The trouble with LeBron in isolation


If it seemed like LeBron James was trying to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers himself in Game 1, it's because he was, according to the numbers. But it's really nothing new -- he's had to carry the team throughout this postseason.

Too much isolation

LeBron had 37 isolation plays -- i.e., plays that did not come directly off a pass from a teammate -- in Game 1. He shot 11-for-28 (39 percent) on those plays, compared to 7-for-10 (70 percent) off a pass.

LeBron leads the league with 28.8 isolation plays per game this postseason, but he's shooting just 38 percent on those plays, including 6-of-54 (11 percent) on 3-pointers. He’s averaging nearly double the points per play (1.45 compared to 0.76) off passes than he is when he isolates, and he’s shooting 66 percent off passes.

However, he’s averaging fewer than five plays per game off passes. In Game 1, he shot 7-for-10 and scored 15 points on 10 plays off passes.

Settling for jump shots

LeBron’s isolation plays in Game 1 led mostly to jump shots –- a smart strategy for the Warriors if they’re playing the percentages. LeBron was shooting 27 percent outside the paint this postseason entering the NBA Finals. If there’s one way to stop LeBron, that has to be it –- make him shoot jump shots.

James shot 7-for-22 outside the paint in Game 1, a postseason career-high for field goal attempts outside the paint. It was nearly double his postseason average of 11.7 field goal attempts outside the paint.

Not getting to the basket

Despite taking a postseason career-high 38 field goal attempts, LeBron had just four field goal attempts in the restricted area in Game 1.

That means just 10.5 percent of his field goal attempts were in the restricted area, his lowest percentage in any game this season (regular season or playoffs).

Coming into Game 1, 36.5 percent of his field goal attempts were in the restricted area this postseason.

Andrew Bogut’s presence down low helped force LeBron to settle for tough jump shots (30 of his 38 field goal attempts were contested, his most in a single game this postseason).

Bogut, the anchor of the Warriors defense, is one of the best rim protectors in the league. He held opponents to 41 percent shooting at the rim this season, third-lowest in the NBA (minimum five attempts per game).

We've seen this before

In the 2013 NBA Finals, James shot 7-for-30 (23 percent) outside the paint in the first three games of the series.

How did he adjust? By making jump shots.

The Heat basically won that series because the Spurs dared LeBron to shoot jumpers, and he finally made them. He shot 23-for-52 (44 percent) outside the paint in the final five games of that series. That includes a 9-for-20 (45 percent) performance outside the paint in Game 7 (20 of his 23 field goal attempts were outside the paint). In the second half of Game 7, all 12 of his field goal attempts were outside the paint and he made seven of them (58 percent).

The NBA Finals may once again may come down to whether LeBron can hit jump shots given to him by the defense.