For all the concern about the Cleveland Cavaliers heading into the playoffs, they start things off on the right foot as they sweep the Indiana Pacers with a 106-102 win in game four. While the series was often too close for comfort, this veteran team found a way to win and will be rewarded with some much needed rest.
Like most early afternoon games, this one started off sloppy on both ends. The Cavs had three turnovers in the first six minutes and were unable to establish a rhythm. Kyrie Irving got the team going with a couple tough shots, however the degree of difficulty of his attempts was probably too high. It was the first time in this series that it felt like he was truly pressing offensively.
While Kevin Love couldn’t get any of his attempts to fall, he was incredibly active to start the game. Pulling in eight rebounds in his first ten minutes of play and even blocked Paul George on one of his drives. You obviously hope that he finds his shot once again, but it’s nice to see him find other ways to contribute in the meantime.
The Cavs finished the first quarter with no assists, mostly due to turnovers from LeBron and pressing from Irving. The burden on the pair of facilitators does become much more difficult when the floor spacers fail to knock down their open shots. The lanes tighten up, and the offense becomes more stagnant. The starting lineup just hasn’t found the rhythm that they’ve had in the past.
LeBron and the bench came out and performed well once again. Channing Fyre and Deron Williams in particular gave the team the offensive punch that was missing in the first quarter.
Having Williams initiate the bulk of the offense to start the second quarter paid off major dividends. His scoring was obviously fantastic, but he was able to manipulate the defense and create quality looks for others. Whether it be directly off the pass, or via a hockey assist. Now there’s some chicken or the egg going on, as the outside shooting also opened up these lanes for him. But to see Williams play with confidence and take advantage of opportunities, is incredibly encouraging.
The momentum gained with the bench lineup carried over to the starting unit, once they returned to the game. The Cavs extended their lead to 58-52 at halftime, which was the fewest number of points allowed in the first half this series.
In the third quarter, the team found their groove offensively. They played with far more pace and confidence than we saw in the first half. While nobody will confuse them for the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, when they are playing decisive, up-tempo basketball they are at their best.
Irving played much better offensively in the third. While the team didn’t convert his assist opportunities, he was making much better decisions. There were still a few bad shots, but his scoring in the third quarter was a big part of why the team extended their lead.
His pick and roll defense is still incredibly poor, as he hasn’t quite figured out how to evade screens. But his off ball defense and hands have been quietly solid all series. He can be a disruptive force at times, which can help make up for the areas where he struggles.
Things fell apart for the Cavs once again in the fourth quarter. With the outside shots no longer falling, the Pacers collapsed defensively and forced them to try and beat them outside. Tyronn Lue elected to sub in Kyle Korver for Tristan Thompson to help alleviate that, but miscues and missed shots from outside prevented the team from being able to stop the bleeding.
Fortunately the Cavs big three came away with some late game heroics. First it was LeBron with a huge three to give the Cavs a lead, then Love locking down George in isolation, then Irving with a huge offensive rebound off the LeBron miss. J.R. Smith almost blew it with a behind the back breakaway pass, but the Cavs were able to hold on and sweep the Pacers.
- Iman Shumpert has been pretty good for the Cavs since being benched. He is playing within himself offensively and is giving the team what it needs on the defensive end.
- When the chips are down, the Cavs have shown considerable mental toughness. Love found a way to make an impact without his shots falling, while Irving improved his decision making as the game progressed. They have gained experience and maturity over the last three years, which has helped them find ways to win in any situation. In the past Love would have mentally checked out if he was shooting this poorly, however he found ways to still make an impact.
- I mentioned the hands of Irving earlier, but Kyle Korver quietly has been disruptive off ball as well. His mobility has declined with age, but he’s still a high IQ player that sees passing lanes and can be disruptive. His gravity and shooting are obviously his largest assets, but the savvy plays he makes can help elevate his value to the team.
- The is yet another playoff game where the little things Tristan Thompson become magnified. With the offense struggling at times, he got the team extra possessions and made things tough for the Pacers defensively. He always finds another gear in the playoffs and is one of the most reliable players on the roster.
- LeBron James is incredible.
- The Cavs may now have a week off before the start of the next round. After a tight series against the Pacers, a week of rest, practice, and watching film may be exactly what the team needs.