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Game 1 of this series was characterized by the tough, physical half-court defense that was expected from both of these teams. What was not expected was the lack of offensive production from Cleveland's LeBron James and Boston's Ray Allen and Paul Pierce -- some of which was the result of the defense, and some was self-inflicted. As these teams do their film study, both coaching staffs will look for areas of improvement on the offensive end, and specifically for each of these players.
Although Pierce and James Posey did an admirable job of defending James both on and off the ball, there are two major concerns with LeBron on the offensive end as the Cavs go into Game 2 -- his tendency to settle for jump shots and his lack of aggressiveness coming off the ball screen, both of which play right into the hands of the Celtics' defense.
When LeBron attacks the basket with speed and aggression, he draws the attention of the entire Boston defense, forcing everyone to rotate to him. This opens up clean looks for Delonte West, Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak, and Sasha Pavlovic -- all of whom are better shooters than James.
It also gets LeBron to the foul line. Although he was 2-of-18 from the field, he was 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. Look for James to go to the basket like a freight train in Game 2 -- he could get to the line 20 times.
LeBron's jump shooting also takes away Cleveland's advantage on the offensive boards, as it allows the Celtics to maintain their individual box-out responsibilities. When everyone is rotating to help on James, his teammates have an unimpeded path to the offensive glass -- which leads to easy putbacks. Look for more drives and fewer jump shots from James in Game 2.
Cleveland runs lots of ball-screen action for James, and it must be frustrating for coach Mike Brown to see LeBron come off the screen so passively. The key to the ball screen is the ball handler coming off with speed and aggression, with the intent of turning the corner and getting to the rim.
In Game 1, James came off the screen looking to pass and did not attack the hedge defender, who was usually Kendrick Perkins or Kevin Garnett -- neither of whom can keep him contained if LeBron comes off at full speed.
Boston plays LeBron with a flat hedge -- the screener's defender keeps his back to the baseline and tries to flatten LeBron out and make him go toward the sideline. James plays right into their hands when he comes off looking to pass, picking the ball up or getting stretched out with a passive dribble.
The Celtics' strategy was effective in Game 1, but don't expect James to be lulled into this in Game 2. He will come off hard, fast and breathing fire. The Cavs also will counter this defensive strategy by screening for James with Gibson and West, which leaves a smaller defender hedging on James and opening both Gibson and West for return pass 3-pointers.
Boston got excellent penetration and scoring from Rajon Rondo in the first half of Game 1, which on the surface is a positive for the Celtics. However, this also kept Allen and Pierce from getting into a good offensive flow in the first half.
Credit the defense of Szczerbiak (as well as Pavlovic) on Allen, as they both fought screens and chased Allen from side to side. Allen got limited touches, then rushed shots when he got them. He then forced some drives into the middle and turned the ball over four times. The welcome return of Pavlovic, a starter on last year's Eastern Conference champion, gives the Cavs another big defender to put on Allen -- as well as another offensive threat.
The Cavs also doubled Allen on every ball screen, forcing him to give up the ball. When the screener is Perkins, the Cavs really pay no price for this since Perkins is no threat to pick and pop.
In Game 2, look for Boston to change some of the screening action for Allen, giving him more catches at the top of the floor to allow him to use his one- and two-dribble pull-up game against these taller but slower defenders.
Also, expect Kevin Garnett to be involved in more of the ball-screen action for Allen. This will force the Cavs to pay more attention to Garnett's ability to shoot the jump shot on the return pass and free Allen up to attack only one defender.
In Game 1, Pierce had some good perimeter looks that he just missed, and as we noted in our series preview, certainly his defensive exertion on LeBron takes away from his offensive effectiveness. However, in Game 1, Pierce too often looked for bail-out fouls on wild, out-of-control drives and spin moves -- focusing more on getting a call than making the shot.
In Game 2, look for him to continue to go at LeBron off the dribble, but to add shot fakes and freeze fakes at the end of his moves to gather and balance himself and to draw James into a foul.
Defensively, look for the Cavaliers to make two adjustments as they attempt to contain Garnett. First, look for Ben Wallace to fight Garnett harder for post position and force him out a few more feet from the basket. When Garnett can back down and bury his defender, as he did on his game-winning basket, the Cavs have no answer.
Secondly, look for Cleveland to double-team quickly when Garnett starts his move. The Cavs were late with the double-team on Garnett's last basket, after they had gotten to him and forced a tougher shot on the previous possession. As Wallace forces him to start farther out, there will be less distance for the trapper to cover.
Expect the Celtics to prepare for this by having their shooters spot up and bump toward Garnett. If Garnett can kick out that pass to shooters like Allen, Posey and Sam Cassell, Cavaliers defenders will have to stay home and Garnett will have room to work.
Boston is fortunate to have won Game 1 despite getting nothing offensively from Pierce and Allen. The Cavaliers know they easily could have won with James making one more shot or committing one fewer turnover. The Cavs will also see that they blew a number of fast-break opportunities, especially in the first half.
Look for both teams to make offensive adjustments to get their stars going and for both defenses to continue to be physical and stingy. This should be another close game but at a faster pace, as both teams will look for some easier baskets in transition. Expect all the big guns to have better games offensively.PREDICTION: Cavaliers win Game 2
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.