So it was my day off of work today, and I found out that playoff games are available for replay on league pass. I don't know that I will do this for the other playoff games due to time constraints, but I'm going to do it for this one. If any of the links are incorrect then let me know, because there are a ton of them lol
So the Pistons gave a truly valiant effort in game 1, putting a real scare into the Cavs and sticking with them the whole way. Both teams had some things that were goofy and worked well, some of it didn't work well.
The defense of Reggie/Andre PnR:
The Pistons first, and by far best, offensive option is the pick and roll with Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. And the Pistons have seen a lot of creative stuff to try and counter it this season, but don't think I have seen any team trap Reggie as hard and consistently as the Cavs did.
That is like a Steph Curry trap. And Reggie would respond (on this possession) by throwing a long pass all the way to Tobias in the corner.
So if you are wondering how the Pistons shot so well from 3, a big part of it is that they got looks like this. (Tobias missed this one) but the Cavs trapped like this the entire game.
Literally every single PnR with Reggie and Andre was defended like this. (other than 1, but we'll see that later) This is different from what they have seen all season. And in essence, it is a gamble by the Cavs that the Pistons do not have enough passing on the floor to truly punish the 4 on 3. Which they were a partially right about.
This picture shows why they were partially right. Reggie has just passed out of the double team to KCP. KCP misses the best pass to Marcus in the corner, but he will end up hitting the 3 anyways.
On this play Reggie will take advantage of the hedge and go away from the trap unimpeded to the hoop.
So in essence, the Cavs were right about there not being enough passing to really bite them, KCP missed several passes, Andre had a few opportunities as well, and actually threw a couple decent passes, but not enough. The Pistons made it work in game 1 because even without always having the best shot available, it still created enough space for good shots and the Pistons hit them. But over the rest of the series, the Pistons cannot count on hot shooting from everyone to keep them in the game. If the Cavs trap like that the Pistons will shoot pretty well from deep, but they need to make better passes to shoot crazy good. Andre is a big one here too, the Cavs were content to let him catch the ball around the free throw line and try and make a play, which is the right move by them. Andre does have a floater and can throw good passes, but they are raw and he has not had to use them much in game. The next big progression for him on offense however is being able to make exactly the plays the Cavs are forcing him to, so if he can mange to grow up fast the Pistons will be in business, if he doesn't, then he knows what he needs to work on in the offseason. And by the way, just as a reminder as to what happened on the only possession where the Cavs accidentally played the PnR straight up...
Any other counters to it?
They only did it a few times in the 3rd quarter, but in an attempt to free up Andre for some easy buckets, they did have a nice action where him and Tobias would set screens, and then Andre would duck into the paint.
He is big enough to get Thompson there in a hurry and without any help coming (the rest of the defense is worried about the phantom PnR) this is BBQ chicken. These can be tricky to pull off due to the 3 in the key rule, but Andre is good at it, and it is a really good counter to the aggressive defense against the PnR, and on top of it is feeding the big man.
The Cavs got a lot of offensive rebounds, that's a big issue right?
I'm actually not very concerned about it. After re-watching the game, several of the offensive rebounds were just lucky bounces. All of these would end as boards for the Cavs. Sometimes it happens where you have your guy boxed out and go up for a board and it just takes a bad bounce. And also, the Cavs have 2 really good rebounders in Love and Thompson. So no, the rebounding didn't bother me, but the rebounding luck may have been the evening force for the Cavs against the Pistons hot shooting.
Yeah, there were a couple other things that do legit work. One is that Marcus Morris is really capable of creating a lot of space taking Love 1 on 1. I'm surprised they did not try and attack that a little bit more.
They also might want to consider sending guys other than Andre at the offensive boards, especially when Only one of Love/Thompson are on the floor. Because one of them will be totally focused on keeping Andre off the glass, which can open up space for others.
See how Thompson had no interest in actually going for that board? This is harder to do with Love on the floor too because then one can box out Andre and the other clean the glass, but it is still another option to try.
Also, the Pistons should try the "Don't pull Andre because they are afraid the Cavs might start fouling" strategy. At least see if the Cavs will do it first. Because with Baynes in, the Pistons have no options beyond hero ball. Keep in mind how crazy the Cavs went to conatain the PnR with Andre in it. This is what it looked like with Baynes.
They sag back, and stick tight to all the shooters. At this point Jackson has no option other than try and take his dude 1 on 1, which FWIW, should be ok when he can get Love on him. (Love did well on one possession, but more often than not Jackson will beat him) But still, it is the only option. The Cavs were totally unafraid of Baynes, and even Jackson. Andre is what makes this offense cook, so unless the Pistons have a solid lead, I would only pull Andre if the Cavs force you. If they force you to do it, then Reggie can play hero ball, he is pretty good at it. But as became painfully obvious in this game, it is hard to do against playoff defenses.
