Getting To Finals Doesn’t Get Old

Let it soak in Cleveland.

It was anticipated since the start of the regular season that the Cavaliers would get back to The NBA Finals and have a chance to defend the title they won last June 19th.

And here we are after the Cavs dominated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, four games to one.

The only game Boston won, the wine and gold had a 21 point lead midway through the third quarter.

It was that much of a mismatch.

So, the Cavaliers, a downtrodden franchise since the Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and Larry Nance era, is heading to their third consecutive trip to The Finals, and the fourth overall in franchise history.

All four of those squad contain a certain LeBron James, who became the most prolific scorer in league playoff history tonight.

As for James, he is making his seventh consecutive trip to The Finals and his eighth overall.

Just for comparison, Michael Jordan played for the NBA title six times.

The only players in NBA history who have played in more championship series are as follows:

Bill Russell                      12
Sam Jones                       11
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar  10
Jerry West                        9
Magic Johnson                9
Tommy Heinsohn          9

That’s it.  Three of those players played with those Celtic teams that dominated the late 50’s and 60’s.  It’s incredible to ponder James’ greatness and to think he has now been to the ultimate series four times with two different franchises.

Of course, we know just getting to The Finals isn’t enough for James or the rest of the Cavaliers for that matter.

This is the rubber match against the Golden State Warriors, and unlike the great Celtic-Lakers’ rivalry in the 1980’s, we don’t think there is a lot of respect for each other.

Cleveland would love to win this match up, not only to repeat as champions, but also to give them bragging rights in this trilogy.

You have to feel good for two veterans making their first Finals appearance in Deron Williams and Kyle Korver, both of whom joined the Cavs during the season.

Williams has been in the league for 12 seasons, made the All Star team five times, and played on the US Olympic team.  The closest he got previously was in his second NBA season when the Jazz lost to San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals.

Korver was swept out of the playoffs the last two seasons by the Cavaliers, giving new meaning to the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” saying.

He got to the conference finals twice, losing as a member of the Chicago Bulls in 2010-11 and with the Hawks in 2014-15.  Both times, he lost to a team featuring LeBron James.

Be ready for a national media blitz extoling the virtues of the Golden State Warriors and how they cannot be beaten.  They aren’t unbeatable.

That doesn’t mean we are expecting a Cavalier victory, but we are saying if the wine and gold execute their game plan, they can beat the Warriors again.

Remember, the Western Conference Finals were played with San Antonio missing one of the top five players in the NBA in Kawhi Leonard.  The Spurs would have trouble beating Toronto or Boston in a seven game series without Leonard.

These are the halcyon days for the Cleveland Cavaliers.  As James himself said after last night’s win, don’t take this for granted.  After all, before James came back to the team, it had only happened once.

JK

Kyrie Can Be Frustrating At Times, But He Stepped Up At Right Time.

It didn’t look good halfway through the second quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night.

The Boston Celtics were making virtually every open shot, and LeBron James picked up his fourth foul in the first half.  Could the Cavs weather the last six minutes of the half without getting blown out?

Kyrie Irving made sure Cleveland stayed within shouting distance until James could return to the game after the half, scoring in a variety of ways to keep the wine and gold at a 10 point deficit at intermission.

In the third quarter, Irving went berserk, scoring 50% of his playoff career high 42 points in the period as the Cavaliers outscored Boston by 17 (40-23) to flip the game in Tyronn Lue’s team’s favor.

We have been critical of Irving from time to time for not passing enough, falling in love with his dribble, and not playing hard on defense.

In Game 3 Sunday night, we thought Irving forced the action a bit too much in the fourth quarter, playing hero ball because he was looking to take over, and the defense wouldn’t let them.

Last night, he knew his team needed a lift with James on the bench with four fouls, and hit some outside shots to get going, and after those went down, it opened up driving lanes for him.

Our criticism of Irving comes because he is so talented.  He may have the best ball handling skills in the league, he’s a gifted shooter both from outside and around the basket, even though he gives up a lot of height near the hoop.

He doesn’t understand at times when he needs to take over, and when he needs to sit back and get his teammates going.  Then again, he is just 25 years old.  He has plenty of time to learn when and where and how to do it.

