For the Chicago Bulls and their fans, Derrick Rose‘s game-winner — a Kobe-esque banked three-pointer off the glass, barely passing over the outstretched arm of Tristan Thompson — wasn’t just a shot to give the Bulls a 99-96 win in Game 3. It was the Basketball Gods finally coming through on an unwritten, three-year “I.O.U” for all the injuries and heartbreak Rose and the Bulls have had to deal with. As an added bonus, it was also the first playoff buzzer-beating game-winner a Bulls player has knocked down since Michael Jordan knocked down one in Game 1 of the 1997 Finals.
It’s 2015 though, meaning we can’t just give Chicago and Rose credit for a great win in an ugly shooting contest. We have to figure out what’s wrong with the Cavaliers, who find themselves down 1-2 in the series. History tells us that when a series is tied 1-1, the winner of Game 3 wins the series 86 percent of the time. It’s fair to say the shoulder injury to Kevin Love severely damaged the Cavs’ title shot, but with LeBron James and head coach David Blatt taking on the “no excuses” mantra, maybe we should focus on a reoccurring problem no one in Cleveland seems to want to talk about — LeBron’s (jump)shot.
Quite frankly, this has been one of the worst series that I’ve ever seen LeBron play — by his otherworldly standards anyway. To be fair to him, he’s still averaging 26.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 9.3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block through three games in the series. Via Basketball-Reference, since 1985-86, the only other player to hit those benchmarks through the first three games of a series is, well, nobody. It might be safe to assume Oscar Robertson, Wilt or Jerry West pulled this off, but that was before 85-86, so it isn’t documented. LeBron is still great, y’all.
However, his efficiency numbers have been awful by anyone’s standards. He’s only shooting 39.5 percent in this series, 1-12 from three and has an eFG% of 40.1 percent. When he hasn’t been missing shots at an awful rate, he has been tossing the ball around the yard, racking up five turnovers a game.
It doesn’t help that the Bulls schematically know how to guard James better than just about anyone. More specifically, Jimmy Butler has been hounding LeBron all series, not allowing him to get comfortable at all. LeBron has been dared *cough, baited, cough* into jumpers all series long, and boy have the results been awful.
Via SportVU shot tracking data, LeBron James is shooting 1-24 on all pull-up jumpers, including an 0-7 clip from three. He has gone 2-10 on shots outside of 10 feet with the closest defender six feet or further away from him; that’s pretty darn open, and pretty darn awful.
The Cavs’ offense has been stagnant at best, and as much as its contrary to his ideal play style, you can blame LeBron for a lot of the isolation looks. David Blatt obviously should get blame for the lack of off-ball movement, but again, the Bulls have done a good job of baiting LeBron into perimeter looks.
The longer (and harder) LeBron has had to work to get a shot off, his shooting percentage has consequently dropped by a large margin. When taking two or fewer dribbles before a shot, LeBron is 18-36 from the field. When he has dribbled three or more times before taking a shot, he has gone 12-40 from the field.
The Cavs are obviously at their best when LeBron is attacking the basket and collapsing the defense, creating driving lanes for Kyrie Irving, dumping or lobbing the ball to Timofey Mozgov or Thompson, or finding shooters like J.R. Smith or Iman Shumpert for open threes. The Bulls haven’t only sealed off the paint, they’ve also sniffed out the minimal off-ball movement the Cavs have used, forcing LeBron and others to settle for bad perimeter shots. In order for the Cavs to have a shot at regaining control of this series, they’re going to need for LeBron to either find his perimeter shot or force the issue at the rim.