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Cavs' 1-3 pick and roll is causing problems for the Pacers in first two games

lebron james
Gregory Shamus l Getty Images

The defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers are headed to Indiana for Game 3 of their first-round playoff matchup against the Pacers on Thursday. Currently, the Cavs are leading the series, 2-0.

It seems Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue has found one particular play that irks the Pacers. From junior high to the pros, the 1-3 pick and roll is utilized in just about every coach’s playbook. However, the play has been especially effective for the Cavaliers against Paul George and the Pacers.

Via Chris Fedor of cleveland.com:

“If we had the answers we’d probably be up in the series right now,” George said following Monday’s 117-111 loss. “We’re trying to figure it out. They’re killing us on the 1-3 pick-and-roll. We’ve got to figure it out at home.”

Not familiar with the play? Allow me to explain…

The “1” in a 1-3 pick and roll stands for the point guard position. In Cleveland’s case, that means Kyrie Irving. The “3” signifies LeBron James‘ position — small forward (or three, as some say). Often times, James (the 3), will set a pick for Irving (the 1) at the top of the three-point line. The play can be run from other positions, but it’s most commonly ran from somewhere near the top of the key.

If you are a defender, should you fight through the screen? Or would you elect to switch to the other player? The Pacers are asking themselves the same question. With one wrong step defensively, James or Irving, two of the best at penetrating in the NBA, will have a clean run at the basket.

“He’s running the pick and roll and he’s setting that pick and roll,” Pacers head coach Nate McMillan said of James. “Part of that is us just trying to work harder. Trying to work harder to get through the screens and stay with our matchups and we’ve got to be more physical to get closer to our guy and get through that. He does a great job of executing that. Really executing whatever matchup he wants.”

“He’ll go with the one man or he’ll go with the two or the three if he feels that’s the better matchup for him,” McMillan continued. “We’ve got to do a better job of working on the ball, guarding, pressuring the ball and the guy who’s involved in the screen, a better job of blitzing and getting back.”

In Game 1, the Pacers were switching on nearly every screen that was set. Switching creates mismatches, as most basketball fans know. Irving and James took full advantage of this fact, as they attacked the basket in various isolation plays.

“We don’t play too much bad iso,” James said. “We’ve got guys that can. For the most part, it’s usually me and Kyrie who are the iso guys on our team.”

The 1-3 pick and roll sounds easy enough to defend, but with great ball-handlers and accurate marksman on the perimeter, the Cavs create a lot of problems for opposing sides when running the play.

“It’s not so much limiting the help, it’s not over-helping,” coach McMillan said of his team’s issues defending Cleveland’s 1-3 pick and roll. “LeBron does such a great job of making reads when you are committing to trying to stop him getting to the basket and he’s firing out to all of these 3-point shooters that they have.”

“Defensively, we need to be tighter, get closer, be more physical defensively and not give them the matchups they want in their multiple pick-and-roll combinations,” coach McMillan said in closing.

Game 3 is set for Thursday at 7:00 p.m. EST inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Fans can watch the game live on TNT and Fox Sports Ohio or follow along with the ClutchPoints app. We’ll just have to see what defensive adjustments coach McMillan has made.

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