As the saying goes, shooters shoot, and when they shoot well… well, good things usually happen.
For the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will attempt to close out the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference Playoff series tonight at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, that’s the bottom line.
Everyone not named LeBron James is shooting a collective 39 percent in this series for Cleveland, which is the biggest reason why the Cavaliers have found ways to almost blow all of leads of 18, 17, 16, and 11 points, respectively, in the last four games of the series.
Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue has a simply tonic to the ailment of blowing big leads.
“If we make some more open shots, we’ll be fine,” Lue responded at shootaround Friday morning when asked about holding on to those leads.
Even with the Non-LeBrons shooting the aforementioned 39 percent, the Pacers have chosen to not throw two defenders at James often in this series. In fact, according to ESPN, Indiana has opted to double-team James on 16 plays in the entire series.
It’s paid for it, too, as James is averaging 34.8 points, 11.4 rebounds and 8.0 assists in the five games and shooting 55 percent from the field. In Game 5, in full attack mode, James made 12 buckets within five feet of the hoop en route to a 44-point performance.
Pacers coach Nate McMillan said Lue altering the Cavs’ lineup has played into his decision to not throw double-teams at James in this series, Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith replacing Jeff Green and Rodney Hood in the Cleveland starting unit.
“They’ve changed their lineup and put 3-point shooters around him,” McMillan said. “Basically, what they’re saying is if you help, we’re going to shoot the 3-ball. Which is what they want to do anyway. If you don’t help, he’s going to drive the ball to the basket.”
So, what can the Pacers do in an effort to slow down James, who since Game 1, has played like The Terminator on Hardwood.
“We didn’t do a good job of trying to keep him in front,” McMillan said. “We held the perimeter and were too concerned about 3-point shooters and allowed him to play in the paint most of [Game 5].
“That is not what we want to do, to give him room to operate and go to his second and third moves in the paint. We can do a better job.”
Kevin Love, averaging only 11.8 points and shooting a paltry 32.8 percent from the field in the first give games of the series, said the Non-LeBrons’ shooting struggles are tied to the Pacers’ decision to play James straight up and not give them open looks.
“That’s why you see us on the weak side. It’s Swish (Smith), Kyle (Korver) and myself over there setting picks for each other, so there’s going to be a lot of swing-swing action,” he said “There’s going to be an outlet guy at the top who can shoot it as well so if they do double-team him we’ve got to be ready to knock down shots.”
Cleveland has won 13 consecutive games in closeout situations. James, himself, has prevailed in 11 straight and has yet to lose a series in which his teams have more than one chance to slam the door. Game 7, if necessary, would be played Sunday in Cleveland.
“I’m just a piece of that puzzle,” James said at shootaround Friday. “Not saying that it can happen tonight, but we’re going to try to put ourselves in position to close out and we’ll see what happens.”