NBA Four Quarters: How'd He Do That? (11/25/16)

By Sean Pyritz @srpyritz

As I'm sure you heard, in a blast from the past, Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love scored an NBA-record 34 first quarter points Wednesday against Portland. While Portland is one of the worst defensive teams in the league, you may be wondering how it is possible to allow one player to score that many points in a quarter. Let's take a look at all the ways Love scored.

Designed for the Post

On three occasions Love converted after Cleveland ran a set to get him the ball in the post as shown in the video below. Love shows off his impressive skillset right off the bat, hitting a contested, Dirk-esque fadeaway after catching off the cross screen. It is not until late in the quarter, after Portland started switching screens, that the Cavs go back to Love in the post as a mechanism to kill the switch. Fortunately, in the second clip, the Blazers are able to communicate and ‘pass-off' Damian Lillard, who switched onto Love on the ball screen, as Love got into post position. Love is on the right block this time and after having his initial hook shot blocked displays a turnaround jumper over the other shoulder. Mason Plumlee, who guarded Love for the majority of the quarter, recovers and contests pretty well on both of these possessions – unfortunately these were the only times Portland adequately contested a shot in the quarter. The third clip is a play Cleveland runs pretty frequently for Love. He sets a ball screen at the elbow and then cuts off two back screens to the opposite block for the post touch. Due to switching he ends up with Evan Turner on him – barbeque chicken as Shaq would say – and drives to the middle of the paint and draws a foul (he converts both free throws). His versatility on the block is most impressive - Love showed a different move for each score.

Pick and Pop

Regardless of whether the game plan or the focus and execution were to blame, Portland gave up three consecutive pick and pop three-pointers to Love after his initial post score. The Blazers open the game forcing side ball screens to the baseline, a tactic known as “ICE” or “blue” popularized by Coach Tom Thibodeau. Notice in the first clip in the video below as Love goes to set the ball screen for Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard shifts his body parallel to the sideline forcing Irving to reject the screen and Plumlee drops to contain penetration. The Cavaliers are prepared to beat this though. Irving throws the ball back to Love who immediately returns with a dribble hand-off, which Portland cannot force baseline. As Irving penetrates to the elbow with Lillard caught on the Love screen, Plumlee is forced to help leaving Love wide open on the pop for his first three-pointer. On the next possession, LeBron James is the ball handler and is able to drive against the “ICE” deep enough to draw Plumlee's help all the way to the block, again leaving Love wide open. Lillard hesitantly comes over for a late contest, unwilling to fully commit help off of Irving. On the final clip, Love doesn't even get within five feet of the ball handler as Irving begins rejecting the screen early, occupying Plumlee enough to get him in “ICE” position. And? A third consecutive wide open pick and pop three for Kevin Love. The “ICE” strategy put Plumlee in a tough spot trying to recover to Love especially with weakside defenders providing little by way of help.

Designed for Three

After three consecutive made three-pointers it is clear Love has it going and the Cavaliers start deliberately designing actions for him to get more open looks. Starting after a time out, in the first clip in following video, the Cavaliers align in a standard “Elbow” formation. Typically, when LeBron catches at the elbow in this alignment, he's looking to come back to the strong side for a hand-off or hit JR Smith on the flare screen on the weakside. However, the play was clearly designed to counter expectations as Love goes right into the hand-off with James after setting the flare screen. Plumlee is forced to help on the flare and is thus again late recovering on a Love made three. The next clip is another counter to a typical Cavaliers set. Usually, Irving would set a ball screen for James on the cleared side and JR would come off a stagger screen opposite the ball. However, Tristan Thompson quickly goes into a pin-down screen for Love and James dribbles over to make a nice skip pass for another Love three-pointer – this is a counter the San Antonio Spurs run for Danny Green as well. At this point Portland recognizes Plumlee is incapable of chasing Love off screens and switches the matchup to Moe Harkless. It doesn't matter however, because the set plays continue to overwhelm the Blazers. In the third clip, the Cavaliers run a play that typically yields a layup for JR as he curls around Love at the elbow. However, Harkless helps to prevent the layup and James makes another great pass to Love as he pops out to the three-point line. Harkless closes out with his hands down and, in the immortal words of Mark Jackson, “man down.” The final clip is another nuclear-grade play straight out of the Spurs playbook that the Cavaliers have cashed in on earlier this season. LeBron gets a post touch after drawing the switch on Lillard – ensuring help will be arriving shortly. Love is chilling on the opposite wing, waiting for James to spin baseline and initiate the “hammer” screen. Thompson sets a monster “hammer” back screen on Harkless as James spins baseline creating yet another wide open three-pointer for the former Timberwolves' All-Star.

The Leftovers

There are three scoring possessions that fell through the cracks. The first comes in transition. As James barrels his way coast to coast down the floor drawing the attention of the entire defense, Love settles into the right corner patiently awaiting an open jump shot. In the second clip, we see that his first quarter wasn't all offense. He plays perfect help defense on a Lillard backdoor cut, forcing him to pass and recovering with anticipation and an extended arm to get a deflection. With the Cavs in the bonus, Love adds two points at the foul line after being fouled gathering the loose ball. His final bucket comes after an offensive rebound where a scramble creates a mismatch. With Turner matching him, Love goes to the right block and bullies Turner to an easy little pull-up fade in the middle of the paint.

There you have it. 34 points bolstered seven mostly uncontested three-pointers - thanks to great screening and counter actions by Cleveland and poor strategy by Portland. This is the Kevin Love that warranted a number one overall pick in return from Minnesota. There aren't many players in the league with the scoring diversity of Love. There also aren't many teams with the creativity, execution, and talent to create the advantages Love enjoyed in this historic quarter.