The Cavaliers are headed to Indianapolis with a two-game lead on the seven-seeded Indiana Pacers, but the two games have been a little close for comfort for Cavs fans hoping for blowout wins with little anxiety.
That hasn’t been the case, and Paul George’s superstar play has kept the Pacers in the series. What have we learned so far?
The Cavaliers issues holding the lead have continued into the postseason
The Cavaliers have held double digit leads multiple times in both Games 1 and 2, but for whatever reason, the offense has completely stagnated in the fourth quarter against the Pacers, and it’s led to the defense getting shredded.
The Cavaliers have posted a Playoffs-leading 128.4 offensive rating in the first half of their first two games, with a +7.4 net rating. In fourth quarters? That number collapses to 90.1 points per 100 possessions on the offensive end and a defensive rating of 127.7.
The team has failed to get into their sets, often burning 8-10 seconds just standing at the top of the arc before moving into a simple 1-3 or 3-5 pick and roll. They need to get into their actions sooner, and ideally, build in some weak side action. To be honest, it feels like a lack of focus due to them feeling like they’ve put their opposition away already, and it hasn’t burned them yet.
We’ll see if it eventually does.
The Pacers don’t have the personnel to defend the Cavaliers
Well, this may not be particularly groundbreaking, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Indy tried to pull a “Warriors” and switch literally everything in Game 1, but it led to the Cavaliers absolutely brutalizing Jeff Teague repeatedly on switches. When they switched a little less in Game 2, the Cavaliers chaos engine started to get going on offense and shooters were canning open shots.
This is also well represented by Kevin Love’s explosion against Lance Stephenson in Game 2. The Pacers were trying to slow down a red-hot Kyrie Irving by putting Paul George on him, and since they were downsized at the time, they had to stick Lance Stephenson on Love. Love immediately brutalized Stephenson and other Pacers wings to the tune of 10 consecutive points on five straight possessions.
Basically, the Pacers guarding the Cavaliers are like a boat taking on water. Every time they plug one hole, another opens, and as long as the Cavaliers are smart in how they attack, there just isn’t much the Pacers can do, personnel-wise.
The Cavaliers could be in trouble if J.R. Smith misses extended time
Iman Shumpert filled in admirably in Game 2 when J.R. Smith was forced out of the game with a hamstring injury, but if Smith misses extended time, the Cavaliers offense may be crunched for spacing.
Tyronn Lue has seemed to prefer starting Shumpert and bringing Kyle Korver off the bench, but when the Cavaliers have two non-shooters on the floor, the Pacers can really pack the paint and make LeBron and Kyrie work harder for easy buckets. I think Lue should play Korver with the starters while pairing Shumpert with Channing Frye when he comes on in relief of Thompson. This keeps the Cavaliers stocked with shooters on the floor at all times and allows Korver to simulate J.R.’s role offensively for the Cavaliers.
This leaves them without a great option on Paul George, who’s killed them in this series, however. The team has been loathe to put LeBron James on George for obvious reasons, which could lead to more Shumpert minutes. That said, the tradeoff offensively that Korver brings could be worth it.