The probability of the Cleveland Cavaliers losing their first round series wasn’t very high at the start of the matchup.
However, someone forgot to tell the Indiana Pacers that, because they almost won Game 1, and recovered from a 19 point deficit in the second half to make the second game closer than it should have been, but the wine and gold prevailed, 117-111 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
So, the Pacers have the daunting task of having to be a LeBron James led team four out of five games to advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
While publicly James says it doesn’t matter how many points the Cavs win by, as long as they win, the point is in a first round match up, style points do count, especially if the team struggled the way Tyronn Lue’s squad did over the last month of the regular season.
In game one, Cleveland had trouble on the defensive glass and shot just barely over 50% from the free throw line. That’s not a good recipe for winning in the playoffs.
Last night, the Cavs won the battle of the boards, but only because the three frontcourt starters (James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson) all had ten or more boards, because no one else had more than two rebounds.
And the home team hit 20 of 23 from the charity stripe, with the only three misses coming from James, who is working on a new free throw routine after a career low percentage from the line.
Again, only three players took free throws, with Love and Kyrie Irving making all 17 of their shots.
Iman Shumpert provided a lift in the second half after JR Smith left with a hamstring problem. Shumpert seemed focused after getting a DNP-CD on Saturday, playing solid defense on Paul George, and chipping in with five points.
The bench still isn’t providing a lot of scoring. Deron Williams had nine, but in total, the subs only scored 21, compared to the Pacers, who had 32 points off the bench.
Don’t blame Kyle Korver though. Although the veteran has only taken five shots in the two games, he has captured the attention of Indiana, because his man isn’t helping off him. That leaves the lane open for James and Irving to get to the basket.
Cleveland was +10 with Korver on the floor.
We understand it is early in the playoff chase, but the defensive issues which plagued the wine and gold recently haven’t been totally cured. Indiana shot 51% in game two.
Nor have the issues with a fourth quarter lead disappeared. The Cavs move the ball very well to get the lead, and then revert to isolation sets, which are resulting in long, missed shots on offense.
This allows the opponents to get back in the game. And the culprits are usually James and Irving.
The Cavs only had 19 assists on 42 made shots in game two. James had 7 assists, but Love was the only other Cleveland player with more than two.
Look, we don’t want the Cavaliers to be playing at their best right now. Hopefully, they will get better incrementally as the playoffs move on, so they are playing at peak efficiency when and if they return to the NBA Finals.
Unfortunately, they can’t play poorly enough that they don’t win the Eastern Conference.
The best thing for Lue’s team is to make short work of the Pacers, and get plenty of rest before the second round matchup. The quest for that begins Thursday night in Indianapolis.