How about the defense?
This is where the real issues were. The offense was fine, good even. But the Pistons defense was far too leaky, and these are the real issues because I'm not sure there is any answer for it.
First off, LeBron spent the whole game getting into the paint, it was almost comical how easy it was for him.
He is getting a full triple team in each one of these. LeBron is far too good a passer to do this. Obviously if you don't do it then he is probably putting in an easy basket, which means the only answer is to just keep him out of the paint. And other than Stanley Johnson no one showed much ability to do that. The obvious response would be to play Stanley more minutes, but where do the minutes come from? Stanley (despite his good showing in this game) is not a very good offensive player yet. He would be cutting into the minutes of either Morris, Harris, KCP, or kind of Reggie Bullock. Bullock doesn't really count because I think they were on the floor together for all of Bullock's minutes, but even if he did, his shooting and passing is damn near the only thing the bench has going for it at this point. If you cut into Harris' minutes then LeBron likely switches onto Morris and then Morris is a non-factor on offense, and if you cut into Morris' minutes then you still have Kevin Love eating Tobias Harris alive. (more on that in a bit) And even though he kind of flopped in this game, if you cut into time for KCP then Kyrie gets let loose even more. LeBron might dictate more playing time for Stanley, but it would hurt the Pistons in other ways.
Tobias and KCP need to do better.
There are no pictures for this because it is simple. They need to be better on the defensive end. I was expecting this from Tobias, but not from KCP. KCP could not stay in front of Kyrie, and Tobias put up almost no fight against Love. (to be clear, KCP did better than Harris) Harris was almost comically overmatched by Love, which just can't happen. Love is bigger than Harris, but he needs to show more fight in not giving up so much space. Too many of Love's shots came right at the rim. (Morris also gets some blame here.) And KCP needs to find a way to stay in front of Kyrie. He was picked, juked, and pushed off Kyrie with too much ease. And this is the reason why I am more worried about this. It's easy to sit here and say "well omg just stay in front of them" but the reality is, that Marcus Morris and Tobias Harris might just not be good enough to do it. It may well be that KCP needs one more offseason of work before his defense is truly at the all world level it hast to be at to hold Kyrie in place. At this point, it looks like the Pistons have to pray for an epiphany for Mobias and KCP, Stanley Johnson to grow up quick, or the Cavs big 3 to go cold.
What did work?
Andre Drummond worked. Just like on offense, Andre Drummond was the only force that the Cavs struggled to counter. (Shouts to Stanley again, he played brilliant defense, but he didn't play much) His ability to make Thompson a total non-factor on offense, and to switch onto and snuff out ball handlers is the thing that gave the Cavs fits. And for anyone who talks about how Andre is not a good defender because he does not get enough blocks, and was not an elite rim protector this season, here is a quick education in the guy who finished the season tied for 2nd in defensive win shares with Kawhi Leonard and DeAndre Jordan.
Look at the start of that sequence. Andre gets isolated on the perimeter against Kyrie Irving. This is death for almost any other center in basketball. Kyrie tries to take Andre off the dribble, and it does not work. Andre is so freaking quick, that he can get caught reaching against one of the quickest guards in the NBA, and still recover to get a awesome contest against Irving. Seriously, think about that for a second. Kyrie roasted KCP in this game. KCP is an awesome perimeter defender. And he can't shake a 6'11 279 pound human.
These are 2 other times that Andre had to switch onto Kyrie, and yes, Kyrie missed all 3 of these attempts. (the last one Thompson put back in for his only bucket of the game.)
Also, just for you /u/hztwr Andre got switched onto LeBron a few times, and LeBron only tried to take him once. Here is what it looked like.
(with a little help from Harris) Andre bodies him away from the paint and LeBron is forced to jump into the air and throw damn near his only bad pass of the game which was easy pickings for Reggie. And yes, he can contain LeBron on the PnR as well.
That is a shot LeBron can hit obviously, (he did miss this one) but given where he was in the first picture, Andre stayed with him and forced him into a harder fallaway jumper after LeBron had been right into the paint.
Another cool thing Andre can do, is take a usually scary PnR duo, and be like "meh"
Thompson is a good roll man, and LeBron is obviously a beast going to the hoop. You are not supposed to be able to just play it straight up like this, but because Andre is so quick and such a fearsome leaper, he can wall off the paint to LeBron while also killing any chance at a lob to Thompson. To put it simply, the Pistons had a really leaky defense at every spot (other than whoever was at SG I guess. Smith and Shump were generally non-factors) and Andre had the task of plugging those holes, he has had to do this all season, and while he is not this focused and good every night, this was a pretty masterful defensive performance from Drummond.
