I have to admit, it feels funny trying to come up with lessons learned from game 3. If there’s one thing that has become clear with this Cavs team, it’s that they are seemingly immune from learning lessons. Their ability to climb out of any hole has done the team no favors when it comes to curbing some of their worst habits.
The team has treated this season with varying degrees of apathy. There have been highlight moments, but the focus has been as inconsistent as the results.
It’s been suggested that a lack of respect for their Eastern Conference opponents is one of the main culprits for this approach. Wednesday night’s game started off appearing like karma may be catching up to them.
While the Indiana Pacers have been inconsistent all season long, there’s no denying the amount of talent they possess. A valid argument could be made that their top three of Paul George, Jeff Teague, and Myles Turner is more formidable than the top talent the Boston Celtics possess (largely due to George’s presence). So with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love performing horribly, this appeared to have all the makings of a much needed wake-up call for the Cavs.
Then LeBron James happened.
LeBron James is the widest safety net you could possibly have.
While the approach the Cleveland Cavaliers have could be described as arrogant, it could also be considered justified as a result of how LeBron contorts what we deem possible.
Whether it’s being the first team to come back from being down 1-3 in the NBA Finals, to the largest second half comeback in playoff history with his star teammates sitting, LeBron shatters realistic expectations.
Speaking of shattering expectations, I am not writing this from my mom’s basement. After watching the historic comeback, I changed the channel to watch the Toronto Raptors, who were down big against the Milwaukee Bucks. My girlfriend who is just getting into basketball mentioned “well, maybe they’ll have a comeback too!”. On the surface, it’s a reasonable observation. Yet I couldn’t help but respond “but they don’t have the best player ever”.
Whether or not you agree with that statement, James is clearly the best player of this era. It makes analysis of the team difficult at times, because if you stated that the Cavs would win after game four of the 2016 Finals or down 26 to the Pacers, it would come across as fan-boy bravado. Yet it would also be correct.
This was an all-time great playoff performance from James. Yet with his resume, it’s hard to say if it even touches on his top ten. It still feels important to point out how great this game was, even if we have become calloused and jaded as a result of his sustained excellence.
The fact of the matter is that the Cavs need to play better. James can bail this team out after poor play, but he can also elevate them to a whole other level when they play well as a collective.
It’s possible that Tyronn Lue’s benching of Irving, Love, and Tristan Thompson will still serve as a wake-up call. While the game’s result is yet another instance of the team overcoming a situation that they’ve put themselves in, it’s hard to believe that the first half would leave the team unphased. Though, as always, it’s tough to predict what comes next from this team.
Tyronn Lue has some serious plums
Not many coaches would feel confident benching three of their four most important players in the fourth quarter. LeBron and the bench had fought their way back and reclaimed the lead, and Lue felt confident sticking with the lineup that got them there to close out the game.
Lue’s ability to do this speaks to both his cojones, as well as the belief in the strength of the organization. From the support of management, to locker-room leaders like James Jones and Dahntay Jones, the leadership is in place to prevent something like this from becoming a locker-room issue.
Iman Shumpert has responded to being benched for the first three halves of this series with inspired play. Now it’s up to the Cavs stars to come out and do the same.
I will say, some fresh legs could have helped once the team had re-established the lead. Or perhaps the team could have used Thompson earlier to help protect the lead, or Irving to knock-down clutch free throws. But that’s playing armchair coach and ultimately the team won.
Cavs are a work-in-progress
It’s clear that there are issues with this Cavs team. The defense is inconsistent as ever and the offense isn’t as fluid as it can be. Some of this is expected, as roster turnover has impacted chemistry.
They have shown flashes of defensive play, but have been picked apart for the bulk of this series. There are issues that trying alone simply will not fix. Over the next month the team will need to work towards building better habits and communication on both ends of the floor.
Taking care of business against Indiana on Sunday would be a huge step in the right direction. With nagging injuries wearing on the team and issues to fix, it would be wise for the team to use each remaining game against the East to build towards what they plan on implementing in the Finals.
While the Cavs likely would still make the Finals without an adjustment, it likely would result in a similar hole to last season against a much more talented Warriors team. Not taking these remaining games for granted, as well as taking care of business to allow the team to rest will be absolutely essential. For a team that routinely makes things more difficult than they have to be, the opportunity to change that is staring them in the face.