For a team that won the East and finished with the third-best record in basketball, the Cleveland Cavaliers entered the playoffs with a lot of negativity, at least from the outside looking in. A clunky offense, unhappy players, social-media drama, hierarchy issues – there were a lot of things seemingly wrong with the Cavaliers.
Well, that no longer appears to be the case. The Cavs just swept the Pistons in convincing fashion, as LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving looked as good as any Big Three that we’ve seen in quite some time.
So, was all of that negativity an overreaction?
“Well, 90 percent of it was LeBron James draws a lot of attention – and rightly so,” Cavaliers radio color analyst Jim Chones said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “He’s still the best player in our league if you look at all-around ability and the impact on the games. This team was built around him, and what a lot of people don’t understand that needs to be a consideration is this has been a process for us. When he came on last season, up until now, this has been a process to find the right people to play with him. That’s why when he’s not playing, our bench is terrible – because they’re complementary players and they’re there to complement his huge skill level. But a lot of the talk and all that other stuff is just fluff. There’s no better way to prove it than the way we’ve been playing. We’ve been playing pretty well when we have to, and now that we can focus on one team, we’re pretty good.”
James averaged 22.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game against Detroit. Even better, you could sense his chemistry and rapport with Love and Irving.
“You guys aren’t privy to practice,” Chones said. “Those guys are jokesters. He and Love and Kyrie – they’re always laughing, joking and communicating. LeBron is LeBron. He understands the media and probably understands it better than any athlete in all of the top three sports. But he understands this, too: We’re not going anywhere unless he has those two guys with him. That was proven in the NBA Finals. Now they’re healthy.”
Irving led the Cavs with 27.5 points against Detroit, while Love averaged a robust 18.8 points and 12.0 rebounds.
“Kevin Love, over the last six weeks has been playing like the Kevin Love that played in Minnesota,” Chones said. “He’s getting more touches. And one thing you have to remember about Kevin Love: Kevin Love was not allowed to play during the summer. During the summer, for us, is when you get better. He wasn’t able to really get his conditioning and get his legs underneath him. So when the season started, he was still out. He hadn’t played. And then finally when he got the opportunity to play, that was his summer. That’s why he’s been up and down so much. Now he’s finally got his legs together. He’s getting his rhythm. If you had a chance to watch any of the four games against Detroit, he looked like the old Kyrie Irving.
“But probably the most pleasant surprise has been Kevin Love,” Chones continued. “Kevin Love is making the bank shot, he’s posting up, he’s being physical. Defense has not been his strength, but he’s been following through with the defensive side of the ball, being very physical. He’s made a huge difference for us.”