The Cleveland Cavaliers just went up 2-0 in their first round series against the Indiana Pacers in the 2017 NBA playoffs. But if their aim is to repeat, they will need to shore up their struggling defense .
Like James said after their 117-111 victory in Game 2, the only things that matter is the series score: 2-0.
The Cavs have won 10-straight first round games since the return of the King in 2014, and will most likely stretch that run because LeBron is LeBron. Just remember this: he has not been eliminated in the opening round in his whole career.
Let that sink in.
In fact, James has not lost a first round match since 2013, including his time in Miami. In his last four first round series, he went 16-0.
Let that sink in again.
But watching the last two games closely and it seems that the Tower of First Round Invincibility James has erected is slightly staggering on the accounts of poor team defense and that Indiana’s Paul George is well-equipped to siege it down, or at least smoke it up and get a few panicked straying Cavaliers.
The tower remained strong only because C.J. Miles missed a game-winner in Game 1 and Indiana fell short of arrows and boulders to throw in Game 2. Many will say the balance of the game has more to do with Cleveland slipping than it has with George and the Pacers playing well.
To that I will agree and disagree. Wait, what? Just hang with me.
The Cavaliers are struggling on the defensive side, which is one of the worst-kept secrets in the NBA this season. According to Basketball Reference, the Cavaliers were the 9th best in Defensive Ratings last year during their championship run. They enter the current postseason as the 2nd worst of all playoff-eligible teams, beating Portland by a slight margin.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said they have had the answers for a long time and will use it once the playoffs began. Two games in and we have yet to see them flip the switch. Indiana is ranked 15th in offensive rating this season, the third worst among playoff teams! They shouldn’t have been able to pose this much threat to the defending champions.
But the Pacers have one star that has a grudge with LeBron – one that is in his prime and hell-bent on keeping a title window for Indiana open: Paul George. The 26-year-old forward, listed at 6-9 and 220 lbs, is one of the few wings who can match James in size, strength, mobility, and, to a limit, skill. He has been hampered by LeBron in the playoffs too much that he came out and voiced his frustration in public. That’s a grown-ass man bitchin’ about losing.
In the first two games, George is averaging splits of 30.5/7.0/6.5 while shooting 55% from 3. The Pacers were a CJ Miles-shot and Lance Stephenson-control away from winning those games in Cleveland. Instead, they’re going home and avoid an insurmountable 0-3 deficit against the reigning champions. To be fair to Indiana, they are showing enough to make this an interesting series and, if Cleveland continues to play this kind of defense, we might see a Game 5 with the series tied 2-2.
Like I said earlier, LeBron will still extend his unbeaten run in the first round because he has Kyrie freakin’ Irving and Kevin freakin’ Love on his Cleveland freakin’ flanks, while George has solid-but-not-like-freakin’-Irving Jeff Teague as point guard and Lance Stephenson as a tertiary playmaker (and I mean that as a compliment for Lance).
But if a group as George-centric as the Pacers can harass Cleveland’s squishy defense this much, what will happen if they go through the next round and face Toronto, who has DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and a platoon of big men who can shoot from the perimeter? Or Milwaukee who has the Greek Freak and a platoon of small men who can shoot from the perimeter? Or a Washington team led by a speed demon masked as John Wall, while having Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Markief Morris who can snipe from outside as good as any three-man wing?
AND If they managed to get past those teams and face a trilogy matchup with the Warriors and their four unstoppable starters of Curry – Thompson – Green – Pachulia, what happens then?
As the series shifts to Indiana tomorrow, the Cavaliers will still need to prove to us how far they can go. If there’s any chance of repeating, it all starts with shoring up their defense.
– Roland Quilente