The Cavaliers are down 0-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. With Game 3 looming, the Cavaliers have some adjustments to make if they want to secure LeBron’s eighth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
Game 1 ended in a veritable blowout, as the Celtics won by 25 points. Game 2 was not much better, as Boston put together another double-digit victory.
As history has taught us, going down 0-3 is a virtual death sentence. Teams that have accrued a 3-0 lead are 131-0 in the history of the NBA playoffs. In only three cases have the teams in the three-game hole forced a Game 7.
Those stats make this Game 3 a must-win for Cleveland. Here is how LeBron and company can potentially right their ship and get back into the series.
Someone help LeBron
In Game 1’s 108-83 drubbing, four Cavaliers scored in double digits. The Celtics somehow held The King to only 15 points, leaving Kevin Love to outscore him by two points. Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood added 11 and 10 points respectively.
While all evidence points to the opposite, James is only human. It is absolutely going to take more of an effort from the supporting cast to beat the supremely well-coached Celtics. Especially if LeBron has an off game.
In Game 2, only three Cavaliers scored in double digits. LeBron had a 42-point triple-double performance. Kevin Love added a respectable 22 points, and Korver fulfilled his duties by putting up 11 points.
Outside of every performance mentioned above, every other Cavalier has failed to put up more than eight points in this series. That simply is not going to get it done, even against this banged up Celtics roster.
It’s hard to tell which is more egregious; the fact that Cleveland cannot muster enough offense to win when James scores 42, or that they cannot pick up any kind of slack when he scores under 20.
J.R. Smith has only scored a total of 4 points against Boston. Tristan Thompson has only been good for eight points in each game. The trade deadline acquisitions of Nance, Jr., Clarkson, Hood and Hill have put up a combined 31 points in both games put together. Clarkson did not even see the floor in Game 2.
LeBron James can propel the Cavaliers to victory, but he cannot do everything alone. It is simply not too much to ask for just a little help from the rest of the team. The one upside is, though, if the Cavaliers make it to (or win) the NBA Finals, this postseason performance will only further immortalize James.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue has the unenviable task of going against the best coach in the NBA. Usually, the word “arguably” precedes a statement like that, but with the evidence mounting, it seems almost disingenuous to qualify his status as “arguable.”
Stevens has done more with this banged up roster than most NBA coaches could have done with a full-strength Celtics team. As such, they find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals, up 2-0, without their two best players.
Enough cannot be said about what Stevens can do. But what can be said is what Lue can do against him.
Giving LeBron the ball and seeing what happens can work early in games, and late in games. But James cannot try and iso his way to a win against this team, while all of the other Cavaliers wait outside the three-point line just in case he passes the ball.
Lue needs to trust his guards in Hill, Smith and Hood. Primarily because that is probably the last thing Stevens (and any NBA coach, player or fan, really) expects the Cavaliers to do. Plays need to be drawn up for Thompson and Love. LeBron moves well without the ball, too, so let him make cuts to the basket.
All in all, the offense needs to change, because the Celtics’ defense is still as good in the playoffs as it was in the regular season. Most importantly though, Stevens knows he cannot stop LeBron, so attempting to limit him and smothering the rest of the roster is his only option.
If Lue dips into his coaching bag, though, he may be able to take Boston’s players by surprise. Even if he probably will not ever be able to catch their coach off guard.
Of the teams remaining in the playoffs, Boston has the highest three-point percentage at 35.8 percent. They also are besting the Cavaliers in defensive rebounds, blocks and steals per game.
It is well-known that the Cavaliers were in the bottom five in defense all season, and their lackluster effort has carried into the playoffs. Also lacking is their three-point game. They sit at 33.6 percent from distance, which is third-worst ahead of Golden State.
Taking and making threes while LeBron puts on a show in the lane has been Cleveland’s identity throughout their three straight trips to the finals. This goes back to Tyronn Lue, but more plays need to be run to get shooters open. They seem to be last-ditch efforts when someone meets LeBron in the lane, forcing him to pass.
If the Cavaliers can get J.R. Smith going, while leaning on Korver and Love until he’s white-hot, then they can shoot Boston out of the gym. This will be because of the sheer volume of the shots they are taking and making. Boston will almost certainly not attempt to match them.
The defense is the real problem. It is often said that the best offense is a good defense. But Cleveland needs to try and flip that old adage if they want to win the series.
Cleveland’s defensive talent is just simply not there. The players are not defensively-minded, and, even if they are playing well on that end of the court, the Cavs cannot expect it to show up consistently.
Adding on, and defensive work the Cavaliers can do will almost certainly be canceled out by Stevens’ defense over the course of 48 minutes.
Steals and points off turnovers are where LeBron and the Cavs can do some damage to the Celtics. With their carousel of players at the point guard spot, the Celtics can be prone to turnovers if Hill or Hood can overwhelm them. With their pace of play, the Cavaliers can also push the ball up the court quickly and turn those into points.
Cleveland’s offense needs to defend them, though, as stated earlier, and throughout this article. The blueprint to beating Boston is simple: Score and keep scoring.
Featured image by Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
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