Eastern Conference Finals: Numbers and Notes after a Game 1 Debacle
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ “others”continued their Jekyll and Hyde performance during the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals this past Sunday. Nobody, probably not even the players themselves, have any idea what sort of support LeBron James is going to get on a game-to-game basis in these playoffs. Of course, LeBron didn’t help much either, as he had a (relatively!) underwhelming performance himself on Sunday.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise however, as LeBron has made it more or less clear that he is more concerned with getting his teammates involved and surveying the floor in game-ones. LeBron only attempted 16 shots, six less than his playoff average of 22. James’ attempts to get his teammates involved, coupled with Brad Stevens scheme to force James’ teammates to step up likely explains LeBron’s playoff high seven-turnovers.
Either way, LeBron is going to need his teammates to step in a big way to bounce back after such a disappointing Game 1 performance. The way in which they can do that is quite simple: make the open shots. It was pretty apparent the Celtics were okay with forcing the Cavs shooters to make their shots, and the gamble paid off. J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, and George Hill each made only two field goals apiece. That is going to have to change if the Cavs want to win in Game 2.
Even if LeBron puts on another epic performance and scores somewhere in the 30-40 range of points, the Cavs have gotten to this point in the postseason by making threes. In wins this postseason, they have shot 37.9% from three, while only hitting 26.2% in losses. Clearly, the Cavaliers live and die by the three-ball. On Sunday, they only shot 15.4% from beyond the arc by going 4-26, further illustrating that point.
Shooters are liable to have cold nights, but to have nearly the whole team be ice cold for the game might mean that the defense the Celtics played contributed to Cleveland’s shooting woes. The sample size is too small to get a definitive answer, so watching how the Cavs shoot in Game 2 will better tell us if the shooting in Game 1 was a fluke, or a result of Boston’s defense.
LeBron is going to “get his” in Game 2 regardless of any other factors, so the players that will ultimately decide who wins might just be Smith and Korver. They have had down games in these playoffs, but they have also had games in which they couldn’t miss. Through 12 games, Korver and Smith have shot 44% and 39% from three respectively, so the odds that both have poor games on Tuesday remains unlikely.
It seems Kevin Love has finally turned the corner since his disappointing round one performance against Indiana, and should be counted on to give the Cavs the solid 20 point/10 rebound games the team has grown accustomed to depending on. So, again, the onus is on the Cavs wings/shooters to make the biggest difference between Games 1 and 2. If they can stretch the floor, LeBron becomes even more of a one-man wrecking crew in a paint devoid of bigs.
Of course, defense can always be better for the Cavs, but frankly, Cleveland has gotten to this point by simply outscoring their opponents more than anything; in the playoffs, the opposing team has only scored 3.4 points more in wins than losses against the Cavs, which tells us that the Cavs truly do rely on just torching the opponent’s defense to win.
Game 2 isn’t a must-win per se, but heading back to Cleveland down 0-2 would not bode well for LeBron and the Cavs. Lucky for Cleveland fans, LeBron has a habit of elevating his game when his legacy is most on the line, as the case arguably will be going into Game 2. And when LeBron elevates his game, he usually brings the team to that next level with him. If Korver, Smith, and Co. become the flamethrowers we know they can be, Boston just might realize how dangerous a well-oiled Cleveland machine can be.