Irving shot an astounding 15 of 22 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from behind the three point line, in a game the Cavs absolutely had to have.

Can you imagine if the series went back to Boston even with two the remaining games in Beantown?

The wine and gold definitely needed to win this one, and with the best player in the game on the bench for the last six minutes of the half, Irving took control and didn’t let the Cavaliers get blown out.

With Irving going crazy, LeBron James got back in the groove, and by the end of the contest, his jump shot, which seemed to go AWOL in game three, returned.  That should bode well for the fifth game tomorrow night.

And don’t discount Kevin Love’s contributions either.  With Boston using two or three players to box out Tristan Thompson, Love picked up the slack with 17 rebounds to go along with 17 points.

In the playoffs, you win with defense, and the Cavs picked up their intensity in the second half too.  James always talks about playing with desperation, and being down at the half seemed to get that edge back for Cleveland too.

But the night belonged to Kyrie Irving and his incredible array of shot making.  When he combines that with the ability to make his teammates involved, Irving can join the list of elite NBA players.

JK

 

 

The Transformation Of JR Smith

It has been said many times that no player on the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to sacrifice more than Kevin Love.

Love was a star in Minnesota, the guy the entire offense ran through.  He was a high scorer too, averaging over 26 points per game twice in his Timberwolf days.

With the Cavs, Love became a “third wheel” behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.  His scoring dropping to around 16 points in Cleveland, before climbing to 19 this season.

Many people say Love became a glorified stretch four, a spot up three point shooter.

That’s crazy, of course, but we guess people figured he was going to continue to average 26 points a game with the Cavs, which would be almost impossible.

However, another member of the wine and gold has sacrificed greatly, and it largely goes unnoticed.

When GM David Griffin made the three way deal early in 2016 with Oklahoma City and New York, it was thought Griffin had his eye on Iman Shumpert, a wing defender, who was also athletic enough to run the floor.

Smith was regarded as a throw in on the deal, a player put in to balance the salary cap ramifications, basically (it was said at the time) if you want Shumpert, you have to take Smith.

JR’s reputation was that of a troublemaker.  He has tremendous talent.  He was sixth man of the year in 2012-13 when he averaged 18.1 points for the Knicks, a season in which New York won their division and lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

As the Knicks fortunes went south, so did Smith’s concentration.  He liked the NYC nightlife, his scoring average and shooting percentage dropped, and the Knicks management wanted to unload him.

His reputation on the court was that he never met a shot he didn’t like, and fired the ball up at times to make his coaches grimace.

We remember NBA writers saying at the time of the trade, that when JR is on a good team, he is fully engaged, which will help him with the Cavs, they were a team ready to make a title run.

In game one of the Eastern Conference finals vs. Atlanta, Smith stole home court from the Hawks with an incredible shooting display, scoring 28 points by hitting 8 of 12 from beyond the three point line.

Smith can still knock down shots, but he is the guy Tyronn Lue turns to in stopping the opponents best wing scorer.  He did a great job on Paul George in the first round, and gave DeMar DeRozan fits in the conference semifinals.

He had a thumb injury which required surgery this season so his scoring average dropped to under 10 per night (8.6) and his three point shooting fell from 40% to 35.1%.

But he is still a key member of the Cavs because of his defensive prowess, and it doesn’t hurt that fans around northeast Ohio love him.  People here don’t care about your past, they judge you on how you treat them.

His emotional reaction to winning the NBA title on Father’s Day a year ago is something we will never forget.  He thanked his dad for always standing by him.

So, while Love has certainly subdued his game in order to win, don’t forget how JR Smith has went from a player considered undisciplined to one his coach trusts to do a great job on defense against the top scorers in the NBA.

Sacrifice and unselfishness.  Lue and LeBron James always talk about it and Smith is a grand example of what they mean.

JK

Cavs And Celts For A Trip To The Finals

It seems like a lifetime ago that the Cleveland Cavaliers last played a basketball game.  When they take the floor in Boston on Wednesday, it will have been 10 days since they played a real contest.

And with the first two games in Boston Garden, when the wine and gold comes home for game three, it will have been 18 days since they last took the court in Quicken Loans Arena.

