Following last night's defeat at the hands of the Bulls, I decided instead of sitting and stewing over the loss that I would just go directly to bed. I awoke this morning, made a cup of coffee, sat down at my kitchen table, and opened up ESPN.com to pull up the box score from the game. Rose's banked in three-point shot was of course headlining their home page and rightfully so. The headline just below it though read: "Austin Rivers Propels Clippers over the Rockets." My mind was momentarily boggled. Rivers has had a game or two of competency throughout the Clippers' playoff run, but for his name to be in the headline meant he had to be their best player on the night, or at least close to it. Pulling up the box score from that game I come to find that he scored 25 points on 10-of-13 field goal attempts in a meager 25 minutes.
Rivers shot 40 percent during the regular season from the field and 28 percent from three. During the playoffs, those numbers have spiked to 48 percent from the field and 45 percent from three. The playoffs just don't make sense sometimes.
Despite piling up 14 assists, seven rebounds, and 27 points against the Bulls, LeBron James had by all accounts an awful game last night. He turned the ball over seven times and shot an almost unfathomable 8-of-25 from the field. It's hard to provide too much more analysis into what happened in a game that was this close besides that. If that wasn't enough for you though then how about the fact that the Cavs second-best player shot an even worse, at least percentage wise, 23 percent from the field.
Kyrie Irving's poor showing clearly stems from playing hurt, but LeBron's struggles I can't seem to piece together. One of the most efficient basketball players of all time is shooting a paltry 43 percent in the playoffs. Part of me wants to put it down to just bad luck and a small sample size. He is not this bad of a jump/three-point shooter. There's just no way. Jimmy Butler has played good defense on him at times, but that can't completely be at fault for what's going on.
Part of me sees LeBron passing up open threes in order to reset the offense and wonders if he's just in his own head about his shot and has lost a little confidence. LeBron has always been a cerebral player which has frustrated fans in Cleveland at times. He likes to probe and dissect how defenses are attacking him and exploit the faults in how they choose to do so. The one shot teams have always selected to afford LeBron is the jumper and three-point shot. Greg Popovich baited James into jumpers in his first ever Finals appearance and then again many years later.
Regardless of the reason for the poor shooting, LeBron just has to be better. Fans, I'm sure, would love to see him share the ball a little more due to his struggles and as much as that might solve some of the problem I really don't see that happening. LeBron, like a lot of stars, is a control freak. I could maybe see him trusting Kyrie to takeover, but Kyrie is hurt of course and maybe shouldn't have even been in the game during the fourth quarter.
Kyrie said he was trying to be a decoy, but if that is what a player must resort to due to injury then please David Blatt just put a player who can actually play out there. Matthew Dellavedova was very productive throughout Game 3 and was offering more than Kyrie was. Yes, I feel a little crazy even writing that, but it is true. I don't know the extent of Kyrie's injury and so I can't judge Blatt too harshly on this one, but for anyone watching it didn't appear that Irving belonged in the game.
This one hurt like no Cavs game has in a while. In some ways feel blessed to be back in a position where I get to feel what a crushing playoff defeat feels like and maybe it'll be good for the team in the long run. How teams deal with adversity will always be the stick by which they are ultimately measured. This team has dealt with it in one way or another all season and have at times thrived in spite of it. Their biggest hurdles now include a beat up roster and a slumping LeBron James.
The growing injury concerns on the roster make the more logical side of me think that maybe this just isn't the Cavs' year. The fan inside me can't help but think of the joy I felt after J.R. Smith drained a three on the second last possession of the game and doesn't want to have to wait until next May for moments like that to return. In order for those moments to continue this season, LeBron is going to have to start shooting in a way that makes some sort of sense and he's got to do it soon.