• Jonathan Biehl

Numbers and Notes after a 2nd Half Implosion in Game 2


At least the first half was promising. As well as Cleveland started, (mostly due to LeBron’s 21 on 4/7 from three), the Cavaliers limped into halftime after a Boston Celtics’ run to close the half in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. So, what happened?

Some people were quick to point the shot LeBron took to the head at the end of the first half. After that, the Celtics outscored the Cavs 59-39 in the second half. However, there was a much larger problem that loomed over the Cavs in the second half: effort.

It’s hard to imagine a team with the highest payroll in the NBA at $135,980,450, would put forth anything but 100% effort, in the Eastern Conference Finals no less. And maybe Cleveland did try as hard as it could. The eye test seems to dispute that, but if simply watching the Cavaliers effort on defense isn’t enough, the hustle stats paint a bleaker story for Cleveland fans.

The table below shows a few key metrics of a team’s hustle. The first two columns show what percentage of each team’s shots were contested by the opposing defense. The third column shows how many 50/50 balls - i.e. loose balls that were not possession of either the Cavs or Celtics – each team grabbed, which was something Cleveland struggled with all night.

The biggest discrepancy here is with the contesting defense on three-point shots. Boston had several wide open three-point looks on offense in Game 2. On the other hand, Cleveland was smothered all game on the three-point line, which is deadly for an offense that relies so heavily on the three ball.

Perhaps just as important to the outcome of the game was the way in which the offenses operated. One relies on heavy isolation basketball, and the other focuses on pushing the pace and ball movement. I’ll let you decide which team ran each system I described.

For as great as LeBron is (and he is having perhaps the best individual playoff run of his career) he is still one man playing a team game. Boston’s play as a unit is the reason why they are making baskets look so easy compared to the much tougher looks Cleveland gets. Almost every metric that measures this gives Boston the edge in terms of having a cohesive offensive unit:

Simply put, the stats show that Cleveland tries to play 1-on-1 basketball too much on offense. The ball is too stagnant to generate good looks against a tough Boston defense.

If the Cavs want to even the series at home, they’re going to have to trust each other. The talent is there, it just has to be channeled productively. That falls on head coach Tyronn Lue to figure out. A positive stat for Cavs fans heading into Game 3: in these playoffs, Cleveland is 5-1 at home; Boston is 1-4 on the road.

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