It wasn’t always pretty, but the Cleveland Cavaliers managed to sweep the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. Like last season, the team was tested in a hard-fought first series, yet found ways to win. Now the team has an opportunity to continue working towards reaching the potential of this roster.
In many ways, the Pacers provided the Cavaliers with exactly what they needed in the first round. Between the bad habits of the regular season and the lack of chemistry as a result of roster turnover, it was going to take some time to get things together.
On paper, the Pacers are a very talented roster. Paul George is capable of playing as well as anybody in the East. Plus when you add Jeff Teague, Myles Turner, Thad Young, Lance Stephenson, C.J. Miles, and Monta Ellis, they have plenty of guys that can make things difficult when they are on.
The Cavs experienced how difficult things can be against a motivated Pacers team several times throughout the series. Fourth quarter offensive droughts in game one and four could have easily resulted in a loss. Plus poor play and lack of focus to start game three made a historic comeback necessary.
It truly is remarkable that the Cavs swept the Pacers, when you consider how much they struggled as a team. Kyrie Irving had arguably the worst series of his career, averaging 25.3 points on 42 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent from deep. Kevin Love had also struggled with his shot at times and the team was unable to get J.R. Smith or Kyle Korver shots.
While the inability to get role players shots is likely a result of Irving and Love struggling, it still meant that the Cavs had to do more than rely on their offense to win games.
The defense that the Cavs displayed in the first round was... uneven. Their first half defense throughout the series had an abysmal DRTG of 123.2. This was tied with the Houston Rockets for the worst first half defense in the playoffs. As a point of reference, the worst regular season DRTG was the Lakers at 110.6. In the second half, things were much better. The Cavs posted a DRTG of 98.7, which would be the best mark in the regular season and is the third best second half defense in the playoffs.
For those yelling “flip the switch!” I’d caution you to hold your horses. The issues the Cavs faced in the first half were not simply a result of not trying. There was a lack of communication on both ends of the floor, something that will take time to fine-tune. It had improved as the game progressed, but there are still bad habits the team needs to combat moving forward.
The time off prior to the next series could prove to be valuable for the Cavs. Not only for rest, but to analyze where they can improve. While defensive lapses in the regular season could be excused as a result of a lack of effort, with the team trying now, productive film study can take place.
It’s very important that these improvements take place. Looming next round will likely be the toughest test the Cavs will face in the Eastern Conference. Both the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks have the defensive versatility to disrupt a Cavs offense that’s still trying to find it’s rhythm. The Raptors appear to be the most likely opponent, one with less length than the Bucks but more offense.
With the Celtics inability to rebound and Washington’s porous defense, the Conference Finals may effectively be this upcoming round. The Cavs will need to learn from the mistakes of their series against the Pacers, and come out far more prepared regardless of who they play.
Taking care of business isn’t just important for preparing to face the Warriors, but it’ll also help keep this team rested and healthy. The Cavs have a gift for making things more difficult than they need to be, we’ll see if that remains true for the rest of the post-season.