The Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Indiana Pacers for the second time in two tries of their first-round playoff series. And while the Pacers made a late charge to make the game a lot closer, the outcome was never really in doubt for most of the second half. The final 117-111 score doesn’t reflect how much the Cavaliers were in charge most of the contest.
LeBron James was typical LeBron, scoring 25 points on 11-of-20 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and four blocks (he did have an uncharacteristic eight turnovers).
Kevin Love was brilliant, scoring 27 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 12-of-12 from the charity stripe. Love helped the Cavaliers blow the game open in the third quarter by dominating down low against smaller Pacers defenders, namely Lance Stephenson.
And Kyrie Irving was unstoppable, scoring 37 points, on 14-of-20 shooting, including 4-of-10 from deep and 5-of-5 from the stripe.
Perhaps the biggest, most surreal, eye-popping, what-the-heck, tell-all number you’ll ever see: Not counting when they assisted one another (so as to not double-count those points) the Cavaliers’ ‘Big Three scored or assisted on 106 of their 117 points on the game.
The entire Cavaliers’ team had a super-insane 67.9 true shooting percentage. They won the points off turnover battle 24-17. They outrebounded the Pacers 37-33.
So, from that, and the fact that they have a 2-0 series lead, you’d figure they don’t have much to worry about. But beneath all that offensive and superstar brilliance, there are still cracks in the foundation, and time is running out on fixing them.
Because the other side of that magnificent 106 of 117 points stat is the very scary reality that there were only 11 points that weren’t created by the Big Three.
And in spite of that offensive brilliance, with a 121.5 offensive rating, the Cavaliers won the game by just six points and nearly gave up that massive lead in the fourth quarter.
Because, for all of their offensive brilliance, the Cavaliers are still pretty awful on defense. How bad?
The Pacers have a 115.3 offensive rating through the first two games. In the regular season, it was 106.2, ranked 15th. For the sake of comparison, the Golden State Warriors led the regular season with an offensive rating of 113.2.
The Pacers have a 59.5 true shooting percentage and a 24-7 advantage in fast-break points.
In short, the Cavaliers’ defense has just flat-out stunk. Their offensive prowess has just been good enough to get away with that.
That might even be good enough to get Cleveland back to the NBA Finals. The reality is that there’s no offense in the East that can realistically keep up with them for seven games, and there’s not really a defense that can stop them or even really slow them down much.
But remember that the Pacers were ranked 15th in offensive efficiency this year. They’re not a great team. Still, their postseason offense has been more efficient playing the Cavaliers than the freaking Golden State Warriors were during the regular season. So what happens when the Cavaliers are playing the freaking Golden State Warriors?
The Cavaliers might have found an answer when J.R. Smith left the game with a hamstring injury. Iman Shumpert amped up the defense coming in, and in the 17 minutes he’s played with the other four starters, the Cavaliers’ defensive rating is an impressive 79.8. So there’s a slim hope.
But, then again, that’s 17 minutes. Not the sort of sample size you build championship teams upon. And while a two-game sample size against the Pacers is small, it’s not like Cleveland was playing good defense to close the regular season. It’s been awful for a while now.
It’s easy to feel good about the 2-0 series lead — and it’s a heck of a lot better than being down 0-2 — but the Cavaliers need to be careful that they don’t buy too much into these wins. The defensive issues haven’t gone away.