Well, the Cavaliers trail in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around at this point, but it’s time to look forward to Game 2 on Wednesday. Here’s the three things we learned from Game 1.
No. 1: The Cavaliers probably won’t play a worse offensive game for the rest of their season.
I mean, this was about as bad as it gets for the Cavs on offense. The Cavaliers struggled with the Pacers on-ball pressure, couldn’t hit wide open shots, didn’t shoot particularly well around the rim and failed to generate good shots for Kevin Love. As FTS’s Mike Zavagno notes, this was the lowest ORTG in a game the entire season for the Cavaliers, and it pretty much looked like it.
Looking forward, there’s been plenty of takes that the Cavaliers just need to shoot better (8-34 from three, 12-20 from the free throw line) and that’s certainly the case. The natural pushback is that the Cavaliers probably still would’ve lost even if they shot their normal percentages.
That is mostly fair. The Cavaliers were a disaster in just about every facet offensively. This isn’t just a “make-or-miss league” kind of loss. 16 turnovers to 21 assists and eight shot attempts for Kevin Love isn’t going to do it. With that said, the Cavaliers are historically a terrible transition defense team. Made shots help prevent those opportunities, and the Cavaliers failed to do much shot making at any point in this game.
No. 2: Jeff Green has his utility - but not how he was used against Indiana
Jeff Green was unquestionably useful for the stretch run of the Cavaliers season. He attacked bigs on closeouts, hit enough threes to justify being guarded and played high quality defense on opposing team’s best scorers.
On Sunday, he uh, didn’t do any of those things. He weirdly found himself guarding Thaddeus Young for large stretches, and if Tyronn Lue is going to do that, he may as well play a center like Larry Nance who can help clean the glass and protect the rim at a higher level. There aren’t a ton of plodding bigs on Indy’s roster that can be exploited, either. Trevor Booker and Thaddeus Young both move quite well, and Domantas Sabonis is really the main person that can be attacked on that end.
I theorized that the Cavaliers starting Jeff Green meant that they weren’t scared of anybody and only had the Warriors in mind. What I meant by that was that the Cavs were actively subverting their best lineups in order to better prepare to play Kevin Durant in the Finals.
Well, they might not have as much of a margin for error as they thought. Green isn’t the best play against several teams, and Game 1 proved that. Lue might stay the course, and the Cavalier should still win this series, but the Cavaliers are making it harder on themselves in the meantime.
No. 3: LeBron James needs to be better - hear me out, here:
FTS’s Justin Rowan has consistently noted the extent to which this roster is built to maximize what LeBron does well. The problem is that it all falls apart when James isn’t playing at peak engagement and capacity. There is no Kyrie Irving to play safety valve, and the Cavaliers commitment to creating opportunities for Kevin Love remains as laughable as ever.
As a result, that means that the Cavaliers can’t afford to have any empty calories games from LeBron, and for stretches on Sunday, that’s what they got. James consistently turned down easy, defense-breaking matchups against Bojan Bogdanovic early while the Pacers ran away with the game in the first quarter. That’s not to say James can’t look to get teammates involved first, and the Cavaliers were generating good looks, but the intensity level wasn’t where it needed to be.
Like it or not, James bears a much higher burden on the success of these Cavaliers when he’s on the floor. The Cavs tried to build a roster with more playmakers that did succeed at a higher level while he sat earlier in the year. The problem was that those playmakers didn’t fit with James, and the roster was re-made in the process. They will go as far as he takes them, and even a triple-double isn’t always enough to get the job done.