The Cavaliers are doing just enough to win games in their first-round playoff series against the Pacers. Here are three things we learned from Game 5, as Cleveland takes a 3-2 lead.
1. It’s a pleasure to watch LeBron James — the magical eraser
All Cavaliers’ not named LeBron James only scored 54 points in Game 5. Those players shot 17-of-51 from the field and somehow Cleveland still managed to win a playoff game — in 2018.
Cleveland was up by 11 with 10:39 left in the fourth quarter, yet look up at the score board with 33.6 seconds left and the game is knotted at 95 apiece.
That’s when magical eraser LeBron James’ value really came into play. James guards Victor Oladipo, blocks his shot off the glass, then hits a game-winning three-point shot to send the Cleveland crowd into euphoria.
15 years into his career, 86 games into the season, 42 minutes into Game 5 and James comes up with the two biggest plays of the season to seal the deal for his squad. No matter what the rest of his teammates do, as long as James is on the court, the Cavaliers will always have a fighting chance.
It’s uncertain how much longer James will wear a Cleveland uniform, but it’s amazing to watch what he still does on the court.
2. Cavaliers need Kevin Love to break out of his slump
Kevin Love continues to look out of sorts in this series and if Cleveland is able to advance past the Pacers, they might not be able to withstand Love’s poor performances.
So far in this series, Love has totaled nine, 15, 19, five and 11 points in each of the five games. He only shot over 50 percent from the field in one game and has been ineffective from deep outside of Games 1 and 3.
The worst part of Love’s struggles has been his lack of confidence. The Cavs’ power forward seemed hesitant to shoot from deep on Wednesday night, routinely pump-faked or passed up good looks.
Love has been out of rhythm since returning from his injury at the end of the regular season, but his struggles are viewed under a microscope because it’s the playoffs. If Cleveland’s going to achieve their goals this season, they’re going to need to find the Love from early in the season.
3. J.R. Smith continues to hound Victor Oladipo on defense
Most folks are going to say “man, Victor Oladipo shot 2-of-15 on Wednesday and still had a chance to win at the end of the game.” Personally, I’m a “glass half-full” type of person, so I’d rather credit the defense on Oladipo since Game 1.
J.R. Smith’s regular season roller coaster ride has been well documented. But in the playoffs, Smith has dialed in defensively. Since Game 1, Smith has put the clamps on Oladipo, limiting him to 17.3 points per game on 31 percent shooting from the field and 23 percent from deep.
Cleveland’s plan to trap Oladipo, combined with Smith’s on-ball pressure has taken him out of his comfort zone. While Smith’s offensive output has been inconsistent these past few games, Ty Lue and Co. can be confident with what Smith’s bringing defensively, hence he continues to start for Cleveland.
The Cavaliers will need one more strong defensive performance from Smith in Game 6 to close out this series.