Boston earned the home court advantage by winning 53 regular season games, compared to Cleveland’s 51 victories, but in terms of point differential, the Cavs show to be better, outscoring their opponents by 3.1 points (110.3 to 107.2) compared to the Celtics 2.6 (108.0 to 105.4).

The Celts have a reputation of being a very good defensive team, holding opponents to a 45% field goal percentage.

However, the team the Cavaliers just eliminated, the Toronto Raptors, were even better at 44.9%.

One decided advantage Cleveland has is on the boards.  Boston ranks low in that category, meaning Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love should control the glass.

As we know, Tyronn Lue likes to make someone other than the opponents’ best player to beat him in a playoff series, so no doubt the wine and gold will focus on Isaiah Thomas, who led Boston in scoring at 28.9 points per game, 12.6 more than the next best scorer, Avery Bradley.

We would expect Lue will blitz Thomas, forcing the ball out of his hands.

When the Cavs beat the Celts in the last regular season matchup in Boston, our thought was Boston had no answer for the game’s best player, LeBron James.

Boston’s starting small forward is Jae Crowder, who is just 6’6″.  A wise man said the problem with James is if you are big enough, you aren’t quick enough, and if you are quick enough, you aren’t big enough.

That capsulizes the Celtics’ problem perfectly.

Crowder can’t check LeBron, and we are pretty sure Brad Stevens knows it.  And of course, if you double him, he will find the bevy of shooters Cleveland has on its roster.

We also expect Lue to put Kyrie Irving (6’3″) in the post when he is being guarded by Thomas, who at best is 5’9″.

We would expect Stevens to do what he did in the first round matchup between the two teams in 2015, be very physical with the Cavs to get a reaction.

However, that was the first playoff experience for many of the Cavaliers.  This time, they are old heads, with a championship under their belt.

Still, this isn’t to dismiss Boston.  They are extremely well coached, as Stevens is one of the finest basketball minds in America.  But Lue can match him in X’s and O’s too.

What we are interested to see is what kind of gimmicks defensively the Celtics’ coach will come up with to stop the Cavs.  Perhaps he will make James a scorer first and try to cut off everyone else.

To combat this, Lue will try to make Kevin Love a scorer.  Love will draw Al Horford or Amir Johnson as a defender.  If it’s Horford, Love should go inside, if it’s Johnson, he will go outside.

We usually can find ways for the Cavaliers to lose if they don’t do certain things, so it scares us that we really can’t find anything in this series.

Cleveland should win and should win fairly easily and advance to The NBA Finals for the third straight year.

It would be great to go into Beantown tomorrow, and punch the Celtics in the face to show them early in the series there isn’t hope.

We will find out starting tomorrow night.

JK

 

 

 

Cavs Keep On Rolling

Another series, another sweep for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tyronn Lue’s squad is moving on to the Eastern Conference final for the third straight season after taking care of the Toronto Raptors in the minimum amount of games.

And save me the Kyle Lowry excuses, Raptors fans.  Yes, he is your team’s second best player and an all star. But outside of Cleveland, no one cares the Warriors won The Finals in 2015 because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were out.

Also, no one cares outside of northeast Ohio that Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar couldn’t start in the World Series.

It’s a loser’s lament.  We get it, it has happened to our teams, but in the end, people won’t remember.  Besides, the Cavs were dominating the Raptors (sorry, Dwayne Casey) before Lowry sprained his ankle.

So, as a result of the sweep, the veteran Cavs will probably get another week off before they take on the winner of the series between the Celtics and Wizards.

Just think how good the Cavaliers can be if Kyrie Irving ever starts shooting the ball well.  Irving shot under 40% from the floor in this series (37.5%), although he was better from three point range in the conference semi-finals.

It was another incredible performance by the sport’s best player, LeBron James.  The King averaged 36 points per game against Toronto, shooting 57.3% from the floor, hitting 48% of his long range shots.

He complemented the scoring and shooting by adding 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the series.  It has taken the post-season for everyone around the country to appreciate the greatness of LeBron James.

During the regular season, all basketball fans heard about were Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and to a lesser extent, Kawhi Leonard.

