With Sunday’s win, the Cleveland Cavaliers are on to the next round of the playoffs. Here are three things we learned in the process.
One thing we already knew that was confirmed Sunday: Cleveland has a flare for the dramatic. Also: LeBron James remains incredible and dominates the first round.
Let’s talk about Kyrie and Kevin
There will certainly be nitpicking of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love’s Game 4 performances. Irving 28 points, but no assists. Love scored just 5 points on 2-13 shooting, but pulled down 16 rebounds.
Some of the criticisms are fair. Love needs to shoot better as the playoffs go on. Irving can’t go full into isolation basketball — the Cavs’ offense gets too bogged down when that happens possession after possession.
But both players also helped the Cavs in little ways. Irving didn’t even shoot well in the fourth, but had an offense rebound with the Cavs up one and 24 seconds on the clock that set up the Kyle Korver free throws that helped seal Cleveland’s win. Love’s work on the boards throughout the game — including two fourth quarter offensive boards — helped the Cavs control the game. He also set up five LeBron points with two separate assists on outlet passes.
Look here at how they defended George. Irving was aware enough to avoid committing a dumb foul. Love, after missing the rebound, blocked George’s shot inside by maximizing his position:
Neither player was perfect, and both need to be better if the Cavs are going to repeat. But in Game 4, on a night where they struggled in certain aspects, they still contributed to the Cavs’ series clinching win.
Deron Williams is settling in, finally
Deron Williams’ tenure with the Cavs started poorly. Aside from establishing an early connection with LeBron in the pick and roll, he looks uncomfortable.
Against the Pacers, and specifically in Game 4, that appears to have changed. In 13 minutes off the bench, Williams scored 14 points, dished out 1 assist and went 4-5 from the line. Playing next to LeBron, he commanded the offense in the way the Cavs haven’t really had from the backup point guard spot in the second LeBron era.
Just look at how he faked out Paul George en route to an easy layup:
This is a Williams who the Cavs expected to see and, according to coach Tyronn Lue.
"We first got him he hadn't played in 3-4 weeks in Dallas because he was hurt. When he came to us, he was out of game shape," Lue said per cleveland.com. "He's been working every day with D-Mill (strength coach Derek Millender), trying to get in shape, doing extra every day. Now he's in better shape. Tonight, without him, we wouldn't have won that game."
The Cavs face some interesting bench decisions in the coming series — notably with how much Richard Jefferson will play with Iman Shumpert having taken his spot for now — but Williams seems like he has secured his spot by being exactly who the Cavs thought he would be.
The Cavs now gets some rest
The Cavs are the first team in the NBA to wrap up their first-round series, although the Warriors almost certainly will soon. As a result, Cleveland will be off until next May 1, a week from Monday, as they wait for the winner of the Raptors-Bucks series.
Rest for Cleveland is probably good to some degree and it gives them time to prepare and adjust their defense. Frankly, there’s not much to be learned from the Cavs’ first round series. There were moments of difficultly, sure, but the toughest moments are still to come. This week, both physically and strategically, can only help.