5 Biggest Takeaways from Cleveland Cavaliers’ Early Postseason Showing

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    After fighting off some furious fourth-quarter comeback bids by the Indiana Pacers, the Cleveland Cavaliers now take their 2-0 series lead on the road.

    The No. 2-seeded Cavs have kept things interesting vs. the No. 7-seeded Pacers, and were a C.J. Miles missed jump shot away from losing Game 1.

    The “secret playoff defense” that Cleveland was supposedly holding back with is allowing 109.5 points per game, and there have been no magical switches hit, either.

    Still, life could be worse (ask the Celtics) as the Cavaliers look to sweep the opening round for the third straight year.

    Albeit a small sample size, these are the most noticeable (and potentially concerning) storylines from the Cavs’ playoff start.

Slow but Effective Offense

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    Nobody can argue with Cleveland’s offensive results.

    Through two games, they’ve registered a 119.6 offensive rating, shot a playoff-best 54.5 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from outside the arc.

    They’re preferred to score in the half court, using a healthy dose of three-pointers to offset big performances from Kyrie Irving (30.0 points per game), LeBron James (28.5) and Kevin Love (22.0).

    This is a stark contrast from what coach Tyronn Lue talked about prior to Game 1.

    “We have to get back on track, playing Cavs basketball. Pushing the pace, moving the basketball. We’ve got to get back to that.”

    The ironic part, of course, is that Cleveland has never played tempo under Lue. They rank dead last in average speed (3.85 miles per hour) this postseason and have scored just 18 total points in transition. For comparison, the Milwaukee Bucks have run their way to 51 in the same number of games.

    Of course, a James-led team can play any way he wants. A nightmare on the fast break, James may be even better in the half court as a quarterback. There’s no angle or area he can’t complete a pass.

    This type of offense has led to more hero-ball, which has been a regular part of both James’ and Irving’s games.

    The Cavs have spent 18.6 percent of their offense in isolation. While this isn’t ideal, they’ve scored a solid 1.16 points per possession and shot 51.5 percent. In the postseason, where superstar play is magnified, this will likely be the blueprint moving forward.

Iman Shumpert out of Rotation?

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    Tyronn Lue knows he can’t go through the postseason playing the typical 10 men in his rotation, but it was still surprising to see Iman Shumpert as the odd man out in Game 1.

    Lue used Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Kyle Korver as his reserves in Game 1 and the first half of Game 2, as Shumpert sat watching his team struggle to contain Indiana Pacers forward Paul George.

    These were presumably the moments Shumpert was traded for; defending the opponent’s best wing in crucial situations.

    “Tonight, it hurt me that I didn’t get Shump in there, but R.J. [Richard Jefferson] came in early, and he played well,” Lue said after Game 1. “We got him in early for Kevin [Love], and it was just kind of the flow of the game with rotations. He has to stay ready. Everyone has to stay ready, and we’ll just see what happens.”

    Thankfully, Shumpert did stay ready.

    Starting shooting guard J.R. Smith had to leave Game 2 at halftime with a hamstring injury, pushing Shumpert from a cheerleading role into starting the second half.

    His energy was off the charts, playing close-knit defense on George while logging 20 of the 24 second half minutes. He finished with five points on 2-of-3 shooting from the field.

    So what does Lue do now?

    Shumpert was set to miss out again before Smith’s injury, one that isn’t believed to be serious. With LeBron James being asked to cover shooting guards instead of George, it would be wise to have both Smith and Shumpert share defensive duties on Indiana’s All-Star moving forward.

Defense Is Still a Secret

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    Yeah, about that playoff defense…

    The Cavaliers’ 115.3 defensive rating through two games is worse than their regular-season version that ranked 22nd in the regular season (108.0).

    The effort seems improved, as we’ve witnessed Kyrie Irving dive for multiple loose balls and LeBron James play the role of rim protector. Iman Shumpert was great in his half against Paul George as well.

    James has separated himself as the team’s best overall defender, and at 32, that’s not a good thing.

    When James sits, Cleveland’s defensive rating balloons to 147.9. Although the Cavs have given him the easier assignment by making J.R. Smith and Shumpert cover Paul George, James has still guarded multiple positions while leading the team in steals (3.5) and blocks (2.0).

    Perhaps the biggest hole in the Cavaliers’ defense is the inability to stop the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls.

    When Indiana runs a PNR set, the ball-handler is registering 1.20 points per 100 possessions and shooting at a 50.0 percent clip. This is typically done by point guard Jeff Teague, who’s averaging 19.0 points and 4.0 assists while making 50.0 percent of his shots from the field and three-point line.

    Don’t be surprised to see Cleveland try to trap the ball-handler more often and stop penetration, forcing Teague and others to give up the ball.

    The Cavs can get away with sloppy defense now, but they won’t win another Finals with this kind of performance.

Looking for Help

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    In two games, only once has a Cavaliers player outside of the Big Three cracked double digits in scoring; Channing Frye’s 11 points in Game 1.

    Granted, it’s not Frye’s job to put up 20 a game. Tristan Thompson isn’t going to shoot threes anytime soon and Richard Jefferson is about a decade removed from being an elite offensive player.

    Cleveland doesn’t need regular scoring outbursts from members of its bench, either. Not with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving combining for 80.5 points per game.

    That being said, Irving has been prone to off nights and shouldn’t be asked to average 30.0 points a contest that he’s providing now. Instead, the Cavs need just one member outside of the Big Three to give them something in the scoring column each game.

    If healthy, J.R. Smith is capable and willing. Kyle Korver (2.0 points) has been quiet, even if his mere presence encourages driving lanes. Deron Williams (3-of-4 shooting, nine points in Game 2) has plenty left in the tank as well.

    James, Love and Irving will forever set the tone on this team, it’s just important not to rely on them this early on.


LeBron James Continues to Dominate 1st Round

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    James is a perfect 11-0 in first-round playoff series for his career, and with a sweep of the Pacers, he would set the all-time record for most consecutive opening-round wins (21).

    Think this is because the first round is easy? Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant dropped a combined nine opening series in their careers.

    The last time James even lost a single game in the conference quarterfinals was 2012. His last home loss? April 30, 2008, or when now-teammate Kyrie Irving had just turned 16 years old.

    Through two games, James is averaging 28.5 points, 10.0 assists, 8.0 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.0 blocks while shooting 57.5 percent from the field and 40.0 from deep. No player in NBA postseason history has averaged 25 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and shot 55.0 percent or better from the floor.

    He’s predictably taken his game a step further with the start of the postseason, once again going dark from social media. With a day or two to rest in between every playoff game, this is also where James can mentally break down an opponent and their tendencies.

    James is by far the greatest first-round playoff performer of all time, a legacy he only continues to build.


    Stats via Basketball Reference and NBA.com and are accurate through April 19.

    Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.

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