All three had tremendous regular seasons, but since the playoffs have started, James is reminding everyone who the best player in basketball still is.

Another thing this series showed is the transformation of JR Smith.  Smith came to Cleveland with the reputation as a shooter without a conscience, but now can be put on the opponents’ best wing scorer, and put him in check.

Smith’s defense of DeMar DeRozan in the first two games of the series was a big key.  Add that to the job he did against Paul George in the first round, he is a huge for what Cleveland wants to do defensively.

Back to Irving, he did a great job passing in this series, averaging 8.5 assists in the four games.  When Irving gets seven assists or more in a game, the Cavs are 23-6 for the season, including the playoffs.

And when Irving is being rested, Deron Williams has played very well.  He was on the floor when Cleveland busted open game three in Toronto, just as he was in the big comeback win over the Pacers in round one.

Finally, Kyle Korver was huge in the last two games of the series, hitting two huge three on Friday and going crazy in the second quarter today with 16 points on four three pointers.

And the defense continues to improve too, which was a huge concern going into the post-season.  When Toronto missed shots, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love gathered up the misses.

So, the Cavs are back in the NBA Final Four, the conference finals.  Even if Boston wins the series in five (the quickest it can be over), it will probably be the upcoming weekend before the next series starts.

That’s the biggest benefit for winning early.

JK

 

 

 

Cavs-Raptors Set To Do Battle…Again

Last season, the Toronto Raptors were the only Eastern Conference team to win a playoff game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

They won both games three and four in Toronto to even the Eastern Conference finals, before the wine and gold won the next two contests to advance to the NBA Finals for the second straight year.

We all know what happened there, right?

This year, the two teams meet one round earlier, in the conference semi-finals, and they finished the regular season with the same record.

The Cavs have home court advantage by virtue of winning the season series, 3-1.

Toronto is a top ten defensive team, so it will not be a picnic for the Cleveland, who like to win by outscoring their opponents.

In defending the Raptors, they are a team, much like Indiana, that doesn’t shoot a lot of three point shots, ranking 22nd in the NBA in attempts and 13th in percentage from beyond the arc.

Where the Cavs should have an advantage in on the boards.  Toronto is one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, so Tristan Thompson should be able to buy Tyronn Lue’s squad some extra attempts, and they defending champs must control the defensive glass when they force a miss.

The Raptors also take care of the ball very well, 4th in the Association in least turnovers.

Toronto holds opponents to 44.9% shooting, slightly better than Cleveland’s 45.8%, but they are slightly ranked lower in defending the three pointer.

Remember last year, Dwayne Casey was so afraid of the Cavaliers three point barrage against Atlanta in the conference semis that he placed too much emphasis on that and let the Cavs parade to the basket in the first two games.

It will be interesting to see how the Raptors play it starting tomorrow night.

No doubt the Cavs have to defend Toronto’s high scoring backcourt of DeMar DeRozan (27.3 PPG) and Kyle Lowry (22.4).  They account for 43% of the Raptors’ field goal attempts.

DeRozan doesn’t take many three point shots, less than two per game, so the Cavs may give him that shot, which he is not comfortable in taking.

Serge Ibaka, who came over at the trade deadline, likes to shoot from out there and he can make them too, shooting at 40% since arriving in Canada.

The Raptors also have a solid big man in Jonas Valenciunas, at 12.0 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.  Lue will likely combat him by using Channing Frye to draw him out of the paint, and perhaps off the floor.

Casey started using Norman Powell instead of the big man in the first round series win over Milwaukee.

Toronto also picked P.J. Tucker at the deadline, presumably to guard LeBron James, but he shot slightly over 40% with Toronto, which means the Cavs don’t have to honor him on defense.

Offensively, the Cavs need Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to make shots, which they struggled doing in the first round.

Irving shot 42% from the floor and just 22% from the three point line.  Hopefully, the time off allowed him to rest his legs and get them back into his shot.  He also needs to average more than three assists per game, even if the offense is running through LeBron James.

Love also shot just 42% from the field, although he was much more successful from beyond the arc, knocking down 41%.  He needs to continue to attack the basket when he gets the ball near the basket, and also has to be a force on the defensive boards.

