The Cleveland Cavaliers' Offense Has Been Even More Efficient in the Playoffs

Cleveland hasn't fixed its defensive woes. Instead, LeBron James and friends have taken their already excellent offense to a new level in the postseason.

It’s probably safe to say the Cavaliers’ relaxed attitude towards the regular season has not had any ill effects on their title odds.

Cleveland went just 10-14 in March and April, including defeats in its final four regular season games, and the Cavs have surged in the playoffs anyway.

The 2 seed Cavaliers swept Indiana and easily won the first two games of their conference semifinal series with Toronto, outscoring opponents by 9.2 points per 100 possessions (only Golden State has won by a larger margin this postseason). This comes after Cleveland was eighth in the NBA with a 2.9 net rating during the regular season.

This 6.3-point difference makes Cleveland the postseason’s biggest overachiever relative to their regular-season performance, and they join Golden State and Boston as the only teams with a higher net rating in the playoffs.

Team Playoff Net Rating Reg. Season Net Rating Diff.
Cleveland Cavaliers 9.2 2.9 +6.3
Golden State Warriors 16.4 12.1 +4.3
Boston Celtics 4.6 3.1 +1.5
San Antonio Spurs 7.6 7.9 -0.3
Washington Wizards 1.1 1.6 -0.5
Milwaukee Bucks -0.8 0.5 -1.3
Atlanta Hawks -2.5 -0.8 -1.7
Houston Rockets 3.3 5.4 -2.1
Indiana Pacers -4.9 -0.1 -4.8
Oklahoma City Thunder -5.4 -0.2 -5.2
Utah Jazz -1.5 4.7 -6.2
Los Angeles Clippers -1.8 4.5 -6.3
Chicago Bulls -6.3 0.1 -6.4
Toronto Raptors -4.1 4.9 -9
Memphis Grizzlies -9.5 0.1 -9.6
Portland Trail Blazers -18.3 0 -18.3

Given the Cavaliers’ struggles on the defensive end during the regular season, you might think that better play on that end has helped drive this improvement. In reality, Cleveland’s defensive rating has barely budged while LeBron James and company have taken their offense to a new level.

Cavaliers Off. Rating Def. Rating Net Rating
Postseason 116.9 107.7 9.2
Regular Season 110.9 108 2.9
Difference +6.0 -0.3 +6.3

The Cavaliers were already one of the top offenses in the NBA -- ranking third by averaging 110.9 points per 100 possessions -- but they have managed to clear this high bar through six playoff games.

This improvement has come almost entirely from beyond the arc and at the free throw line, as their two-point percentage, offensive rebounding rate and turnover rates are all virtually the same from what they were in the regular season.

Cleveland is shooting 42.8% from three-point range in the playoffs, which is 4.4% better than their regular-season mark (which was second in the league in its own right). LeBron has been one of the catalysts here, shooting 48.4% on 5.2 three-point attempts per game in the playoffs, after hitting 36.3% on 4.6 attempts per contest in the season.

Cavaliers Offense eFG% TOV% ORB% FTA/FGA
Postseason 57.6% 13.3% 22.3% 0.346
Regular Season 54.7% 13.7% 22.8% 0.275
Difference +2.9% -0.4% -0.5% +0.071

James' lofty percentage here does not even lead his own team, as Deron Williams (66.7% on 2.0 three-point attempts per game) and Channing Frye (52.0% on 4.2 three-point shots per game) have been even hotter. J.R. Smith is also shooting 47.8% from long range while Iman Shumpert and Kevin Love are both above 40% themselves.

Kyle Korver’s three-point percentage has dipped from 48.5% to 38.1%, but this is still a solid number. This leaves Kyrie Irving (28.3%) as the only Cavalier with a below-average three-point percentage in the playoffs, but his teammates have been so good, it has hardly mattered.

While this has obviously helped them, we probably should expect regression here, as three-point percentage is particularly prone to random variation in small samples. Cleveland is also actually taking more contested three-pointers in the playoffs than the regular season, despite the elevated percentage (the Cavaliers are averaging 7.8 three-point attempts where the nearest defender is four feet away or closer, compared to 6.4 in the regular season, per

Still, considering that the Cavaliers managed to also post the league’s third-best two-point percentage (52.8%) and its second-highest three-point attempt rate, regression here is presumably low on their list of concerns.

As for their other area of improvement, Cleveland averaged 28.3 free throws per game against Indiana and Toronto, after taking 23.3 per game in the regular season. Once again, the Cavaliers can thank LeBron, who is taking 4.0 more attempts at the charity stripe per game in the playoffs.

In the regular season, he took 7.2 free throws per game and averaged .395 free throw attempts per field goal attempt. In the postseason, he has upped his free-throw-attempt-to-field-goal-attempt rate to .519, and this seems to be the result of increased aggressiveness.

James averaged 9.5 “drives” per game in the regular season, according to (which defines a drive as “any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop,” excluding fast breaks). In the playoffs, he has increased his average to nearly 12 per game.

Irving has been the other main difference maker here, averaging more than one more free throw per game in the postseason, helping give the Cavaliers a nice supplement to their efficient shooting from the field.

Their troubles on defense in the regular season, including weakness on the defensive glass and an apparent inability to force turnovers, have not been solved, but if they can come close to playing this well on offense, the Cavaliers should coast to their third Eastern Conference title in a row.