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How LeBron James, Cavs might attack the Warriors without Kyrie Irving

Coach Nick of BballBreakdown presented some ideas about how the Cavs can adjust to life after Kyrie Irving. But one of his past analyses of what LeBron James did without Irving against the Atlanta Hawks might give us a clearer idea of what we can expect during Sunday's Game 2.

Coach Nick of BballBreakdown did a great job illustrating how the Golden State Warriors defended the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the 2015 NBA Finals not only using the usual video clips but also a few charts showing the performance of each of the defenders who guarded LeBron James.

Andre Iguodala was most impressive, as you already probably know, as he held The King to just .38 points per possession.

Yet more significant than that were Coach Nick's suggestions about how the Cavs might adjust to losing Kyrie Irving, who will miss the remainder of the Finals with a knee injury. There were three main points he made near the end of the video:

  • More LeBron operating as a "pure point guard".
  • LeBron ball screening for Matthew Dellavedova to force switches and set up Timofey Mozgov for easy buckets.
  • J.R. Smith leading the offense in high horns.

The thought of seeing J.R. Smith with the ball in his hands more often greatly pleases me. Please do more, Cavs, to prove what Marcus Bass wrote here prior to Game 1: "For the Warriors, giving Smith a bit of hardwood nostalgia is a strategy that could pay off."

Anyway, Coach Nick's first two points are pretty important and I think they both allude to something else that he has highlighted throughout the playoffs: it's understandable why LeBron has to become a volume jumpshooter for this Cavs team, but the team can't afford for him to bail the team out with poor shot selection.

He described that in depth in a breakdown after the Eastern Conference Finals looking at how the Cavs are winning despite LeBron's poor shooting.

First, you'll note that within that video lies the justification for not doubling LeBron James: he's absolutely lethal as a player who can distribute or score, but he's quite susceptible to settling for bad jump shots as teams dare him to shoot and/or go one-on-one.

LeBron dropping 40+ on a defense's head doesn't exactly look pretty, but when you're facing a talent like that simply forcing bad shots and living with the consequences is the best you can do — a defense wants LeBron to be a volume jump shooter who is slowly wearing himself out by working so hard for buckets every possession.

But second, you'll note that a lot of those clips Coach Nick is using from the Hawks series are from Game 3 when Kyrie Irving wasn't playing. James shot 37 shots in that game, often settling for long jumpers and bailing out the defense while struggling to score at the rim. Yet, again, you can probably sympathize with LeBron here: even though they beat a seriously hobbled Hawks team, he just doesn't have a lot of options with Irving off the floor.

Yet Chris Manning of Fear the Sword also makes a good point about a positive from losing Irving: in having less options to go to, they really have to simplify things further to focus on sets that set up LeBron for the best possible shots. This could force them to slow the game down even further, possibly (and amazingly) running even more ISO post-ups or Horns sets - yes, even those with Smith being the lead ball handler and entering it into LeBron on the elbow.

In short, having less options could force them to be more disciplined because they know they have far less room for error now.

Of course, they do still have options but the major question is whether LeBron will adjust his shot selection to cut out the inefficient long twos even if he is a volume shooter. As Coach Nick alludes to, part of that comes down to whether Blatt is even the one calling these plays or LeBron is just freelancing.

It should come as no surprise whatsoever that the Cavs have struggled to perform this season without Irving in the lineup: in the seven games he missed during the regular season, the Cavs went just 1-6. And, as Coach Nick notes, with the Warriors having so many players who can defend James, the results sans Irving could be closer to the regular season than they were against the Hawks.

It should go without saying this is not the Finals matchup we wanted to see, whether at the beginning of the series or the beginning of the season.

But it might also go without saying that James remains capable of winning games by himself and this series should not be considered a cakewalk to the title simply because Irving went down: if James continues shooting like he has against the Warriors so far in the 2014-15 season, the Cavs will avoid a sweep somehow.

For more on the story as it develops, check out our Kyrie Irving injury storystream.

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