If there’s one thing that’s consistent with the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s that they have a knack for making things more difficult than they need to be. This was once again the case with their 117-111 win in game two.
The game got off to a sloppy start for the Cavs. In game one the Pacers struggled defending the pick and roll, and came prepared to counter that with a high trap in the pick and roll. This strategy worked well early, forcing three quick turnovers from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. After a quick timeout, the Cavs countered by having a weak-side ball-handler for an outlet, and attacking quickly before the trap could be set up.
While the Cavs played better defense in game one than the statistics showed, early in this game the sloppiness carried over to the defensive end of the floor. There were several instances of miscommunication and the Pacers managed to get Irving switched onto Paul George or Myles Turner a few times. Regardless of what Irving does in those situations, he’s just giving up far too much length to have any impact.
To close the quarter, the Cavs went with Deron Williams and Kevin Love, with James and Irving sitting. As we’ve seen recently, Williams is much more comfortable being a lead ball-handler and initiating in the pick and roll. At least when compared to how he plays off ball with James and Irving. The decision paid dividends for Lue, as the team was a +6 in those minutes and finished the quarter with a 32-29 lead.
The second quarter with the Cavs clamping down on the defensive end. They opened up the quarter with a 8-0 run, while the Pacers didn’t score until a pair of free throws from George at the 8:26 mark. Lue went with a lineup of James, surrounded with shooters in Kyle Korver, Deron Williams, Love, and Channing Frye. The move was incredibly effective, as Williams caught fire and the Pacers were simply unable to deal with the spacing. The defense was forced to collapse around James, and he shredded them with his vision.
Turnovers seemed to be the only thing that kept Indiana in the game during the second quarter. After having only 11 turnovers in game one, the team matched that with 11 first half turnovers. The 14-6 advantage in points off turnovers reduced the halftime lead to 63-58, in favor of the Cavs.
Iman Shumpert got his playoff debut to start the second half. J.R. Smith was unable to play in the second half, due to a left hamstring injury. He appeared to be favoring it since the playoffs started, so it likely became too much for him to handle. Consistency and decision-making have been issues for Shumpert this season. It’s unclear how long Smith will be out for, but it’s possible that watching the first three halves of these playoffs on the bench could be a needed wake-up call for Shumpert.
To his credit, Shumpert played incredibly inspired basketball when his number was called. He played solid defense, hit a couple shots and played within himself.
In the third quarter, Irving also passed Mark Price for second place in franchise history for playoff points scored. He’s pretty good. He absolutely roasted Lance Stephenson with a vicious crossover in the third, and put a punctuation mark with a step-back three to close the quarter.
I will not apologize for this pun, but Love was everywhere in the third quarter. He embarrassed the smaller Pacers defenders throughout the third quarter, as they had no choice but to foul him repeatedly. He even drew a huge charge while the Cavs extended their halftime lead of five to eighteen.
Irving went absolutely bananas in the fourth quarter. His pick and roll wizardry was on full display, as he probed the defense with his handle and attacked wherever they were vulnerable. I’m not sure if there’s something between Stephenson and Irving, but it seemed as though he did everything in his power to get Stephenson on him, and then roast him.
Bad habits once again showed up for the Cavs to close out the game. After allowing just 20 points in the third, the team’s defense once again let the Pacers into the game. To make matters worse, the team once again went through yet another offensive slump. They went four minutes without any points while the Pacers cut the lead down to five. Similar to game one, the team’s inability to score in the fourth quarter appeared to have impacted their defense. As a result, the Pacers went on a 10-0 run before James ended the slump with a tough floater.
Another bad habit the team has displayed in the last two games is reverting to isolation basketball when things get tight. The team excelled by generating isolation looks after initial pick and roll action, or ball movement earlier in the game. However down the stretch the offense has devolved into standing around and watching.
Fortunately with the Pacers within five point, Tristan Thompson secured a crucial offensive rebound, and forced Myles Turner to knock the ball out of bounds fighting for the ball on the following possession. Thompson’s ability to generate extra possessions is so valuable for the Cavs, even if he isn’t securing the offensive board. He has looked himself again since returning from injury, and helped make the ending of this game more comfortable than the end of game one. Well, that and another highlight block from LeBron James.
The Cavs now travel to Indiana to try and take a commanding 3-0 series lead. They will likely need to play much sharper than they did at home if they want to take care of business against a Pacers team that’s been much better at home this year.
- The energy level was surprisingly low in this game. There really wasn’t a sense of urgency from the Cavs, which appeared to lead to their sloppiness on both ends early in the game.
- The value of Deron Williams was very clear in this game. Irving struggled in the first quarter and had trouble finishing. Williams gave the team valuable scoring and play-making as he rested. Then in the second quarter, Irving came back in with one of his signature scoring bursts. This was something that was missing early in the season, and helps lighten the load off of Irving.
- Obviously the health of J.R. Smith is a concern at this point. He’s tasked with guarding the most potent perimeter threat on most nights and his scoring is essential to what the Cavs do. Having Shumpert fill in capably should inspire confidence, but long-term the team needs Smith healthy.
- The Pacers out-rebounded the Cavs 50-43 in game one. Love and James combined for 11 more rebounds than they had in game one and the Cavs held a 37-33 advantage for the game. Winning the rebound battle will be key for the Cavs moving forward in the playoffs.