Last night, the Cavaliers fell to the New York Knicks 101-91, largely due to the stellar performances of New York’s 1-2 punch of Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith (31 points each). Rather than a traditional recap, I thought I’d take a stab at looking at some of the crazy cross-matchups that occurred in this game’s, primarily centered around Anthony playing the power forward position for the Knicks.
New York’s small lineup caused all kinds of difficult mismatches on the perimeter. Chris Copeland, at 6’8″, was the team’s starting center in the absence of Amar’e Stoudemire. Anthony is also playing the power forward these days, and he’s an unstoppable scoring machine right now, even more so than usual. The Cavaliers obviously had to use 6’6″ Alonzo Gee on him, which meant that 6’9″ Tristan Thompson was forced to cover a shooting guard or small forward around the perimeter for extended stretches, usually the 6’5″ Iman Shumpert. What made it worse, however, was that with Coach Byron Scott keeping a 2-big lineup out there, the team couldn’t take advantage of it nearly enough in the post. Tristan Thompson got double teamed frequently with mixed results, while Tyler Zeller continued to show that his post game is non-existent at this point. We’ll focus on the crazy matchups that the Knicks took advantage of and the equally absurd ones that the Cavaliers didn’t. Let’s dive in to the film!
Here, we begin in the first quarter. With the starting lineups of Irving, Ellington, Gee, Thompson, and Zeller for the Cavs and Pablo Prigioni, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Anthony, and Copeland for the Knicks. This play happened halfway through the first quarter, and it shows the Cavaliers being painfully unaware of the Knick personnel. Coming up the floor, Tyler Zeller picks up Anthony, while Gee locks on to Copeland.
It’s clear here that the Knicks are picking up on the Cavaliers matchup zone. As a result, getting Carmelo 1-on-1 in the post with ANYONE is advantageous, but especially if it’s against Zeller. What we have below is Tristan guarding Shumpert, Irving covering the center Copeland, and Zeller on Melo in the post. Gee is being wasted here guarding Pablo Prigioni.
The Knicks get the ball into Melo in the right corner with Zeller still covering him. Gee should leave Shumpert right now to help.
Instead, Prigioni clears out and Shumpert slides up to the wing to give Anthony more space to operate. Carmelo can do anything he wants here, and Zeller is pretty much doomed.
And, with no one disrupting his vision of the rim, Anthony rises and fires an easy 18-foot jumper. A top-five scorer in the league like Melo is going to drill that shot all day long without someone pestering him. Even if they do, he has a good chance of knocking it down.
On the first play of the second quarter, the Cavaliers start out in a proper grouping. With Ellington out there and a bench crew of Livingston, Casspi, Jones, and Speights, the tough matchup here is Kevin Jones getting out to guard the spot-up shooter Steve Novak, but size-wise and all things considered, it’s not a nightmare matchup because Novak is one-dimensional offensively. Chase him off the arc, and you’re in good shape. Watch what happens, however, when the Knicks start setting picks and the Cavaliers start switching.
Here, the Cavaliers are still in zone. The switching is just too liberal and the effort to fight through too minimal for there to be any other reasonable explanation. Livingston initially stays on J.R. Smith until a Solomon Jones screen is set.
Speights shows, but instead of Livingston recovering back onto Smith, the Cavalier point runs down to track Jones, who is far from a lethal offensive option. That leaves Speights in another no-win scenario with a Cavalier big on a Knick scoring guard.
When you leave a knockdown shooter like J.R. Smith that much room, he’s going to shoot it every single time. And, given his production this year and lately, he’s probably going to make it too.
As the shot goes up you see Speights on Smith, Ellington on Shumpert, Livingston on Solomon Jones, Kevin Jones on Novak, and Omri Casspi on Kidd. Ahh, the joys of a zone defense when your team doesn’t even know what they’re doing in man-to-man! One man is in an appropriate matchup (Ellington). ONE out of your five defenders.
Yet again, we’ll see the strong jump shooter Smith get another comfortable wide open look. He can and did do this all night, folks. Again, we start with proper matchups and it all unravels. Speights is on Copeland, and Ellington is on J.R. Smith.
One pick and Casspi is now on Copeland and Speights has Shumpert.
Kidd starts to drive, and Livingston does a terrible job of cutting off dribble penetration. As a result, Casspi needs to help, and Kevin Jones has to slide down to account for Copeland. Notice on the backside that Ellington is splitting the difference between two three-point shooters in Novak and Smith.
Kidd passes to Novak, who quickly whips it over to J.R. Smith on the left wing, and Kevin Jones is the closest guy.
Again, a Cavalier big on a versatile scoring guard, one of the two guys torching the Cavaliers. The expected result takes place. J.R. Smith takes jumper, J.R. Smith makes jumper.
WHAT is this garbage zone defense accomplishing against a great offensive team like the Knicks with mismatches being created all over the place? On top of things, the Knicks’ three point shooting is enough to get most teams out of a zone.
We’ll move to the offensive side of things for the Cavaliers now. First, we’ll take a look at a Tristan post feed that didn’t go so well, thanks to the frequent Knick double teams preventing a comfort level. Tristan gets the ball, back to the basket, on the right elbow against Steve Novak, a 6’10″ body, but not one meant to defend a post player like Tristan.
Thompson squares up and immediately tries to drive by Novak. Tristan’s handle has gotten to a respectable level for a power forward, and he’s able to get from 15-feet down to the block at times.
Once he gets to the block, however, Smith comes down to double.
Reversing course, Tristan tries to go to his left, but he loses the dribble with Novak getting his hand in there. The Knicks recover the loose ball.
So, it didn’t work against Novak, but Tristan at least got down on the block and made an effort.
Here, we see Tristan go right back to work in the post on the very next possession. This time, he’s got J.R. Smith on him. THIS is the type of stuff that the Cavaliers need to recognize on offense and use to attack the other team.
Kyrie sees the mismatch and feeds the ball into the post. Notice that Prigioni is paying more attention to Tristan than Kyrie. This is pretty comical considering Kyrie’s status and respect level in this league. However, it says something about just how far Tristan has come as well.
Pablo pinches down, and Melo slides up to take Kyrie. After the game, Coach Scott said they told Tristan he’d need to react quickly when the double came. Here, he does just that, dribbling out of it and handing it to Irving.
He sticks with it though, re-posting again on Smith and getting the ball.
This time, the less attentive defender in Anthony is the one that needs to pinch down on Thompson, but he doesn’t. Instead, he chooses to stay on Irving.
Thompson makes a fantastic move, turning and facing and then stepping through with a left-handed dribble, getting his shoulder past Smith.
He takes the swipe at the ball from Felton and lays it in for the and-one opportunity. Tristan posted a double-double 15 point, 11 rebound effort on 6-of-7 shooting, though he did turn the ball over five times.
Finally, I offer up Tyler Zeller on multiple occasions early in this game in the post with smaller defenders defending him without further comment.
Raymond Felton guarding Zeller
Pablo Prigioni and Iman Shumpert guarding Zeller
Carmelo Anthony covering Zeller
Three missed shots in 21 minutes with just 4 rebounds for Zeller. Get in the gym this offseason, Tyler.
That’s it for this week(end)’s film room. Until next time, the film room is closed!