How about the Kevin Love at center thing?
This is an issue. And like some of the others, there is not good answer to it. Sometimes you just have to realize that there is a reason really good teams are really good. Because they put you in situations where you pick your poison. The Pistons even have one with the Reggie/Andre PnR. The Cavs have several, and Kevin Love at center is one of the most problematic.
This is one look created by a nice behind the back pass by Kyrie. That is comically wide open. And once again, the issue is that, the only answer is KCP needs to not let Kyrie get a step on him. Because if he does, then Andre has to either allow a layup line, or a wide open 3. HOWEVA, KCP is a good defender and won't get beat every time, and Andre is still a freaking otherworldly monster. So they have some chance.
This was another sequence where the Cavs ran the Kyrie/Love PnR. Andre does not drop quite so far back, and KCP does not get beat quite so bad by the screen, Andre is able to recover out to Love, and leave his feet to contest a pump fake, and is so quick that HE STILL MANAGES TO POKE THE BALL AWAY FROM LOVE. Once again, as long as KCP manages to not get beat bad, Andre can make this work, and KCP is good enough to not get beaten that bad too often. HOWEVA, as the last couple pictures show, Andre (and everyone else) needs to be more aware of Love when he is at center. Following poking the ball away it becomes a broken play and Love just barely manages to pick up the ball and throw it to LeBron. Andre goes right back to his normal thing and goes to the paint, while Love heads straight for the 3 point line for another comically open 3. Andre can't just lose him like that. It is a unique challenge, and I don't know if the Pistons can survive playing it straight up. KCP and Andre are good enough to not let the initial action murder them, but I don't know if the other 3 are good enough to hold the fort on their own without Andre contesting shots and cleaning the glass for them. One solution Jeff Van Gundy had was to put Andre on Shumpert and basically ignore him in the corner. Like GS did to Tony Allen last year. This might be the right thing to do on a possession or two if the Pistons are just getting killed at the hoop, but Shump is a better shooter than Allen, and if he misses a couple the Cavs could throw out any number of really good shooters to make that strategy die pretty quickly.
Did the refs suck?
Nah man. Especially the whole thing with LeBron. It is hard to ref guys who are big, strong, and physical. They always get away with some stuff they shouldn't, and also get called for some stuff they shouldn't. It's just the reality. And Reggie absolutely lost his cool too much on his tech. HOWEVA, there is some credence to the Pistons beef.
But that said, even if the calls were one sided (which they really weren't) the Pistons can't spend so much time complaining. Especially Reggie.
So what needs to happen in the whole?
The Pistons need to do what they did on offense in the first game but with more passing. And on defense, they just need to dig deep and find a way to stay disciplined and in front of their dudes, or pray that the Cavs go cold. Obviously this could well all go out the window. Both teams will make adjustments. The Cavs might abandon the trapping all together. Who knows?
You just watched the whole game while pausing it a ton. Any other random takeaways?
My 2 season long suspicion that Kevin Love is not nearly as bad a defender as he is made out to be is true. He is not all that good but he isn't so bad.
Andre is a beast.
This LeBron fellow is quite good.
Steve Blake still sucks, but actually did better defending Irving than I thought he would. Which is to say that Kyrie didn't score easily every time he touched the ball.
Stanley Johnson likes guarding LeBron. And that is cool.
Reggie Bullock is all that stands between the Pistons bench and oblivion.
If I am a Cavs fan, got any advice?
Play Love at the center as much as you can. Thompson was literally a total non-factor on offense, and he didn't do much on defense either. Love creates real problems for the Pistons defense and the only thing he can't do that Thompson can is contain ball handlers, and he actually was respectable in this game. The Pistons would do nothing but PnRs against him, and they might roast him so bad that it forces Thompson back into the game, but until the Pistons show that they can play him out of the center position I'd go with it. ESPECIALLY for the few minutes when Steve Blake and Aron Baynes are in the game. They should seriously have a assistant coach do nothing but watch for Blake and Baynes being about to be in the game together, and then make sure that Love and Irving are in. Even if it is just a few possessions, those are basically free points, and Blake and Baynes are totally incapable of hurting Love's lack of quickness and rim protection. Other than that, I would keep it up and hope the Pistons cool off from deep, that Reggie doesn't do one of his super saiyan games, and that they can keep Andre from destroying them too badly inside. I agree with their defensive strategy totally. Make Marcus Morris and KCP beat you, not Reggie and Andre.
What do you think? Got any adjustments you want to see? Let me know! We all get smarter!
EDIT The comments are already coming in kinda quick. If you ask a question or make a comment that should get a reply, I'll get to you I promise.