Breaking down the Cavs’ game-winning play

Last night, with the game tied and 0:28 to play, the Cleveland Cavaliers ran one of their favorite plays against and scored the go-ahead bucket against the Bucks.

It’s pretty easy to identify, as it’s one of the few sets where the ball starts out in Mo Williams’ hands. The Bucks should have seen it coming, but they didn’t. Here’s a look.

LeBron (#3) inbounds the ball to Mo (#1) and heads over to the top of the key. Delonte West (#2) sets a block-to-block screen for J.J. Hickson (#5), which is only meant to free up Hickson so that he can set an on-ball screen for Mo. West heads to the corner to spot up for a three. Mo uses Hickson’s ball screen and dribbles towards the baseline.

Once Mo gets close to the baseline with the dribble, Antawn Jamison (#4) backscreens for LeBron (#3). LeBron charges down the right lane line and looks for a pass as Mo gets into the lane. I don’t have it on the diagram, but after setting the screen, Hickson (#5) crashes the offensive glass.

This play is so successful because Mo sucks the help defense down to the baseline with penetration, but he’s not looking to score. His defender is usually trying to recover to him (after the Hickson screen) while Hickson’s man is typically trying to close off the baseline. Mo often jumps out of bounds to create a passing angle and he usually throws a bounce pass, which will avoid any outstretched hands.

The key is the screen for LeBron — the only player that can really stop this action is Jamison’s man. Last night, it was Ersan Ilyasova, who got caught looking at Mo’s penetration and didn’t see Jamison pick for LeBron, who was free to cut into the lane.

You can see the play in action, starting at the 1:21 mark in the video below:

If I were coaching the defense, I’d tell LeBron’s man to jump baseline side of Jamison (#4) anytime he sees Mo dribble towards the baseline. That way, LeBron’s defender would be impossible to screen and he’d have a better chance at stopping the pass from getting to his man. The counter for the Cavs might be to kick it out to LeBron for a three, but I’d rather give that up than an open layup.

If LeBron isn’t open, Mo’s next options would be to throw the ball to West (#2) in the corner or dump it off to Hickson (#5), who is charging to the basket.

It’s a simple little play that is difficult to defend.

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