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Twenty-five random pindowns — and a prediction — ahead of tonight’s Game between between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers…
1. Look for LeBron James to revert back into full attack mode tonight. After posting an enormous 46-point, 12-rebound, five-assist, two-steal performance in a 100-97 win in Game 2, James returned to (for him) a normal performance in Game 3 with 28 points, 12 boards and eight dimes.
2. James has been in this situation before — down 2-1 in a series — but never in the first round. Knowing full well this group of Cavaliers is probably not built to withstand the mammoth challenge of being down 3-1 in a series, look for him to be much more aggressive tonight.
3. A big question about the first three games of this series is, what the heck happened to the high-powered Cleveland offense? Entering play Sunday, the Cavaliers were rated 15th of the 16 NBA playoff teams in terms of offensive rating. They are averaging a league-worst 90.0 points in three playoff games.
4. The Pacers deserve a ton of credit for what’s ailing the Cavaliers. Boasting the top-rated defensive team in the playoffs so far, Indiana has done so by impressively shutting down Cleveland’s transition offense.
5. During the regular season, the Cavaliers averaged 1.131 points per possession on transition opportunities. During the first three games of this series, that number has been whittled to 0.774 points per possession, the lowest number of any playoff team.
6. How has Indiana shut Cleveland’s water off in transition? By making life difficult for the Cavaliers in halfcourt sets, then hustling back on defense and then contesting whatever looks Cleveland does get in the open floor.
7. What can the Cavaliers do to negate what’s ailed them offensively in this series? Simply put, make shots. Cleveland is shooting only 44.3 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from the 3-point line. During the regular season, the Cavaliers shot 47.6 perfect from the floor and 37.2 percent from deep.
8. It sounds so simple to say, “make shots,” but that’s how Cleveland is built. James in attack mode, dive-bombing the bucket and either finishing or kicking out to shooters. James has been doing his part, averaging 32.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.3 steals in 42.0 minutes per game.
9. However, his teammates have, to be blunt, let him down. Expected wingman Kevin Love is averaging 14.3 points, while shooting only 40.5 percent overall and taking only 12.3 shots per game. Love, who is averaging 10.3 boards per game, is shooting an excellent 47.1 percent from long distance, but is getting only 5.7 attempts in the first three games.
10. Love’s shot attempts align with his regular-season numbers (12.4 shots, 5.6 from deep), but in the postseason, All-Stars are counted on to up their game and as a five-time All-Star, more is expected… and needed, from him if the Cavs are going to make a deep playoff run.
11. Love getting only two shot attempts, one coming with 7.6 seconds to play on an impressive chase-down offensive rebound and corner 3-ball, in the second half of Game 3 is inexcusable.
12. The blame for that is three-fold: 1, Love himself. He simply has to be more assertive, get to the block and demand the basketball. 2, James. If LeBron points to Love and says, “get on the block,” think Love won’t listen? 3. Coach Tyronn Lue. The guy who guided the Cavs to the 2016 NBA title simply must get Love more touches. It’s his job as head coach to make sure it’s done.
13. One final note on Love — he is shooting only 35.0 percent on shots inside the 3-point line in this series, showing how ineffective he’s been when he has gone to the block, where he has traditionally made life miserable for the opposition, either with his baby-hook or his faceup-bank shot game.
14. George Hill would likely be the guy to become the much-needed No. 3 scorer in this series, but has been limited to 20.7 minutes per game after being hit by an illegal screen by Indiana’s Trevor Booker in Game 1.
15. Hill is listed as questionable for tonight’s game after suffering from back spasms at halftime of Game 3, but the thought here is he won’t be able to give it a go. He is shooting 56.3 percent from the field in the series, an impressive 70.0 percent on 2-point attempts, but he’s taken only 5.3 shots per game.
16. If Hill can’t go, Lue said earlier in the day at shootaround Jose Calderon will get the call to start at the point. The 36-year-old veteran started 32 games during the regular season and the Cavaliers were 23-9 in those games.
17. However, he was not effective in Games 1 and 2, as he had difficulties keeping up with the speed of the Indiana guards. Cleveland has been outscored by 12 points in the 23 minutes Calderon played in Games 1 and 2. He has shot just 2-of-7, turned the basketball over three times and committed six fouls. He did not play in Game 3.
18. Lue also said at shootaround he is going to give Tristan Thompson some minutes tonight, at least he intends to. A starter on the Cleveland teams that reached the last three NBA Finals, Thompson struggled on and off the court this season in posting his worst season of his career, while dealing with poor production, injuries and off-the-court issues.
19. It’s amazing to ponder the two guys who have received the majority of the ire from Cleveland fans all season — Thompson and J.R. Smith — are now being expected to make positive contributions. Both were starters this season, but were demoted to the bench, though Smith returned to the starting lineup for Game 2.
20. To his credit, Smith has responded in this series and averaging 9.3 points per game, is actually Cleveland’s third-leading scorer in the series, behind only James (327) and Love (14.3). Smith is shooting only 40.7 percent from the field, 31.3 percent from deep in 32.7 minus per game, also third-most on the team.
21. Smith has (finally) reverted back to giving the effort he did during this group’s first two trips to the Finals on the defensive end, especially as the main guy tasked with chasing Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo all over the floor.
22. If Thompson is indeed called upon by Lue, his minutes will come at the expense of Jeff Green. A starter in Game 1, the bottom has fallen out on Green’s game in this series, averaging just 2.7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 18.3 minutes, shooting a frigid 18.8 percent from the field and an even-worse 14.3 percent from the 3-point line.
23. Green is not alone in struggling in this season, though. Jordan Clarkson, the NBA’s second-leading scorer off the bench during the regular season, is averaging only 3.3 points per game. Rodney Hood (7.3), Larry Nance Jr. (6.0) and Kyle Korver (4.0) simply must contribute more than they have if the Cavaliers are to even get out of the first round.
24. Who would’ve believed defense would be the strength of this Cavaliers team in the playoffs? After being 29th out of 30 NBA teams in terms of defensive rating during the regular season, Cleveland is allowing the second-fewest points per game in the playoffs, 95.7.
25. For what it’s worth — and probably not much — the feeling here is LeBron comes out aggressive, sets the tone and Love and the rest of the supporting cast finally respond and this seres returns to Cleveland knotted, 2-2, and the basket world is put back on its axis. That feeling is complicated by me not believing Hill will be able to play tonight, but until it’s actually accomplished, I won’t believe an Eastern Conference team can beat a LeBron-led team four times in seven games.