Great teams in the NBA – or any sports, for that matter – become expert at both problem-creating and problem-solving.
The Cleveland Cavaliers became NBA champions last season by putting opponents in predicaments they couldn’t escape. Sunday, they did the same to the Charlotte Hornets in the fourth quarter. The predicament’s name was Channing Frye.
The Cavs busted open a close game when Frye, a veteran big man, scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter. The frustrating part was how absurdly wide-open he was from the perimeter, and his shooting range is what has kept Frye in the NBA for 12 seasons.
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Look it up: Frye has a career 3-point average of 38.8 percent. He was a “stretch 4” before the term was coined. His special ability to make long-range shots was covered thoroughly in the Hornets preparation for the Cavs game. But you never would have known that from the 100-93 Cleveland victory.
In essence, the Hornets were so preoccupied with trying to contain LeBron James that they treated Frye as if he was the invisible 7-foot man (OK, 6-11, but you get the point).
So many Hornets over-committed to LeBron James that it was easy for him to find that wide-open target for another assist.
The term Hornets coach Steve Clifford continuously used in the post-game interviews was “over-help.” In other words, so many teammates over-committed to James that it was easy for him to find that wide-open target for another assist.
Some perspective on James, overall and specific to Sunday: Since Clifford got the Hornets head-coaching job, he has maintained James is most dangerous not as a primary scorer, but as a primary passer. He hates having to double-team James constantly because that just makes it so easy for James to pass his way to a victory.
Sunday, specifically, James had a frustrating first three quarters. He missed 10 of his first 13 shots, and great dose of credit for that belongs to small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who returned from a lower back strain to start this game.
Kidd-Gilchrist never gave up anything easy defensively to James, who took just two free throws Sunday. At one point Kidd-Gilchrist defended James so well on a drive to the rim that when James’ shot missed, he berated an official, rather than run down-court to play defense. Kidd-Gilchrist ended up with two free throws on the ensuing possession.
I saw something Sunday I was curious if other teams will try to employ going forward: The Cavaliers trapped point guard Kemba Walker as aggressively as any team this season.
But James is still James, and by game’s end he’d totaled 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. And the Cavaliers are 8-1, while the Hornets fell to 6-3, their first consecutive losses this season.
Clifford said post-game that for the Hornets to be the fine team he knows is possible, the players have to cut down on mental errors. He made it clear this “over-helping” issue Sunday was a prime example.
As far as the problem-causing/problem-solving aspect of the Cavaliers, I saw something Sunday I was curious if other teams will try to employ going forward: The Cavaliers trapped point guard Kemba Walker as aggressively as any team this season.
Granted, Walker extended his 20-points-or-more streak to eight games by scoring 21 Sunday. But this wasn’t the efficiency you’ve come to expect from Walker this season, as he shot 8-of-21 from the field.
Can other teams replicate this tactic? Maybe, maybe not. Not every team has a point guard as strong or as quick as Kyrie Irving, and 6-foot-5 Iman Shumpert took some turns on Walker defensively, too.
It was clear, after Walker scored 11 first-quarter points, that Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was determined not to let Walker beat them.
Good teams try these tactics. Great teams win with these tactics. That’s why the Cavs are the Cavs and the Hornets are on a losing streak.