Cavs’ 7-Man Rotation Will Cost Them 2015 NBA Championship

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Believe it or not, there’s a bright side to the Cavs getting beat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals in Cleveland. The bright side is that the game was over and they could rest.

Doesn’t sound like much, but considering how many minutes their top seven players have had to play, it’s no small consolation. After four games in which LeBron James, Tristan Thompason, Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellevedova have given their all to leave Cleveland with an even series, their two primary ball handlers don’t have enough in the tank to fend off Golden State without some extended rest.

With the game moving back to the West Coast, Cleveland has a full two days of rest and recovery to look forward to. Still not much of a recuperation period, but better than the one day “rest” in-between games 1 and 2 and between games 3 and 4.

And the Cavs it. Using mostly a seven man rotation (eight if you consider Mike Miller‘s 14 minutes in three games — which I don’t), David Blatt is squeezing every last drop out of James, Thompson, Mozgov and Dellevedova.

While Cleveland’s bigs Thompson and Mozgov don’t seem affected by the minutes and having Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and David Lee draped on their shoulders, Dellevedova and James aren’t nearly as impervious; the two are showing the wear and tear of their extended minutes.

In particular, it’s Andre Iguadola’s defense on James (as well James having to guard Iguadola) and “Delly’s” non-stop effort defense against Curry that has taken a toll on Cleveland’s two play makers.

David Blatt’s Rotation Taking Years Off LeBron’s Career

One would think that Blatt would relieve James and Dellevedova from having to bring up with ball when Iman Shumpert or J.R. Smith were in the game.

Let the two former Knicks dribble up against pressure. It’s not quite like sitting on the bench downing electrolytes with a trainer rubbing your legs, but lessening the ball-handling burden would allow James and Delly an additional couple of minutes of on-court rest.

As we saw in Game Three, they needed every last second to hold down the fort against a furious Golden State comeback.

Matthew Dellevedova giving it 100%

As a capable dribbler, at least J.R. Smith could help with that. Smith has provided the Cavs little help anywhere else, so make him bring up the ball against Klay Thompson and then handing it off to James or Delly.

Another problem for Cleveland is their other bench player: James Jones. Jones is no doubt a good role player — a three-point sniper, but he;s not a player that creates his own shot so he’s not really taking any pressure off of James’ shoulders.

And that, my friends, is Cleveland’s reinforcements off the bench.

The other side of the problem for the Cleveland Cavs is the bench of the Warriors is loaded. Golden State has been playing 10 players in their rotation. And nothing personal to James Jones, but most of them are capable play makers, shot makers and slashers, not just three-point specialists.

When the Warrior’s second unit comes in with Bogut, Shaun Livingston, Lee, Leandro Barbosa and Festus Ezeli, the Cavs are not getting much of a rest physically, and it’s a different offense so there’s no letting up mentally, either.

And those strength in numbers isn’t even counting Mo Speights, who is coming off injury. Speights led Golden State’s bench mob in scoring during the regular season.

It’s Not Just About Cramps

How does one know if the Cavs are tired? You don’t have to be keeled over after a timeout to be exhausted or hospitalized for cramps; it shows up in little ways that impact your shooting, your defense, your decision making… basically, your timing is off. Your effort and heart may be there, but your legs are heavy.

In game four, James shot badly again, but he put up *just* 22 shots in that game when he’s shot at least 34 times in the first three games of the series. To the average person, James may look less-engaged, but don’t underestimate the weight of exhaustion from carrying Cleveland for three games — even for a world class athlete.

lebron james dellevedova tired

Dellevedova? The tough guy will give it his all every minute he’s on the floor, but he’s human, too. Delly hit only three shots out of 14 attempts; coming up short on a few runners near the basket. Dellevedova wasn’t just tired in game four, he was already dead tired in the third quarter of the previous game. Luckily for the Cavs, they willed themselves to a 17 point cushion going into the fourth that they were able to hold onto.

Cavs’ Rotation Will Cost Them NBA Title

Tied at two games a piece, the NBA Finals is now a best of three series but these next two games will look very different than the first two.

In order to get to this point, Blatt leaned heavily on his core players and the impact is going to be felt in the next two games.. and not in a good way.

There are unfortunate consequences for going all out with seven players in the first four games. There comes a point when even two days of rest isn’t enough to get you through another game no matter how young you are or great an athlete one is. This fatigue will come into play in the second half of the game five.

The Cavs will be rested enough to look good in the first half, but when the game gets midway through the third quarter, keep your eye out for fatigue in James, Dellevedova… and maybe even Thompson or Mozgov at this point.

We’ll see the hallmarks of a tired player in game where legs have little left; shooting short on their shots, rotating a half second late and being a step slower on defense.

And that’s after a game with two days rest. Let’s not forget the next game, the Cavs will only have one day’s rest before game six.

In a game with the highest stakes at hand and featuring athletic and intelligent basketball players, milliseconds matters. The slightest details come into play on both offense and defense when you’re playing even an average NBA team in your 15th regular season game.

It’s even more true when you’re playing the Golden State Warriors, the team that was ranked #1 in offense and defense during the regular season.

A version of this article originally appeared on Interbasket

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