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Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ unsightly 96-83 road loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday.
1. How does this happen? How do teams look so good and play so well at home … then turn into mush on the road? It’s been the case in every game this series, and I actually understand it with the Celtics. I don’t get it when it comes to the Cavs.
2. Boston is a younger, inexperienced team without a true star (as Kyrie Irving has been out since early April). The Cavs have been in these situations before. LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith are supposed to enjoy the challenge of the road. Instead, only LeBron was even somewhat good in the biggest road game of the year.
3. Some of you want to place the blame entirely on Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, and I can sure understand that. It’s not all his fault, but he certainly isn’t helping matters.
4. How do you not play Kyle Korver for the entire first quarter? Korver has been the Cavs’ second-biggest threat in this series, overtaking Love in the process. And it’s not like Smith was doing anything beyond running up and down the floor and committing silly fouls. Korver should’ve been on the floor six minutes into the game.
5. Korver’s first-quarter absence was so stunning that even FOX Sports Ohio analysts Mike Fratello and Austin Carr admitted to being perplexed as they sat on the set of the Cavs’ own postgame show. Then Lue made matters worse by saying the Celtics “threw us for a loop” by not playing little-used reserve Semi Ojeleye.
6. So the Cavs’ second-biggest scoring threat can’t get in the game because the Celtics don’t use the eighth or ninth player in the rotation? That makes ZERO sense. Cavs fans can only hope that wasn’t Lue’s real reason for sitting Korver for way too long.
7. As Carr pointed out, that type of coaching decision can make a player wonder what’s going on — and by the time Korver finally got in the game, he may have been a mental step behind. As a former player himself, Carr would know.
8. Meanwhile, Love scored 10 points in the first quarter — before getting pulled after picking up a second foul. It was a terrible call made by veteran official Ken Mauer, who clearly has lost a step and maybe a little eyesight, too.
9. But Lue didn’t need to take out Love. I wonder if the coach knows that NBA players get six fouls. This is Game 5 of the conference finals. You play your best guys until they foul out, with occasional rest in between. Instead, Love played 30 minutes and scored just four points the rest of the way.
10. And how do you explain Love playing 30 minutes … and Jeff Green being on the floor for 25? Green finished with eight points and five rebounds, but those solid numbers are deceiving. He has not played well at winning time in this series.
11. This isn’t to excuse Love, either. He has been much too soft against a physical opponent. He spends too much time on the perimeter and not nearly enough going inside, where he should be utilizing some pump fakes and footwork to either score or get clobbered. Unfortunately for the Cavs, I don’t see that changing. So Love will likely have to make shots from the perimeter for the Cavs to have a chance.
12. The starting backcourt of Smith (1-of-6 shooting) and George Hill (1-of-5) was again awful. I’m shocked that neither of these veterans can get it going on the road. Both look totally out of sorts in Boston.
13. Thompson was also bad, playing 26 minutes and failing to make a field goal (0-of-3 shooting). Smith and Thompson reverted to their form from regular-season, when you spent the entire time wondering why either were even on the floor.
14. LeBron finished with team-highs of 26 points and 10 rebounds, but as every local and national media outlet has pointed out already, looked incredibly gassed. Every time you waited for James to find a second wind and take over … well, you just kept waiting. It never happened.
15. Instead, he made just one basket in the fourth quarter. He also went 1-of-6 on 3-pointers for the game. James committed a game-high six turnovers.
16. LeBron on fatigue: “I had my moments, but I think everybody at this point is tired, worn down, whatever the case may be. I was still trying to make plays, put our team in position to win.”
17. The Celtics were led by Jayson Tatum’s 24 points, and Jaylen Brown scored 17. That’s a rookie and a second-year player, respectively. They have consistently outplayed the Cavs’ vets.
18. Perhaps most concerning in all of this is the fact the Cavs aren’t really getting good looks at the basket on the road. Everything has been majorly contested. With the exception of LeBron, there’s nothing happening on offense.
19. Do I think the Cavs can win two in a row and get back to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year? Yes. Yes, I absolutely, positively do. This despite all the doom and gloom of Wednesday night.
20. If the Cavs can win Game 6 at home, they will face an inexperienced Celtics team in Game 7 — and they will still have LeBron, as well as several others who have stared down some huge moments and come out on the other side. If the Cavs can get it to a Game 7, they can play easy and free. They will have nothing to lose. The Celtics, on the other hand, could be tight and potentially even terrified. They are due to lose at home, where they are undefeated in the playoffs.
21. Of course, that’s a lot of theorizing without any actual facts to back it up. So far, the Cavs have been horrible in Boston. LeBron has looked tired, Lue has looked overmatched, and the role players have looked totally lost. It only needs to change for one game. But will it? I have no clue. Not this year. Not when it comes to this Cavs team.
22. Final word from LeBron: “We’re looking forward to having an opportunity to force a Game 7. It’s up to us to see if we can come back here for one more.”