Dribbles: For Cavs, focus and Pacers a real problem

J.R. Smith and the Cavaliers have their work cut out for them after falling hard to the Pacers on Sunday.

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 98-80 embarrassment of a home loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Sunday.

1. You wait all season for the playoffs … and then this.

2. Now, did we think the Cavs would go undefeated in the postseason? Certainly not. Is it stunning that the Pacers were able to steal one in Cleveland? Probably not. They are a team that no one has appreciated, a team that has played hard and smart and overachieved all season. So this isn’t necessarily about the fact the Cavs lost. It’s how they lost that’s troubling.

3. Right away, the Pacers played with fire. They were physical. They moved the ball. They exhibited great confidence. Meanwhile, the Cavs appeared as if they were trying to slog their way through a preseason game.

4. How does this happen? How does a team with LeBron James look so out of sorts at the most meaningful time of year? This is the Cavs’ introduction to the playoffs? This is how the Cavs respond after both James and coach Tyronn Lue have been preaching some form of “just get me to the playoffs” all year?

5. Ding, ding, ding. It’s playoff time, fellas. Wake up.

6. James and the Cavs finally did get it together at the start of the second quarter, but that won’t cut it. Not in the postseason. Not against this team. Not when Pacers guard Victor Oladipo is on a one-man mission to silence those who mocked him and the Paul George trade at the beginning of the season. Oladipo is all class, all hustle and capable of scoring on anyone, anytime. He did whatever he wanted on this day, finishing with 32 points and proving to be the best player on the court.

7. Granted, the Cavs probably won’t finish a miserable 8-of-34 shooting on 3-pointers again. They should do better than 12-of-20 on free throws. And James compiled a triple double (24 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) but went just 7-of-17 from the floor. He too is likely to be better next time.

8. But the Cavs can’t pass this off as “just missing shots.”

9. Basically, the way they played in the regular season won’t be good enough for the playoffs. They have to get focused, take care of the ball, stop being a step late on covering perimeter shooters, and come out with some energy. Sunday’s awful first quarter was on everybody, LeBron included.

10. As usual, James seemed unshaken after the defeat. “I’m down 0-1 in the first round. I was down 3-1 in the Finals,” he said. “I’m the last person to ask about how I’ll handle the next couple days (before Game 2).”

11. LeBron has earned the right to speak confidently. The Cavs could come back and win four straight. But Oladipo and the Pacers aren’t going to just hand it to them. They will have to take it.

12. Lue has to do a better job with the rotation. This has been a season-long issue. He stays with guys who aren’t getting the job done too long. He likes Jeff Green because of Green’s defense. But Green didn’t defend all that well Sunday and looked timid on his way to an 0-of-7 shooting nightmare.

13. And I write that after Lue did try to mix it up Sunday, using 10 players in the first quarter. But the middle of the first quarter is too late to try to make sure your team is prepared. Is this all on Lue? Of course not. Still, his game management has left him open to question most of the year.

14. There isn’t much of a bright side in a loss like this. Aside from James, J.R. Smith (15 points, 6-of-11 shooting) and Larry Nance Jr. (10 points, five rebounds in 30 minutes) played well. Most everyone else looked a little scared.

15. Kevin Love yanked down a game-high 17 rebounds, and that does indeed count for something. But he took just eight shots and scored nine points. Love is an All-Star and supposed to be the Cavs’ second option. He can’t shrink in the moment. He has to be aggressive, get some shots at the basket, create some contact and finish. No more excuses or playing soft.

16. Pacers coach Nate McMillan and his staff did an excellent job of devising a defensive plan. It consisted of nothing more than convincing the players to bend their knees, shuffle their feet and dig deep. McMillan has always been a vastly underrated basketball mind. The Cavs will have to counter with sharp passes, solid screens and attacking the basket aggressively.

17. Pacers center Myles Turner also had his way with the Cavs’ big men, finishing with 16 points and protecting the rim. Forward Bojan Bogdanovic added 15 points and swingman Lance Stephenson had 12 off the bench. All of these guys played fearless basketball. The Cavs allowed it. They should be mad they got pushed around and start acting determined to do something about it.

18. One game hardly makes a season — or in this case, a postseason. But the Cavs looked bad and their coach a bit confused. Nothing irritates fans more than those in-game camera shots of Lue standing on the sidelines with a blank expression on his face, the game slipping away.

19. Bottom line: If the Cavs didn’t know it before, they’d better realize that this Pacers team is for real. George has been gone all season and it hasn’t mattered. The Pacers are better than last year and have absolutely nothing to lose. They aren’t supposed to get it done here. But get it done is exactly what they will do if the Cavs don’t start showing some cohesion and some passion. And they’d better do it, like, right now.

7 Comments on "Dribbles: For Cavs, focus and Pacers a real problem"

  1. brett bland | April 15, 2018 at 10:03 pm |

    The blame should be put on Ty Lue. His lineups make no sense. Love and hill need to step it up too. Jeff Green can not start. He disappears too much. Nance, Love, Lebron, Hill and Hood should start. Rotate in Green, Clarkson, smith, korver.

  2. Aurora Dizon | April 15, 2018 at 10:37 pm |

    Accept it that our players are not good compared to other players. Lue really is not a intelligent coach and Lebron cannot carry a team anymore because the others are better in numbers. Blatt I think is better but he has no PR. He is from Princeton so he looks down on others, players and media. I hate myself but I still want to believe Lebron can do it all. I am an avid fan of his but now aware of his flaws.

  3. Couldn’t have said it better, Sam.
    Same lethargic start they have had ALL SEASON LONG. THIS IS COACH “LUE-SER’s” FAULT FOR NOT FIXING THIS IN THE SEASON. ONLY played “High Energy Cedi” 2 minutes too????
    Only good thing I saw was that he only played TT 2 minutes also. That’s 2 minutes too long.
    You’re right Sam, Wake up time was here today. They weren’t awake for it. Is it too late?
    The game pretty much ended with several Cavs on the court pointing fingers at each other.
    They should’ve been pointing to the bench, blank expression & all, Sam. My Descriptor : deer in the headlights, but even that is demeaning to the deer. Maybe someone is RE-Thinking that “we don’t need to practice” statement now. Someone should’ve practiced free throws & 3 pt shots along with Defense. AND……..
    LET DREW (not Lue) COACH.

    • Hi energy Cedi can’t hit the side of a barn with his jump shot lately. How is Lue going to play him with an offense ALREADY struggling? Defense was not the issue after the first quarter.
      Since Lue returned to the bench, this was the third (maybe fourth) time we’ve found ourselves behind by double digits. We came back in a couple of those games and won. Now it’s the playoffs and it’s happening again.
      Like Sam mentioned, he needs to look at his rotations and starters and figure out the right combos before Wednesday or it may be too late to save the season and keeping LBJ here in the future.

  4. Nailed it Sam about the frustration with Lue’s look of cluelessness and blank expression. The Pacers were the matchup the Cavs didn’t need. A now 4 – 1 season record suggest that we simply don’t match up well against them at all. How is Cedi Osman, the one guy on the roster who brings energy and defensive hustle not in the rotation? Beggars belief really. I have said it all season long, I would not be surprised to see the Cavs out in the first round. Especially against the Pacers.

  5. Well, Lue’s devotion to 31 year old Jeff Green resulted in 0-7 shooting. You have to start Nance. You have to play your young guys. The Pacers got rid of older, slower Paul George; they re-loaded with Oladipo and Sabonis. They got younger and faster.

    Lue will stick with JR, Green, hell, don’t be surprised if he starts Tristan again. The man Lue has no Clue what to do!

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