Game 1 went pretty much according to script for the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose big three combined for 69 points, 13 assists and five offensive rebounds in a 113-100 victory. And while the Celtics did a decent job of containing LeBron James, they enjoyed much greater success with Jae Crowder defending the four-time NBA MVP than starting wing Evan Turner.
So, should Celtics coach Brad Stevens consider starting Crowder over Turner in Game 2? Based on the evidence from their first showing in Cleveland, Stevens must at least play Crowder with greater regularity opposite James in the superstar’s 40-plus minutes.
LeBron played a total of 42 minutes in Cleveland’s Game 1 victory, and Crowder only shared the court with him for roughly half of that time period (20.2). Now, consider this number: The Celtics were 38.7 points per 100 possessions better with Crowder opposite LeBron than with their hard-nosed forward on the bench, according to NBA.com/stats.
In 20.2 minutes with Crowder on the floor, LeBron was a minus-7 against the C’s, finishing 3-for-8 from the field (0-for-4 from mid-range) to go along with four assists and four turnovers. In 21.8 minutes with Crowder on the bench, James was a plus-10, going 5-for-10 (5-for-5 in the paint) with three assists and one turnover. Granted, that’s a limited sample size, but the eye test bears out a similar discrepancy.
Let’s first examine each of LeBron’s eight shot attempts with Crowder on the floor.
- 1. Crowder demonstrated good footwork in keeping LeBron in front of him and forcing a failed jumper.
- 2. LeBron made a tough running left-handed bank shot over Crowder and a crowd in the paint.
- 3. Twice Tristan Thompson set a pick for James, and each time Tyler Zeller hedged, allowing Crowder to recover and initially force LeBron to reset the offense before ultimately missing a contested jumper.
- 4. LeBron beat Crowder off the dribble, but Zeller forced an errant shot in the restricted area.
- 5. With Marcus Smart defending and not Crowder, James converted a pull-up 3-pointer.
- 6. Crowder defended James straight-up in the high post, and then forced another failed jumper.
- 7. James beat Crowder off the dribble for a layup.
- 8. Crowder twice worked his way over and around Timofey Mozgov picks and showed tremendous footwork to remain in front of James and force yet another contested long jumper that sailed wide.
Not bad, right? Only once did Crowder truly get burned for an easy basket. Now, contrast that performance with LeBron’s 10 field goal attempts without Crowder on the court, and it’s a completely different story.
- 1. Smart and Turner, who both beat LeBron down the floor, failed to contest his transition layup.
- 2. LeBron beat Smart off the dribble and made a tough layup over a helping Kelly Olynyk.
- 3. LeBron backed Turner down from the elbow and converted an easy layup.
- 4. Seeing Turner isolated against LeBron in the left corner, Zeller came out to help, forcing an errant turnaround jump shot, but Zeller’s double team left Thompson alone underneath for an offensive rebound and an easy dunk.
- 5. With Turner chasing and failing to deliver a hard foul, James scored an easy transition layup off a steal.
- 6. LeBron missed an ill-advised long 3-pointer in an attempt to go 2-for-1 in the final 30 seconds of the half.
- 7. LeBron beat Turner off the dribble for an easy layup.
- 8. Brandon Bass switched onto James once Turner got picked, and James missed a contested 3-pointer.
- 9. As Turner tried to recover and contest, LeBron missed an open catch-and-shoot jumper as the shot clock expired.
- 10. LeBron attempted to back Avery Bradley into the post, but managed only an errant turnaround jumper.
While Turner often required help — setting a series of defensive rotations in motion that often led to a) open Cavaliers, b) a LeBron make or c) second chances off a miss — Crowder stood a better chance of defending the Cavs star 1-on-1 and thus allowed his teammates to stand their ground and be in better position to rebound.
Even in a larger sample size, Crowder offered the C’s a better chance against James. In 17 regular-season minutes opposite Crowder, James scored 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting (5-of-8 in the paint, 2-of-5 from mid-range and 0-for-3 from 3) with two assists against a pair of turnovers. In 64 minutes sans Crowder, James netted 47 points on 20-of-35 shooting (11-of-15 in the paint, 5-of-11 from mid-range and 4-of-9 from 3) with 18 assists against four turnovers. LeBron remains impossible to stop, but Crowder at least lints the damage.
Surely, Stevens has seen this evidence, so don’t be surprised if Crowder sees a lot more time on Tuesday.