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3 takeaways from Game 1 of Cavs-Pacers

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Cleveland picked up a tough win and the series started to take shape.     

NBA: Playoffs-Indiana Pacers at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

In a 109-108 win, the Cleveland Cavaliers picked up a tough win against the Indiana Pacers. Here are three takeaways from Game 1.

A few things that didn’t make the post: Iman Shumpert is the odd man out of the rotation at least for now, which Lue attributed to a ‘flow of game’ situation, Lue went to the Channing Frye/Kevin Love frontcourt pairing that thrashed the Hawks in last year’s playoffs and Kyrie Irving had an overall solid defensive performance, including key two stops late.

The Pacers were willing to switch LeBron-Kyrie pick and rolls

Dating back to last year’s playoffs, the Cavs have come to rely on the LeBron James-Kyrie Irving pick and roll. Whatever version it is, teams simply have a hard time defending it. And there aren’t many good options; the best you can hope for is to mitigate your losses.

This is what makes the Pacers’ choices defending the LeBron/Kyrie PNR so interesting. Almost always, Indiana had Jeff Teague switch onto LeBron (or least hedge) before trying to race back and defend Kyrie. And he was often too slow:

Example 1 results in an easy roll for LeBron that results in an alley-oop:

Example 2 sees Irving gets all the space he needs to get off a shot, make it and go to the line:

When the Cavs went to it at the end of the game, it did result in a LeBron miss from three with Teague guarding him. But more often than not, Indiana gave the Cavs a lot reasons to lean on something that was already really effective heading into Game 2. Teague guarding LeBron is an advantage for Cleveland 10/10 times, especially when George is the only Pacer capable of actually hanging with LeBron. Even if it’s simplistic and very stagnant offense, it’s a mismatch the Cavs should take advantage of every time it presents itself.

Here’s how the Cavs defended Paul George

The first time Paul George cut off ball in and made his move near the basket in an effort to get open, three Cavs met him inside to deny him the ball. Indiana’s then moved to the ball to Myles Turner, who took a shot near the free throw line. From there on, the Cavs stuck to a simple principle: crowd George and make everyone else beat us.

Here, with J.R. Smith defending, George attacks and is led directly into Cavs defenders:

And here’s him going against LeBron with Kevin Love waiting to contest:

It all foreshadowed how the Cavs would defend George on the game’s final play:

In a somewhat surprising move, Smith spent most of the day guarding George with LeBron defending Monta Ellis and others. He did guard George at a few moments, but it was few and far between. It was clearly at a strategy and one that resulted in George having a big day, but one reliant on jump shots. Per nba.com/stats, George didn’t make a single shot in the paint or at the rim Saturday. If you’re the Cavs, you can live with that.

In ensuing games, it’ll be interesting to see what would prompt Cleveland to put LeBron guard and defending him more one vs. one instead of a team oriented approach.

Indiana was committed to denying Kyle Korver

Kyle Korver, in three regular season games against the Pacers, was 15-18 on threes during the regular season. He made one shot – a two-pointer at that – in Game 1. Effectively, Indiana elected to focus its attention on not letting Korver pile on with threes. And even so, Korver created space for LeBron and others to work.

As LeBron drives here, there’s no help from Aaron Brooks to even swipe at the ball:

And when LeBron posts up against Lance Stephenson, C.J Miles looks back at LeBron, but does not even consider helping. Instead, help comes from Deron Williams’ defender, Brooks. And he comes far too late when trying to swat James’ shot:

Moving forward, if LeBron or Kyrie have big quarters, will this change? At some point, they might have to double Cleveland’s best players with Korver’s man. When/if that happens, the Cavs will get even more dangerous against a team that already had trouble stopping them.

You could, fairly, argue that the Cavs could have done a better job of getting Korver shots with ball movement, something LeBron alluded to in his postgame availability.

"We'll go into it tomorrow, looking at what they did defensively against us late in the game," James said. "And the coaches will give us a great game plan going into Game 2. If that's what they want to do, we have to figure out a way to exploit it and keep the ball moving."

In the LeBron post up clip, a pass to Williams likely would have netted Korver or Channing Frye an open three because Brooks removed himself from the play.