Random dribbles on the Cavaliers following their 117-111 win over the visiting Indiana Pacers on Monday:
1. First, the bottom line is this is the playoffs and all that matters is the win. And with that win, the Cavs lead this best-of-seven Eastern Conference series by a 2-0 count. They’re 12-0 in series with that type of lead. Most of which is likely thanks to LeBron James, who is still on the team.
2. Second, the fact the Cavs keep blowing leads isn’t ideal — but in this case, it’s OK. They still need to clean things up. But at least they’re winning games in the process. The good parts of the Cavs were better in Game 2, and the bad wasn’t nearly as bad.
3. Third, the Cavs have barely trailed in this entire series, and they haven’t even played that well. Things could change on the road, with the next two games at Indiana. But for now, it’s been so far, so good. And if not so good, at least so decent.
4. The Cavs had great success at pounding the ball down to Kevin Love (27 points, 11 rebounds) in the third quarter. Love was unstoppable and they built a huge lead. That’s why I never understand why they start jacking up perimeter shots, as they did in the fourth quarter.
5. Love can sometimes get annoyed with James and Kyrie Irving when they direct the offense away from him late in games. He scored 27 points — on just SEVEN shots! No one else on the team could do that. Love also finished 12-of-12 on free throws.
6. This isn’t to suggest there’s some sort of team discord, because there isn’t. This is pro sports and people get irritated with their teammates from time to time. It doesn’t mean you don’t love them. I don’t know if Love was agitated that he barely touched the ball in the fourth, but I’d sure understand if he was. And he has been before.
7. Nor am I suggesting Love would’ve continued to dominate Lance Stephenson and other members of the Pacers in the paint as he did in the third. But why go away from something that’s working? The fact the Cavs did is on everyone from coach Tyronn Lue to James to Irving to, yes, Love himself.
8. Of course, Irving (37 points, 14-of-24 shooting) and James (25 points, 10 boards) were also remarkable, and as Lue has said, the Cavs are tough to beat when the Big Three plays so well.
9. Irving has been better defensively in the playoffs, and I like how he encouraged Iman Shumpert when Shumpert finally checked into the series to start the third quarter of Game 2. But Irving finished with just two assists. The Cavs are at their best when he’s in the range of six or more.
10. Meanwhile, Shumpert filled in for J.R. Smith, who left the game with a left hamstring injury at halftime. Smith was agitated and wanted to keep playing. Perhaps he will return for Game 3 on Thursday. But if not, the benching seemed to be the elixir Shumpert needed. He played perhaps his most efficient half of the season.
11. LeBron to the media on the win: “We’re right there. We’re right there of what we know we can become, and we’ll figure it out. So, like I told you, I’d much rather have an 18-point lead than not have a lead at all. And we make plays down the stretch to win a ball game in the postseason, and that’s all you can ask for. But we’re right there on turning the switch on what we really can become.”
12. Meanwhile, Pacers star Paul George (32) continued to be tough on teammates, calling out Stephenson and young big man Myles Turner. Cavs center Tristan Thompson is indeed getting the best of Turner when it comes to making winning plays — and Thompson’s experience in the Finals is shining through. Either way, George is showing he has a bit of Larry Bird in him by demanding better.
13. I do agree with Medina Gazette reporter Rick Noland, though. Noland compared George to Scottie Pippen and suggested that no team with George as its best player will get very far. We have a tendency to overrate people in these days of non-stop marketing, and while I think George is fantastic, I also think you will need another player at least as good as him for anything special.
14. Anyway, back to the Cavs. If they can take care of this series quickly, they may get a nice break. It appears the Milwaukee-Toronto series could be going on for a while, with the Bucks stealing Game 1 in Toronto. The Cavs are an older team, and could use the rest. But they’ll need to play better than they have since February to win on the road.