The Strategy That May Save the Cleveland Cavaliers
*Photo via NBC.com
At the beginning of Game 5 of the NBA Finals, I texted fellow Off the Glass writer Parth Goradia and said that the Cleveland Cavaliers should intentionally foul Andre Iguodala.
Late in the game, the Cavaliers started intentionally fouling him. To quote a song from Jay-Z’s Black Album, “I don’t mean to boast but damn if I don’t brag”.
The strategy was to no avail though. There wasn’t enough time left in the game to supplement a 10-point margin by intentionally fouling.
I rarely have moments that make me seem like I know basketball, so I’m going to relish in this even if the strategy didn’t help Cleveland recover the deficit. However, this strategy may work in Game 6 if it’s used before they’re down by a significant margin.
Why the Strategy Could Work
Intentionally fouling Iguodala could reap a plethora of benefits for the Cavaliers. For starters, Iguodala is not a good free throw shooter. Even though he is a 71 percent career shooter from the stripe, he hasn’t shot above 62 percent since the 2010-2011 season and he shot 60 percent from the line this year.
Another reason this strategy would benefit Cleveland is it keeps the pace in its favor. Slowing the game down keeps Steph Curry and Klay Thompson from touching the ball and more importantly prevents the Golden State Warriors from running in transition.
Yet another reason this strategy would benefit Cleveland is it gives their guys a rest. Cleveland has consistently played eight players throughout the entire series, compared to the 11 players Golden State has played.
Finally, if Iguodala is missing free throws, Coach Steve Kerr will have no choice but to take him out of the game. Compared to any of his teammates, Iguodala has played the best defense against Lebron James. According to ESPN, Lebron has been held to 18-54 shooting when guarded by Iguodala.
Taking Iguodala out of the game would force Draymond Green or Harrison Barnes to guard Lebron, and those two have been dominated by him all series. According to Amin Elhassan of ESPN.com, Lebron is plus-13 when Iguodala is on the bench and minus-46 when Iggy is on the floor.
Why It Did Not Work for Cleveland in Game 5
The Cavaliers started intentionally fouling Iguodala around the 2:30 mark in the fourth quarter when they were down by 10 points.
By rule, if a team intentionally fouls off the ball the last two minutes of the game then the opposing team is awarded a free throw plus possession. Further, they can choose anyone to shoot the free throw.
So, Cleveland only had thirty seconds to intentionally foul Iguodala and take advantage of his missed free throws, which was not enough time to make up the deficit. Even though he missed a number of free throws, Golden State grabbed offensive rebounds off those misses and took additional time off the clock, which essentially made the strategy useless.
Another reason why it did not work is the Cavaliers were forced to heave up contested threes in order to close the substantial gap. Cleveland should have started intentionally fouling Iguodala at least by the middle of the fourth quarter when the game was tight. By doing this, the Cavaliers could’ve taken their time each possession to get better shots.
Cleveland lost the game by thirteen points, and Iguodala finished the game shooting 2-11 from the free throw line. He was 1-5 when Cleveland started intentionally fouling him.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Even if Iguodala makes his free throws, Cleveland wouldn’t face too much risk. It has not benefitted from an up-tempo pace in this series so slowing the game down wouldn’t be a detriment to them.
Further, if the ball is out of Curry and Thompson’s hands then they’re not shooting threes and not getting into a rhythm. That doesn’t mean Cleveland should continue to intentionally foul Iguodala if he’s making his free throws, but it shows there’s not much downside to this strategy.
What Should They Do in Game 6?
In Game 6, David Blatt should seriously consider intentionally fouling Iguodala if Golden State starts to get into a rhythm. If Iguodala continues to miss his free throws it could immensely benefit the Cavaliers, and if Iguodala makes them there isn’t much downside anyways.
Tune into Game 6 of the NBA Finals tonight at 9:00 pm Eastern Time on ABC.