Random dribbles on the Cavaliers’ demoralizing 92-90 road loss to the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of their first-round series Friday.
1. How does a team built a 17-point lead at halftime, use mostly the same players in the second half, then get outscored by 19?
2. Honestly. Someone please explain. I really don’t understand.
3. I’ve been covering this game a long time, in love with it even longer. But this is something I’ve never been able to figure out. Mostly, I can’t figure out why it almost seems to keep happening this season’s Cavs.
4. Two main people return from the Cavs of last year, and they are the two most important people — LeBron James, and Tyronn Lue. That’s the star player and the coach. They are the common denominators. And the same type of thing happened too often last year.
5. I would have a hard time blaming James. He’s not perfect, but he is the best basketball player in the world. That leaves Lue.
6. Granted, it’s pretty evident the Cavs really miss Kyrie Irving. Aside from James, they have no dynamic players. They have LeBron and … Kevin Love?
7. But I wouldn’t call Love “dynamic.” He’s more like a really good big man. For whatever reason, he has repeatedly failed to come through for the Cavs in a major way when it means the most.
8. Love usually compiles good numbers. He finished with 19 points (second on the team to LeBron’s 28) and six rebounds in Game 3. But Love was MIA in a big way in the second half. He took just TWO shots in the final 24 minutes. The second of those attempts didn’t take place until he fired up a desperation 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds left. He made it.
9. Why can’t the Cavs keep Love involved? Or is it Love who allows himself to be take out of it with a lack of aggressiveness?
10. I honestly don’t know. I just know Love and the Cavs are always good — just never as good as they could be.
11. As for Lue, it’s safe to say he’s not great at overcoming situations when his team hits a snag. When things start to go bad, he’ll call a timeout, but nothing ever really gets better.
12. Pacers coach Nate McMillan is the opposite of that. His team has faced huge deficits twice in this series — and staged furious rallies both times. Interestingly, both of those rallies came after halftime.
13. That leads me to believe McMillan and his staff saw what was wrong in the first half and made the necessary adjustments in the locker room at halftime. Lue did not.
14. Also, McMillan has one of the all-time great assistant coaches in Dan Burke. Burke is known as a basketball genius when it comes to defense. The players love him and listen. Same for McMillan.
15. The Cavs have some fine assistants, too. Associate head coach Larry Drew is among them. The Cavs looked like a well-oiled machine when Drew filled in for Lue for nine games after the All-Star break. They have sort of gone down the tubes with Lue back in charge.
16. That’s not me ripping Lue. That’s me stating a fact.
17. When a reporter asked Lue what went wrong in the second half, he just stammered. “Um,” he said, with a long pause. “Could you ask the question again?”
18. It makes you think Lue doesn’t know the answer. That’s not good for the Cavs, who trail this series 2-1 with another game at Indiana on Sunday. It makes you think things may not get better.
19. Some of the Cavs’ issues this season have been exclusive to Lue. We can say that with a great deal of certainty after watching Drew coach the team. We can also say that with a great deal of certainty after watching general manager Koby Altman and team owner Dan Gilbert turn over the roster in February. The issues with Lue on the sidelines remain the same.
20. But Lue is the coach, and that is the way it will stay for the rest of the season. For the sake of the franchise, here’s to hoping he gets it figured out.
21. As for the players, it’s hard to know where to go from here. Love was invisible in the second half. Same goes for George Hill, who was barely used after scoring all of his 13 points in the first half. Jose Calderon and Tristan Thompson didn’t play.
22. Thompson hasn’t played in either of the last two games and only got in for garbage time at the end of Game 1. He had an awful regular season, but it may not be a bad idea to give him another chance — even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes.
23. Calderon had a very nice regular season. He unselfishly keeps the ball moving and makes open shots. The Cavs could have used him in the third quarter when the offense was left for dead.
24. I understand that playoff rotations are typically shortened, and Lue did use nine guys. But desperate times sometimes call for in-game adjustments and utilizing your deep bench.
25. Kyle Korver (zero points) didn’t have it. Jordan Clarkson (two points) didn’t have it. This isn’t the time of year to stick with guys who aren’t offering anything. As LeBron said afterward, “It’s the postseason. I think every game is a must-win.”
26. So you need to coach that way. And the players need to approach it that way.
27. James also finished with 12 rebounds and eight assists. He is hard to blame, because he received no help in that second half. But he was a non-factor in the third quarter and didn’t really show up big again until making a trio of threes late in the game.
28. Meanwhile, Pacers forward Bojan Bogdanovic went off for 30, many coming on 7-of-9 shooting on 3-pointers. The rest of the Pacers went 1-of-17 on threes. So the Pacers couldn’t shoot straight, and still won.
29. The Cavs did an excellent job on Victor Oladipo … and still lost. Oladipo was limited to five points in the first half, before finishing with 18.
30. We could keep going on and on here, but what’s the point? The bottom line on this series is the Cavs only need to win one in Indiana to regain homecourt advantage. They could get it Sunday night and suddenly, all of this will mean a lot less. The sad thing for the Cavs, though, is they already had a playoff road win, and choked it away.
31. Finally, a Twitter poll by a Cleveland reporter asked followers: “Will you be mad if LeBron leaves?” Of the first 1,000 to respond, 74 percent said no. But there will be time enough to talk about all that. What matters now to the Cavs is Sunday night. Win, and everyone starts believing again. Lose, and expect to see a lot more Twitter polls.