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Double trouble for Cavs: Missed 3s AND turnovers

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were shocked Sunday in their first-round series opener by the Indiana Pacers. Stats from the stunner, plus previews for Monday night NBA and NHL matchups right now in VSiN City.

NBA Playoffs: Cleveland just 8 of 34 on three-pointers in 25-point market miss vs. Indiana
During an inconsistent regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers hid several weaknesses by making a lot of three-pointers. As long as the Cavs would still be able to find that extra gear they usually engage in the playoffs…those weaknesses would fade away vs. Indiana, giving LeBron James a chance to soar to another Eastern Conference crown. 

Hold that thought. In Sunday’s playoff opener, the Cavs made less than a quarter of their long-range shots, and showed off a potentially new weakness that hadn’t been anticipated. 

Indiana (plus 7.5) 98, Cleveland 80
2-point Pct: Indiana 49%, Cleveland 50%
3-pointers: Indiana 11/28, Cleveland 8 of 34
Free Throws: Indiana 15/25, Cleveland 12/20
Rebounds: Indiana 44, Cleveland 46
Turnovers: Indiana 11, Cleveland 16
Pace: 92.3 (very slow)

What was the new weakness? Turnovers! Losing the ball 16 times in a slow game is A LOT. And, that’s even more true when 34 treys were launched. That heavy a three-point load is often correlated to low turnover counts because the ball goes up before it can be lost. If Cleveland’s top 10 finish in “turnover avoidance” during the regular season was a red herring because the Cavs worked the ball around the arc against so many tankers…it might be smart to already pencil in Toronto vs. Philadelphia in the Eastern finals

Obviously, it’s still early. And Cleveland has a history of playing early lemons before finding its conference championship form. That said…there are a lot of new faces on this defensively challenged roster. Plus, Indiana has been playing with spirit all season, in a way the market has largely missed entirely. The Pacers are now 48-35 ATS this season, 19-9 ATS their last 28. 

When you’re handicapping the next meeting, remember that flipping made three-pointers from 11-8 one way to 11-8 the other only creates a scoreboard tie from an 18-point loss. Worth noting because the regular-season averages were 12 for Cleveland and 9 for Indiana. Cleveland has to fix that just to get back in position to win. To cover a tall spread? A lot more to fix against a franchise that’s been feeling its oats (in the media shadow of Philadelphia) for weeks. 

More on the matchup when Indiana and Cleveland meet again on Wednesday. 

This week in VSiN City, we’re mostly going to focus on game-day previews. Too crazy to try to jam 16 box scores from this past weekend’s NBA and NHL playoff action into today’s report, while also previewing six Monday night matchups. We’ll use the most recent box score as part of each new preview, which means this past weekend’s numbers will be sprinkled throughout the week in a way that has the most game-day handicapping value. Let’s get to Monday’s mayhem…

NBA Preview: Philadelphia 76ers still on long undefeated run heading into Miami rematch
Who said the Sixers would cool off in the playoffs once they weren’t facing disinterested tankers? Too many people!

We’ll run the numbers from that Saturday slaughter in a moment. First, an outline for our game previews this week…and series previews down the road. We’re no longer using the “Holy Trinity” from March Madness. We’ve grabbed a couple of those stats and added in some offensive production. These will be our points of emphasis...

  • Made Treys Per Game (combines volume and emphasis)
  • Offensive Efficiency (ranking in points scored per possession)
  • Defensive Efficiency (ranking in points allowed per possession)
  • Rebound Rate (percentage of available rebounds grabbed)

Why those four? Three-point shooting is more important than ever at the pro level given recent evolution. We had been using “turnover avoidance” in the Dance because guard play has such a big history of relevance during March Madness. In the NBA, many offenses will accept a certain number of giveaways as long as overall aggressiveness is still creating a scoreboard edge. As we just saw in the stats from the Cavs loss…turnovers become an issue if treys AREN’T falling. 

We also tossed in “offensive efficiency” to help capture the big picture on both sides of the floor. 