This doesn’t figure to be an easy series if both teams play well.  Keeping DeRozan from having big nights is probably the key to the series.

If the Cavaliers aren’t playing well, and don’t continue to improve defensively, they could be pushed to the limit.

JK

 

 

Was Cavs’ Defense Better Than You Think Vs. Pacers?

The Cleveland Cavaliers wrapped up another first round sweep in the NBA Playoffs, taking care of the Indiana Pacers in just four games.

It was the 10th sweep in LeBron James’ great career and he has now won 21 consecutive first round games.

The Cavs had defensive issues throughout the regular season and the analytics had Tyronn Lue’s squad as the third worst in defensive efficiency in the four game sweep.

Statistics have the Pacers having the shortest distance per field goal attempt of the 16 playoff teams, showing Indiana didn’t have much of an issue getting into the paint.

On the other hand the wine and gold’s field goal percentage against ranked in the bottom of the top half (7th) of the teams that qualified for the playoffs.

Cleveland did some good things against the Pacers, though.

Although Paul George averaged 28.0 points per game in the sweep, he did it by volume shooting.  A 46% shooter in the regular season, the Pacers’ star shot just 38.6% against the Cavaliers, as Lue threw several defenders at George, including JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, with James helping on double teams.

And the All Star really struggled from the middle of game three throughout the completion of the series.

The other player the coach mentioned in terms of limiting before the series was C. J. Miles, who torched the Cavs in the regular season for 17.0 points per contest.

Miles was stifled by the Cavaliers, scoring just 7.3 points per game in the series, and he shot just 31% from three point range.

Lue’s defensive philosophy is to identify the opponent’s strengths and try to take them away.  It seems he did just that against the Pacers in this series.

In order to do that, the coach is willing to give something up, and to this point, it’s hard to argue with his success.

So basically, if the Pacers were going to emerge victorious, it was going to have to be because Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner, and Lance Stephenson had huge performances.

Those four combined for 56 points per game on 49% shooting.

However, out of those four players, only Stephenson, who played only six games for Indiana this season, has the personality to be the lead dog.  The rest are complementary players, forced into a big spot.

Not everybody can handle that situation.

That’s Lue’s philosophy, but opposing players into situations that they aren’t comfortable in.

As the playoffs go on, it will be more difficult to do this because the better teams have better options and more players capable of producing under the bright lights of the post-season.

Luckily for the Cavs, they have veterans who have stepped up in these situations throughout their careers.  Channing Frye was huge a year ago for the Cavs.  Two years ago against Atlanta on the road, the wine and gold won because Smith got hot in game one.

One of the new veterans acquired by GM David Griffin had a huge impact in this series, and that is Deron Williams.

Williams seemed to not be sure of how he fit when he first arrived in Cleveland, but he gave Lue some very good minutes in the second half of game three and in the second quarter of the deciding game.

There is no question that Cavs can be better on defense than they were vs. the Pacers, but they did accomplish some of the things they set out to do in the series.  That’s something to watch in round two.

JK

 

 

 

Cavs Biggest Opponent Now Is Themselves.

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.

JK

 

 

Cavs-Pacers Preview

Today, the Cleveland Cavaliers will start a journey in which they hopes ends in a repeat of last season…an NBA title.

They will also try to prove that a team’s performance in the regular season is absolutely meaningless.

The Cavs are limping into the post-season, going just 12-15 since the All Star Game, and basically playing at a .500 level since the beginning of the calendar year.

However, they still have the sports’ preeminent player in LeBron James and for the most part, the same cast and characters that brought home the Larry O”Brien Trophy on June 19, 2016.

Most of the concern surrounding Tyronn Lue’s squad is the defense, or rather, the lack of it, through much of the last three and a half months.

Can Lue and his staff correct the problems that befell the team during that span?

They start the playoffs today at Quicken Loans Arena against the Indiana Pacers, in a best-of-seven series.  While the Pacers were the 7th seed, and the wine and gold have the home court advantage, they do represent some challenges for the Cavs.

First, they have one of the game’s better players in Paul George, who happens to play small forward, the same position as James.  While we don’t expect James to guard him for 48 minutes, he will have to check him during crunch time.

