In the lead-up to Saturday’s pivotal Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavaliers are stressing one thing above all else: communication.
In team film sessions, the Cavs are watching defensive breakdowns from their first two games against the Celtics and, according to coach Tyronn Lue, the break has been good for the team in part because it has given them a chance to reflect on what’s gone wrong.
“It’s a good break. It’s a good advantage for them to take advantage of,” he said Thursday after the Cavs’ practice. “Showing them things on tape that we can get better at, things we need to take away, the small things communication wise — we had seven, eight, nine breakdowns where we just miscommunicated. We showed up today saying take away easy baskets, things we can avoid and those guys saw that and we incorporated a couple of other things.”
As for the players, who also said Thursday that they need to give LeBron James and Kevin Love more scoring help, they agree with their coach.
“We’ve watched a lot of film about it, where a lot of our breakdowns have happened,” George Hill said. “But you start to see once you’ve watched film, that we felt like we were doing a great job of moving the ball in certain areas of the game. But once some bad miscommunications situation got played, it kind of took out some air.”
J.R. Smith mentioned it too.
“We got into a few mishaps on the defensive end due to communication and they were getting wide open shots,” he said. “We gotta make that second effort, regardless if you’re on the other side [of the court] or not.”
How the Cavs respond on Saturday, and how it impacts the result of the game, likely will dictate how this series plays out and how soon it ends. The odds are against Cleveland coming back from down 2-0. Plus, the four members of the 2016 title team that came back from 3-1 against the Warriors all have said it’s hard to apply that experience to this group that has only been playing together for a few months.
It also seems as if Boston just has an edge over Cleveland in this particular area. Take Game 2, for instance. In the first half, the Celtics were down after a monster half from James. In the third quarter, they outscored the Cavs by 14 points. Boston simply kept pushing, building itself back up as a group when the game did not go its way. Cleveland did not and when James, with some help from Love, could not do it all, they went down 2-0 in the series.
It’s only been a few months since the team reshaped its roster with the deal that sent Isaiah Thomas packing and brought in four new bodies. But it feels like a season ago that this same group was openly celebrating on the sidelines in the same arena they lost Games 1 and 2 in. And maybe it feels like it for a group that has said on multiple occasions that this season has emotionally felt like four crammed into one. On Thursday, Smith called this season an “extremely weird year.”
“I mean, we all got strengths and weaknesses,” Tristan Thompson said. “Some guys aren’t huge communicators. But at the end of the day, it’s the playoffs. This is for all the marbles. We’re down 0-2. If you don’t like to talk, you’re going to talk now. And if you don’t want to talk, you can sit your a** on the bench. That’s what it is. It’s point blank, simple. So, if we’re not all communicating — all five of us — we got no chance.”