Can LeBron James Overcome Warriors’ Defense in Game 5?

By Vincent Frank

It seems like a ridiculous question on the surface. Through Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is averaging 35.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 8.3 assists per outing. If he were to lead his team to an upset over the Golden State Warriors, it would go down as one of the all-time great Finals performances in the history of the Association.

So why would anyone draw up an article asking whether James can overcome his opponent’s defense?

It’s rather simple. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr made a dramatic adjustment prior to the start of Game 4—a game that saw his team blowout the Cavaliers by 21 in Cleveland. He benched Andrew Bogut in lieu of Andre Iguodala.

The results were immediate, and potentially series-changing:

Iggy held James to 20 points on 7-of-22 shooting, which brought James’ shooting percentage for the series down to just 39 percent.

The design was simple. Let James go iso against the stellar frontcourt defender, and pick your time to throw a double team his way. The danger in this philosophy, as evidenced by the over eight assists James is averaging per game in this series, is that he’s the best passing forward in the Association today.

This reared its head earlier in the series when the Warriors doubled the four-time league MVP. Probably the best at passing out of double teams to find an open man, James was able to do just that in the first three games of the series.

Then something changed on Thursday night. James didn’t act as the distributor. He didn’t take the ball to the hole. Instead, he seemed to be more complacent than in the previous games. And when James decided to pass out to the open man, Warriors defenders either closed in big time on the shooter or James’ teammates missed open shots.

This type of situation is definitely a quagmire for any team going up against James. It also presents James himself with a challenge. Will he go into Game 5 with a predetermined offensive philosophy or will he let the game flow to him? That’s the biggest question here.

Kerr’s Warriors will adjust accordingly, it’s now up to James to do the same thing. If James goes into Game 5 with a pure shooting mentality, the Warriors will just throw a double team his way the vast majority of the time. If he decides to play distributor, the Warriors will then leave Iggy in iso, playing man up against the other four Cavaliers on the court. That in and of itself is a quagmire for James.

More than this, does James have reason enough to trust his teammates to hit open shots should the Warriors throw double teams at him consistently? Game 4 saw Matthew Dellavedova, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and James Jones combine for 19 points on 7-of-38 shooting (18 percent). If those numbers repeat themselves, it really won’t matter what James does. He could go for 60, and the Cavaliers would still likely lose.

The idea here has to be adjusting to the flow of the game and understanding the type of defense Golden State is throwing his way. If we know anything about James, he is one of the smartest basketball players on the planet. This means that he will likely be ready to make adjustments when he sees fit. It will then be up to the Warriors to re-adjust.

Game 5 is set for shortly after 8:00 p.m. ET Sunday night on ABC. It should be a blast!

Photo: USA Today