George is a 39% shooter from beyond the arc, and overall, the Pacers rank 4th in the NBA in three point field goal percentage.  That has been one of the Cavaliers’ weaknesses throughout the past several weeks.

Lue pointed out C.J. Miles as a problem for the Cavs, and he shot 41.3% from distance as well.  Add in Glenn Robinson , Thaddeus Young, and back up point guard Aaron Brooks, and Cleveland has its work cut out for them.  They have to get a hand in the face of these shooters.

On the other hand, George will have to expend a lot of energy guarding James, and we all know that takes its toll on everyone, especially over a long series.

What it comes down to for the Cavs is can they get decent minutes from the bench in this series, and also, is Tristan Thompson’s thumb going to allow him to be effective.

Lately, the team has received very little from Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert, leaving the bench scoring to have to come from Kyle Korver and Channing Frye.  Deron Williams played well in the last two games, but has yet to show he can be effective when on the floor with James and Kyrie Irving.

We know what a gifted offensive player Irving is, but this post-season will hinge on his defensive play.  He has to be able to keep his man in front of him.

Lue also needs JR Smith to regain his shooting touch too.  And it wouldn’t hurt to establish Kevin Love in the post early in games.

However, it still comes down to defense.  The Cavs don’t need to get in a mode of having to outscore everyone in the playoffs.  They need stops.

Failure to improve defensively may not be a problem in the Indiana series, but it could hurt them down the road.

That’s the key thing to watch in this one.

If the Cavs want to get extra rest, it would behoove them to win the first two games at home.  Failure to do that could result in a six or seven game series.

JK

Defense Keys Game 5 Win For Cavs

Our first thought at the beginning of last night’s game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals was why can’t the Cleveland Cavaliers play defense like this all the time?

It was that stifling approach on that end of the floor that led to a 116-78 blowout victory by the wine and gold at Quicken Loans Arena, and gives Cleveland an opportunity to earn a trip to the NBA Finals Friday night in Toronto.

Tyronn Lue did some different things defensively, mainly having his guards come over screens instead of behind them, and blitzing the pick and roll more often.  The latter strategy was used in the comeback that fell short in game four.

Obviously, the success then showed the coaching staff it would work.

And while many are attributing the victory to Kevin Love’s aggressiveness on the offensive end of the floor, make no mistake, it was the defensive effort by the Cavs that put them one game away from a second consecutive appearance in The Finals.

Lue will have to have the team prepared to counter the adjustments Dwayne Casey will make to free up his all-star backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, because he knows if they aren’t scoring, the Raptors don’t have much of a chance.

Part of the defensive improvement was the activity of Tristan Thompson, who looked like he was tired of being chewed up by Bismack Biyombo.  Thompson had two offensive rebounds in the first couple of minutes, and Cleveland scored both times off the extra possession.

Offensively, Love’s effectiveness was a big help, and it was interesting to note that he started his night making a post move to score his first hoop, and worked his way out.  That’s his preferred mode of getting going with his shot.

LeBron James played facilitator last night, setting up all of his teammates for easy looks.

Everyone is looking for that game when James takes total control in terms of the scoring, and tomorrow night could be the night.  We can see him coming out and taking the ball to the basket early and often, and coming up with a 35 point night to take pressure off his teammates.

Toronto is going to be playing with desperation, if they lose, their season is over.  But James is preaching the same thing all post-season for the Cavaliers.  He has stated over and over that nine wins, ten wins, etc. isn’t the goal.  It’s 16 wins, and they aren’t there yet.

So, don’t expect another blowout win and don’t be surprised if both teams are back here Sunday night for a seventh and deciding game.

Still, it would be better for the blood pressure of the entire wine and gold fandom if the Cavaliers finished the series in six games.

As well as Cleveland has played at “The Q”, when you play one game for all the marbles, anything can happen.  Something like D’Marre Carroll getting hot from behind the three point line or Biyombo making 15 foot jump shots.

Let’s not forget what a huge win it was last night, though.  It was really the first time in this post-season that Lue’s crew faced a must win situation.

They passed the test with flying colors.

JK