Here are three things that stood out from the Cavs’ Game 2 win over the Pacers.
1. LeBron James needs help
LeBron James came out of the gate aggressive in Game 2, scoring the Cavs’ first 16 points and putting Indiana on its heels. From the get-go, Tyronn Lue’s edict that he wanted James to be more aggressive, and make his impact on the game felt, was in effect. Throughout the game, James kept up this level of aggression and finished with 46 points in a dominant James performance.
The Cavs, though, need someone to help James. Kevin Love finished 5-16 from the field in Game 2, although he did score a key five points to start the fourth quarter while James sat. George Hill had his moments, but was limited by foul trouble. And Kyle Korver’s 15 points off some easy-to-replicate action is definitely something they can count on. But the Cavs need someone who can attack off the dribble so James isn’t the only one doing so.
“I need to see more out of a lot of guys,” Lue said postgame.
Aside from Love, the Cavs could use more from Rodney Hood - who committed two turnovers in Game 2 when the Cavs put him in a position to playmake - and Hill, who is likely to play far more than 20 minutes on a normal night. Getting good minutes out of Jordan Clarkson would help too. J.R. Smith - who is back in the starting lineup, but only took five shots - is another player the Cavs might need to have a big game or two.
2. Victor Oladipo never settled into a rhythm
Two fouls in the first 1:02 of the game, coupled with Pacers coach Nate McMillan being conservative on when he was going to insert Oladipo back into the game, caused Oladipo to never into a rhythm or torch the Cavs like he did in Indiana’s Game 1 win.
Cleveland, though, did some work to defend Oladipo differently. Instead of George Hill defending him, Smith drew the assignment at the beginning of the game. Rodney Hood spent some time on Oladipo as well with James spending a large chuck of the fourth quarter defending Oladipo. They also made sure Oladipo never had a clear path to attack the rim or pull-up from three:
As the series shifts to Indiana, expect this strategy to continue. The Cavs, two games in, have decided that Oladipo is going to the focus of their defense strategy. If Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis or Thad Young beats them, so be it. Note that the Cavs are comfortable with an non-big — be it Hill or LeBron or Smith — sliding into the paint at the rim so Turner or another Pacer big shoots instead of Oladipo:
3. George Hill is really important, even if he doesn’t play that much
You could litigate Hill’s foul trouble and argue that they all shouldn’t have all been called fouls. But they happened, and despite Hill not having a great box score state game, it’s clear that he’s a steadying influence for the Cavs.
Take the third quarter for instance. Hill picked up his third foul with 8:19 left in the quarter and the Cavs’ offense suffered for it. James, and the Cavs as a whole, are at their best when James isn’t the only player on the floor capable of orchestrating the offense and matching Indiana’s speed on the perimeter; it’s not a coincidence that Indiana went on its run when Hill sat.
It’s also clear that the Cavs don’t have an optimal alternative to Hill. Jose Calderon was a steadying presence in the regular season, but he’s struggled in the playoffs so far and is outmatched on defense. Lue has openly said he doesn’t want Clarkson playing without another ball handler on the floor. Hood has struggled every time the Cavs have asked him to take on more offensive responsibilities.
This leaves Hill as the man standing between James having to do almost everything and actually having to do everything.