5. Limit Kyrie Irving’s Workload
While Kyrie denied any pain prior to Game 1, his minutes were still limited due to his lingering left knee tendonitis and right foot injury. While only playing a conservative 27 minutes, the Cavs were still able to get the win. While the game was close at times, Delly and LeBron were able to share the load at point guard and secure the game. Kyrie is used to a physical style of play, constantly driving to the basket and usually taking some hits. Kyrie needs to be smart about this style of play and prevent future injury, which would be detrimental to the Cavs. Kyrie did a good job of this in Game 1, letting LeBron drive while staying patient spotting up around the perimeter. Allowing Kyrie to get as much rest and healing as possible should help the Cavs gear up towards a Finals run.
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4. Increase Bench Production
While limiting Kyrie’s minutes, Coach Blatt also limited the bench minutes, only playing 3 deep. J.R. Smith came up big, hitting 10 of his 16 shots. This included a Cavs playoff record 8 of 12 threes. Unfortunately, J.R.’s 28 points were the only bench points scored. Dellavedova and James Jones came off the bench for 25 and 14 minutes respectively, but shot a combined 0-9 with 0 for 7 three point shooting. While Jones’ statline consisted of nothing but goose eggs, Delly did contribute to the Cavs W. First off, he gave Kyrie some rest. Delly played the point guard position well enough and ended up dishing out 3 assists. On the defensive end, Delly was his scrappy ol’ self, boxing out big men like Horford and Millsap and pulling down two boards. Overall, the Cavs bench only combined for 75 minutes. While David Blatt usually varies his bench minutes (55 in game 5 against Bulls, 83 in game 6), the contribution is usually a bit more evenly distributed. Not to take away from Smith’s amazing game, but a few more points from Delly and Jones would have given the Cavs a more comfortable lead. Tristan Thompson also played a heavy 42 minutes. It will be interesting to see how Blatt utilizes Mozgov, who only played 24 minutes as well as if Perkins finds some court time in game 2.
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3. Shoot it, J.R.! Shoot It!
J.R. had an incredible game. Stat-wise, he had 28 points, second only to LeBron, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. Add in a block and steal on quick defense, only having 2 turnovers, and Bulls’ eye shooting, and it’s no wonder J.R set the Cavs playoff three point record. J.R. let Kyle Korver know that he couldn’t be guarded, as he continuously drained threes in defenders faces. J.R. got his rhythm early just while LeBron started finding open guys around the perimeter, and the rest is history. If J.R. stays hot in game 2, give the man the ball because he can’t be stopped from beyond the arc.
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2. Let The King Play His Game
With Kyrie’s minutes limited tonight, LeBron had to revert back to his 2009-10 Cavs days where he was the temporary point guard. James did a pretty good job filling in for Kyrie, posing a big triple threat against Atlanta’s defense. Twice, James drove in and kicked out to a wide open Kyrie leading to three-pointers. LeBron consistently drove and was able to pick up a double or triple team and also find an open man to pass to, leading to six assists in Game 1. This didn’t stop James from shooting the ball though, as the King still put up 26 shots, 12 of which he knocked down (46%). LeBron stayed aggressive against DeMarre Carroll and later Paul Millsap. Kenny Smith described LeBron as a “point forward”, playing inside on defense but being able to direct the floor and play outside on offense. James proved this point in Game 1, finishing with 31 points, eight boards, and six assists.
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The Cavs gave the ball away 12 times in Game 1, leading to 15 points by the Hawks. While they’ve been averaging 12.1 turnovers per game through the playoffs thus far, this average is still a scary stat. The Hawks are ranked fifth in points off turnovers, with 18.3 per game. Had the Hawks converted a bit better, the game could have had a different outcome. If the Cavs go on to the NBA finals, it’s the same story. The Warriors are first in points off turnovers with 19.7 per game and the Rockets are 4\fourth with 18.9 per game. If you lose the ball too much, these teams will make you pay. LeBron is averaging 4.6 turnovers per game throughout this playoff run, including four in Game 1. The Cavs also committed bad turnovers in Game 1. J.R. launched a pass over Shump’s head into the first row seats, Delly threw up an alley oop to no one, and Kyrie even lost his handles a few times while driving into the paint. If the Cavs want to win the series and the Finals, they need to limit silly turnovers.