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Facing their season going on the brink, the Cleveland Cavaliers had better do something quick against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Which is exactly what Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue wants from his team, which will host Boston in Game 3 of a series it trails, 2-0, tonight (8:30, ESPN) at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We have to come out with a sense of urgency to attack early, don’t ease into the game or let this team off the hook,” Lue said. “We know they play well at home and they had two good games, so now it’s our turn.”
Limited by Boston’s top-rated defense and their own shooting struggles, Cleveland is averaging only 88.5 points in the first two games, shooting 40.3 percent from the field, including 25 percent on 3-pointers.
In terms of Lue’s desire to play fast, the Cavaliers are actually playing at a faster pace against Boston than they did in recording a second-round sweep of top-seeded Toronto.
Cleveland is averaging 95.2 possessions per 48 minutes against the Celtics, compared to 93.8 possessions against Toronto.
Which speaks to the difference between the top-ranked defense in the league to the fifth. The Cavaliers averaged 118.5 points in the four-game whitewash of the Raptors.
“I think they just have a lot of versatile pieces,” Cavalier guard Kyle Korver said. “They’re doing a lot of switching. They’re loading up to LeBron [James], but they’re not double-teaming. So everything appears kind of open, but there’s nothing that’s wide open for us.”
To Lue urging the Cavaliers to pick up the pace, Kevin Love said that is nothing new for the Cleveland coach.
“Anyone who has been here and around knows Ty always stresses that,” Kevin Love said. “Not looking at the bench when they score, [when] there is a mess up, a breakdown on the defensive end. [It’s about] getting that ball out — miss or make — and playing with pace. That’s something we’ve always preached here. You see they have been able to contest so many of our shots, which always brings the percentages down.
“When you are able to play with pace, you are able to let LeBron play downhill and the other guys play downhill. It opens up the floor and lets us get the shots we want and shoot a higher percentage. That’s key for us, and it’s something we stressed not only in our film session but in practice the last few days.”
A big step toward accomplishing that would be improved play from point guard George Hill. The 31-year-old 10-year veteran is averaging 4.0 points and 0.5 assists, while shooting 37.5 percent from the floor in the first two games.
“We want to change it up with him being able to attack the bigs [that get switched onto him] and being aggressive, playing with more pace, miss or makes, getting the ball in fast, running to our drags, double drags and just playing with more speed and pace,” Lue said.
Korver believes playing at a faster pace increases the opportunities for the Cavaliers to take advantage of the Celtics’ inexperience, not to mention their struggles away from TD Garden. Boston is 1-4 on the road in the playoffs this season.
“When we’re playing slow and very rarely in the playoffs is your first option going to be open,” Korver said. “You run a play, run a set, and very rarely is that shot going to be wide open for somebody, so you have to keep on passing the ball, you have to keep on moving, keep setting screens, take the ball out of bounds faster, run the court faster and make them make mistakes.
“Because if we play slow, they’re just too good. I think that will help with us getting better shots, help us make more shots and help us play with more energy.”