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For the second time this postseason, the Cleveland Cavaliers will face elimination as they take on the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Quicken Loans Arena.
For Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, who is 9-1 in playoff series as a head coach, the comforts of home have him feeling good about the Cavaliers’ chances tonight. The Cavaliers needed a Game 7 win to survive the first round against Indiana.
“I know we play well at home, but we have to beat them,” Lue said. “We can’t just expect coming home for our great fans and crowd that we’re going to win the game. We’ve got to play well and we understand that. I like what we’ve done the last three games defensively, even Game 5 in Boston.
“If we continue to play defense the way we’ve been playing, I do love our chances.”
While they are coming off a Game 5 loss in Boston on Wednesday night, which staked the Celtics to the 3-2 advantage they hold in the series, what the Cavaliers have done — amazingly, considering they were ranked 29th in the league in defensive rating during the regular season — is, as Lue stated, play defense.
In the last three games, Cleveland has limited Boston to 94.6 points per game, shooting only 38.9 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. In this stretch, the Cavaliers have a defensive rating of 97.0, their best mark of the season.
While the defense has been solid (let that sentence permeate for a few seconds, Cleveland fans), the offense has been, well, hit or miss. At Quicken Loans Arena, it’s been mostly hits. On the road at TD Garden, almost a complete 180.
Which indicates tonight could be a good night for Cleveland, which is a 7-point favorite in Las Vegas, for what it’s worth. The Cavaliers are 7-1 at The Q in the playoffs this spring, having won seven straight since a Game 1 loss in the opening round against Indiana.
In Cleveland, the Cavaliers are averaging 105.4 points and shooting 47.4 percent from the field, including 36.8 percent from deep. In Boston? In the three games in Beantown, Cleveland has yet to reach 100 points.
“I mean, both teams have played well at home, but you have to play well in order to win the game,” Lue said. “They’ve done that, they’ve played well enough to win on their home floor, we’ve done the same thing, so we’ve got to have the same approaching coming into Game 6.”
Lue said Boston’s switching-scheme defense has presented some problems for the Cleveland offense.
“I think by them switching a lot of things it made us stagnant,” Lue said. “Taking advantage of mismatches, they’re doing a good job of trying to double-team LeBron (James) and Kevin (Love) when they switch smaller guys onto him. But we’ve gotten some good shots and some good looks, we just haven’t been able to make ’em and knock ’em down in Boston.”
Lue was matter-of-fact in looking at what’s on the line. Namely, Cleveland must win two games before Boston wins one. If the Cavaliers force a Game 7 with a win tonight, it will be played Sunday night in Boston.
“We’ve got to play well (in Game 6), and then going to Boston (for) Game 7, we’ve got to be able to step up and take those shots and make those shots and play with the same pace and confidence we play with at home,” he said.
Lue admitted James, the who led the NBA in minutes played during the regular season and is doing the same in the playoffs, looked tired to him at times during Game 5 in Boston.
“I don’t know his body. I just know that he always performs at a high level and last night was just one of those nights, but believe me he’s not the only one feeling fatigue right now,” Lue said. “When you get to the Eastern Conference Finals and you play so deep into the playoffs, a lot of guys get fatigued and a lot of guys their team are playing more minutes than they’ve played all season, so like I said it could have been one of those nights for LeBron, but there’s no question in my mind that he’ll bounce back (in Game 6).”
Toward that end, Lue explained it’s a delicate balance making sure his guys get as much rest a possible — Cleveland was the oldest of the 16 teams that reached the postseason — while getting the necessary preparation in.
“The most you can do is watch film,” he said. “I think we had a day to work on our offense when had those three days off, but every other day, like we landed and get in at three o’clock in the morning so the every other day you basically show film, if you want to walk through something you walk through something but there’s not a lot of live shooting, there’s not a lot of movement so guys can kind of get their rest because every other day it is tough.
“We’ve been through it before. I wouldn’t say it had an effect, I thought the long gap in between Games 2 and 3, it was good for us, especially being an older team but we’ve been through it before so we’re not going to use that as an excuse.”