mark in the league, behind only Phoenix. All of the following players hit at least 40 percent of their threes this season: Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (watch him in those corners!). Antawn Jamison (34 percent) is a threat when he has ample time, and Delonte West (32.5 percent) shot 40 percent as recently as last season.
LeBron is 6’8” and perhaps the 2nd- or 3rd-best passer on Earth. If you overplay him, he’s going to burn you with the pass.
So what to do? We’ll obviously see a bit of everything, ranging from straight man-to-man defense to outright traps. The key is to help from the right places, at the right times, and with all five players having a clear and precise understanding of what’s going on and who should do what.
2) Might we see Marquis Daniels?
Daniels spent a lot of time guarding LeBron during regular season match-ups, but he’s fallen completely out of Doc’s rotation over the past month or so. He played only six minutes in the entire Miami series.
If there’s a time for the resurrection of the Grand Marquis, this might be it. Paul Pierce is 32 years old, and coming off a season in which he suffered knee, foot and shoulder injuries. It is too much to ask of Pierce to spend 40 minutes per game guarding LeBron and to score 20 or 25 points.
Someone other than Pierce will have to spend some time on LBJ. Marquis Daniels isn’t an elite defender, but he does two things well: 1) Stay in front of his man; 2) Stay down on pump fakes.
It might be worth a try.
3) Is Tony Allen capable?
TA is listed at 6’4” and 213 pounds, meaning he’s giving up four inches in height to James and somewhere around 40 or 50 pounds. But TA is quick and strong, with enough leaping ability to (perhaps) bother a LeBron rise-and-fire jump shot.
So if you’re Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau, what do you do?