Can Cavs ‘turn it on’ in playoffs?
Over the next few weeks — as few as two or as many as eight — we will find out if a good team not playing very well can suddenly “turn it on” when necessary.
The defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers began defense of their title on Saturday with a 109-108 win over the Indiana Pacers.
Indiana came into the game having won five games in a row, a streak that was necessary for the Pacers to even make it into the playoffs.
The Cavaliers, on the other hand, ended what has to be considered a disappointing regular season in a disjointed fashion. The Cavs were inconsistent in their results, losing the top seed in the Eastern Conference down the stretch.
Several reasons have been given for the way the team played in the regular season. There were plenty of injuries and, partly because of that, numerous changes to the roster. Coach Tyronn Lue was forced to do a lot of mixing and matching throughout the season.
One thing he was not able to do was to get as much rest as he wanted to for LeBron James. Much was made of the fact that James rested the last two games of the season while the team still had a shot at the top seed.
Had the team consistently played at its best, Cleveland could have clinched the top seed earlier, allowing plenty of time to rest James. As it was, Lue was forced to use James more than he wanted in order to win games.
Offensively, the Cavs depend on James and Kyrie Irving to take the ball to the basket and a slew of other players to make 3-pointers. Cleveland depends heavily on the 3-pointer, and they are almost unbeatable when they are shooting well. But 3-point shooting often can be inconsistent and relying on it can sometimes lead to losses.
One thing about the Cavaliers that has been fairly consistent was their poor play on the defensive end. The Cavs’ great defense was the most important factor in overcoming the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals last season.
This year, the defense has been up and down, with more of the latter. Defense is all about effort and desire, and when the Cavs have demonstrated those attributes this season, they have played solid defense. A recent big win at Boston was a prime example of how good this team can play.
The problem is the desire and effort haven’t been there all the time throughout the season. I have always contended that when the best players on a team demonstrate that they are willing to do the little things, the dirty work, then so will everyone else on the team.
James is an elite defender — when he wants to be. Kyrie Irving is a solid defender — when he wants to be. It’s easy to say those two will be the keys for the Cavaliers in the playoffs, on most nights they will both be among the best three players on the floor.
But the effort and desire they show on the defensive end will be the real key. When they demonstrate that effort, teammates follow suit.
One might say that veteran players such as Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver are all veteran players and shouldn’t need to be inspired by their teammates.
But that seems to be the way it is with this team, and we will find out if the Cavs can “turn it on” defensively. If they do, it will start with James and Irving.