As has been widely discussed, Game 3 between the Cavs and Celtics was just weird. After jumping out to a 66-50 lead at halftime, the Cavaliers were outscored 61-42 in the second half. A major topic of discussion has been the Cavaliers’ sloppiness on offense in the second half. In the 3rd and 4th quarters, the Celtics went on a little run, fueled mostly by an out-of character performance (more on that later) and overall sloppiness with the ball.
As the game tightened, the Cavaliers’ offensive possessions got more sloppy. Of their 15 turnovers for the game, the Cavaliers committed six in the 4th quarter alone. Of those six turnovers, three of them were bad pass, lack of execution turnovers that could be avoided, one was a shot clock violation, and two were cases of Cavs ball-handlers having their pockets picked by Celtics defenders.
Sloppy turnovers plus an other-worldly performance from a role player usually equals a loss. The Cavaliers fell victim to both in Game 3. Let us examine both, shall we?
Sloppiness with the ball
As far as sloppy turnovers go, LeBron James was a major culprit. Let’s take a look at two clips of bad turnovers in the 4th quarter alone.
In the clip below, James is looking to hit Korver in the corner, but he clearly makes the wrong read. Terry Rozier, who is guarding Korver, is above him while James has the ball. Korver opts to go back door, but James assumes Korver will stay in the corner, where Korver really doesn’t have a chance for a good shoot.
But that’s not where it stops for James.
In this clip, James is trying to make a simple entry pass to Kevin Love in the post, but a sloppy, careless pass is deflected by Jae Crowder and the Celtics are off the other way. This truly was an indication of just how sloppy and “not right” James was on Saturday night. This type of turnover is inexcusable at most levels of basketball, let alone by the game’s best player. It’s fair to say, though, that James will not be making these types of mistakes in Game 4.
James, however, was not the only one who was sloppy with the ball. Kevin Love made a pretty bad decision after catching the ball in the lane on a drive to the basket. Love probably needs to shoot this ball, but if he doesn’t, he needs to see the defense better and recognize personnel. Instead of an easy pitch to a wide-open JR Smith in the corner, he tries to force feed Tristan Thompson, Avery Bradley rotates and knocks the ball away, and the overall result wasn’t optimal for the Cavs.
And finally, there’s this from Kyrie Irving:
In a game that the Cavaliers weren’t spectacular to begin with, turnovers such as these cost them valuable possessions in the 4th quarter.
Marcus Smart’s Offense
As mentioned, the Cavaliers also fell victim to Smart’s career performance. Smart is not known as a great three-point shooter, but in Game 3, he made 7 out of 10 from beyond the arc. A little of this had to do with poor defensive execution, while a lot of it had to do with the defensive scheme itself. For the duration of the game, the Cavaliers opted to go under screens when Smart was the ball-handler, which is a good strategy most of the time. Unfortunately, Smart got hot and took advantage of what the Cavaliers were giving him.
This first clip is an example of poor defense by the Cavaliers’ JR Smith, who is guarding Smart in the corner. Avery Bradley catches the pass as he curls down the lane. In this situation, Smith is considered to be guarding the strong-side corner, which means he has no responsibility to help. Instead, the help should come from Tristan Thompson, while LeBron James should slide off his man to take away an easy pass to Al Horford.
Instead of Bradley taking a contested, running two-pointer over Thompson, Smith’s poor defensive execution leaves Smart open for a wide open three. Bradley makes the easy pass and Smart knocks it down.
More often, however, it was not poor defense that hurt the Cavs. Rather, it was their choosing to go under ball screens for Smart, as evidenced by the next clip.
Certainly, there were times when Smart was simply straight ballin’, as shown in the next two clips:
This was likely a wake-up call for the Cavaliers, who hadn’t really been challenged since their series with Indiana ended. For the Cavaliers, hopefully the major takeaway from this game was a need to take every possession seriously. Fix even just a couple of the mistakes detailed in the videos above and the Cavaliers win the game, even with LeBron James delivering a sub-par performance.