Enough chatter…let’s get to Sixers/Heat…

Miami at Philadelphia (8 p.m ET. on TNT, Philadelphia leads series 1-0)
Miami: 11.0 made treys/game, #20 offense, #7 defense, #15 rebounding
Phila.: 11.0 made treys/game, #11 offense, #3 defense, #1 rebounding

While it’s true that Philadelphia padded is stats at the end of the regular season by crushing weaklings, this is still a team that does everything right. Even without Joel Embiid in the lineup, they thrive in defense and rebounding. With him, SCARY! The offense makes 11 treys per game which is good enough to keep trey-heavy teams from running away from them. (Potential future opponents Boston makes 11.5, Toronto 11.8, and Cleveland 12.0). 

Some pundits were suggesting Embiid has become such an impact player that he’s worth 4 to 4.5 points in team Power Ratings all by himself. Too much depth on the roster for that to be true, at least against a team like Miami that doesn’t have much offense by playoff standards. Maybe, if Embiid is out longer than expected, a better opponent can make the Sixers pay for his absence. 

The full season stats suggest Miami has no workable options beyond “playoff experience.” Philadelphia ties treys, and is better at everything else…significantly better in offensive efficiency and rebounding. As long as Philadelphia keeps its composure, the Sixers seem positioned to control the series.

Here’s what happened in Game 1…

Philadelphia (-6.5) 130, Miami 103
2-point Pct: Miami 44%, Philadelphia 36%
3-pointers: Miami 12/26, Philadelphia 18/28
Free Throws: Miami 21/31, Philadelphia 22/29
Rebounds: Miami 42, Philadelphia 50
Turnovers: Miami 16, Philadelphia 10
Pace: 98.4

Easy to forget now that Miami got off to a good start, leading 35-29 after a quarter and 60-56 at the half. Philadelphia won the second half 74-43! We’ll just have to wait and see how fluky that 18 of 28 performance was on three pointers. Clearly an unsustainable percentage. But if the Sixers are now going to make a run at 13-14 made treys per game rather than 11…who’s going to stop the steamroller? 

Philadelphia is a “defense and rebounding’ juggernaut with Embiid, and held Miami to 44% on deuces and a -8 rebound differential without him. High level stuff. Can't forget the 16 forced turnovers either. 

As we write late Sunday, Philadelphia is once again -6.5 and 215, matching the lines in the opener. Probably a fight there between “Philadelphia’s better than we realized” and “Philadelphia can’t do that two games in a row.” Note that the Sixers have covered two-thirds of their home games this season, now 28-14 ATS counting the playoff game. Philly is 12-3 ATS its last 15 overall, with one of those non-covers being the huge blown lead in the close win over Cleveland. 

Now to the second game of TNT’s doubleheader…

NBA Preview: Golden State already thinking sweep after outclassing San Antonio Saturday
There was some concern in the media (particularly the places who do a horrible job with analytics) that Golden State was going to be in deep trouble without Steph Curry. Yes, the team was coasting down the stretch with little to motivate them. That didn’t mean they had forgotten how to play basketball. We start with the full season indicator stats…

San Antonio at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET on TNT, Golden State leads series 1-0)
S. Antonio: 8.5 made treys/game, #17 offense, #4 defense, #5 rebounding
Golden St.: 11.3 made treys/game, #1 offense, #8 defense, #11 rebounding

The Spurs don’t have much weaponry from long range. So, Golden State starts with about a 9-point lead at tip-off because the Warriors will typically hit about three more treys. San Antonio will have to make up for that with defense and rebounding. While the rankings were GREAT for the Spurs in those last two categories…it was clear during the regular season that the experienced veterans would out-fundamental all the bad teams before looking mortal vs. playoff caliber opponents. 

That’s one of the many dangers of putting too much weight on regular-season stats when you handicap the playoffs. Use them for guidance. Saturday’s box score shows why handicappers should walk softly. 

Golden State (-7.5) 113, San Antonio 92
2-point Pct: San Antonio 40%, Golden State 58%
3-pointers: San Antonio 9/22, Golden State 10/22
Free Throws: San Antonio 19/24, Golden State 15/22
Rebounds: San Antonio 30, Golden State 51
Turnovers: San Antonio 12, Golden State 15
Pace: 96.6

You felt bad for San Antonio by late in the first quarter. If not for a late trey off a steal by Manu Ginobili, it would have been 28-14 Warriors after 12 minutes. Never got interesting as the Spurs looked old, slow, and out of synch. 

