The Cleveland Cavaliers have taken control of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Winning both games on the road has put the Cavs in a dominant position as they head home looking to complete a sweep of the Toronto Raptors.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from the Cavs 128-110 win over the Raptors:
1. Never doubt LeBron James
The series against the Indiana Pacers was incredibly bleak. None of the role players were stepping up, LeBron looked exhausted, and the health of Kevin Love and George Hill was a major question.
One of the greatest aspects of LeBron’s game his understanding of the bigger picture. While he willed the team to victory in the first round, he understands that everybody else needs to contribute if they’re going to have a deep playoff run. He dissected the Raptors defense and emphasized getting Love shots early on and continued to work to get his teammates more comfortable.
His investment in his teammates has paid off, as the Cavs offense is once again thriving. The added bonus for himself is that when everybody else is rolling, it makes him virtually impossible to defend.
2. The playoffs are all about matchups
Over the course of the regular season, the Indiana Pacers were nowhere near as good as the Toronto Raptors defensively. Their personnel just wasn’t good enough over the course of an 82 game season to execute at a high level defensively.
While that is true, the style of defense the Pacers play is dramatically different than the Raptors. They were physical off the ball, not allowing shooters to roam without getting jammed and got up in the grill of ball handlers. The Raptors defensive personnel may be better, but their willingness to let shooters roam free has helped Cleveland regain their effectiveness offensively.
J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver were able to get going in Game 1, and the threat of them opened up further opportunities in Game 2. The Cavs aren’t a team that runs the same plays regardless of the opponent. They hunt for matchup advantages and design sets to try and generate a switch or a mismatch.
When the Raptors go small to match the Cavs, Love would post up DeRozan or another guard and consistently generate good looks. Go big, and they kill you with cuts and from behind the arc.
3. Tyronn Lue may know what he’s doing
There has been a lot of questioning of Tyronn Lue this season. While some has been warranted, the situations surrounding this team and the inconsistency of the individual parts have made coming up with a rotation difficult.
Following Game 1, there was a thought that Tristan Thompson should start alongside Kevin Love. Given the play of Love to that point, it was an idea even I shared. But to start Game 2, the Cavs emphasized exposing the mismatch created by Jonas Valanciunas guarding Love. Love missed his first few shots, but they stuck with it and he responded with 31 points and 11 rebounds.
The team also emphasized getting George Hill involved, who had been limited so far in the playoffs as a result. As great as it’s been to have Kyle Korver step up in these playoffs, the Cavs simply aren’t going to have a deep run unless Love and Hill are significant contributors. The game plan was clearly centered around having them involved, and the by the second half it opened up the floodgates for LeBron to crush the hopes of the Raptors.
Lue trusted the mismatches he was able to create, and kept going to those looks even though they didn’t go down in Game 1. In doing so, he showed trust in his players and the game plan that they crafted for this series.