Remember when LaMarcus Aldridge got hurt a few weeks ago? Spurs players talked about how much of a load he carries, and how lost they’d be without him? Made strategy pretty simple. All Golden State had to do was neutralize Aldridge and winning easily would be a piece of cake. 

This is how bleak the outlook is for SA. Golden State only made one more three-pointer in a game it won by 21 points…while losing the free-throw category and the turnover category. It was never a game…and the Warriors lost turnovers and free throws.

Don’t forget…the Warriors are a “defense and rebounding” team in addition to all the treys. That was hidden from too many in the media in the past by playing so many fast-paced games. This game clocked in with below average tempo, which helped showcase all the possession stops. Golden State’s defense toyed with the Spurs. 

Are three more pieces of cake on the way? Coach Steve Kerr knows the importance of sweeping early series to rest up for later rounds. Golden State won its first 15 playoff games a year ago before dropping one in Cleveland. The line has already jumped from -7.5 in the opener to -9.5 in Game 2. 

NHL Monday Previews: A grand slam of Game 3s with home openers at new sites
Four games on the Monday ice, all featuring a team trying to avoid falling behind three games to nothing in their respective series. 

Boston at Toronto (7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports, Boston leads 2-0)
Game 1: Boston (-160) 5, Toronto 1 (Shots: Boston 40-27)
Game 2: Boston (-175) 7, Toronto 3 (Shots: Toronto 33-28)

Even the most ardent Bruins fans weren’t expecting this. It was supposed to be a classic series featuring Eastern powers who suffered an unlucky draw. Boston leads scoreboard 12-4! Toronto is only laying -115 at home in this must-win third game. If ever there was going to be a peak outing for the Maple Leafs, this would be the spot. The total is 5.5 (Over -120).

Tampa Bay at New Jersey (7:30 p.m. ET on CNBC, Tampa Bay leads 2-0)
Game 1: Tampa Bay (-215) 5, New Jersey 2 (Shots: TB 32-31)
Game 2: Tampa Bay (-215) 5, New Jersey 3 (Shots: NJ 44-25)

Tampa Bay has performed to those high market prices. The best offense in the NHL in goals-per-game has clocked in at five both times. The Lightning did that on just 25 shots Saturday. Give New Jersey credit for an all-out effort from behind in terms of shot count. Just not enough talent on the roster to scare this Eastern power. Devils were only league average in the goal stats we studied back during our series previews. And they were a woeful -8 in 5-on-5 goal differential for the season. Time is of the essence for the big series dog needless to say. Tampa Bay is -140, with a total of 6.

Nashville at Colorado (10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports, Nashville leads 2-0)
Game 1: Nashville (-300) 5, Colorado 2 (Shots: Nashville 31-27)
Game 2: Nashville (-300) 5, Colorado 4 (Shots Nashville 33-30)

Similar story here to the series just above. A huge favorite has scored FIVE goals in both victories. Scarier difference here is that DEFENSE is Nashville’s main strength. Interesting that the Predators have won shot counts despite leading the scoreboard for so many minutes. They just keep attacking out of defensive stops. Nashville is -160 in the third game, with a total of 5.5 (Over -120). The market hasn’t seen anything to dissuade it from thinking this is going to be a squash series. 

Anaheim at San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET on CNBC, San Jose leads 2-0)
Game 1: San Jose (plus 120) 3, Anaheim 0 (Shots: SJ 34-25)
Game 2: San Jose (plus 120) 3, Anaheim 2 (Shots: SJ 35-30)

This is a shocker. In a chalky start to the 2018 postseason, San Jose managed to win its first two games as a road underdog in surprisingly dominant fashion. Even in a potential letdown spot, it still won shots on goal 35-30 despite sustaining a lead through the evening. How is Anaheim going to explode back into the series when it had the worst regular season offensive goals-per-game average of anyone in the playoffs? San Jose is -140 on home ice to take a 3-0 series lead, with an Over/Under of 5.

Not that fans of the Vegas Golden Knights should be counting any chickens yet vs. the LA Kings. But San Jose is going to be a handful in the second round if it keeps playing at this level of intensity. We’ll preview the fourth game of VKG/LA for you tomorrow, as part of a sixpack of NHL and NBA action. See you then!

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