The Cavaliers are up 2-0 in their first-round playoff series against the Pacers, but neither win was emphatic. In fact, Game 1 came down to a missed jumper at the buzzer, and Game 2 featured the Cavs almost squandering an 18-point fourth-quarter lead.
Nevertheless, LeBron James said afterward that the Cavs are “right there of what we know we can become.”
But is that necessarily true? Especially after giving up 219 points in two games to a team, Indiana (42-20), that barely finished with a winning record?
“Well, I saw some improvement,” ESPN NBA reporter and author Brian Windhorst said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Ty Lue has been talking for a while about how he’s been holding some defensive maneuvers back. Some people tried to call it a secret defense. He never actually used that word, but he did debut a little bit of that. He basically played LeBron at defensive center, and he had a pretty big defensive game.”
Indeed, James had four blocks and four steals in the 117-111 win.
“That’s the same line that Draymond Green had in Game 1 of the Warriors’ series, and he was praised for his incredible defense,” Windhorst said. “Nobody mentioned LeBron’s great defense. I thought he played pretty well. They still gave up 111 points, though. They still have defensive issues. But at least I can kind of see what they may be doing, and I can see how it may potentially work. But I wouldn’t say that they’re back or they’re ready for the stiffest test. Their stiffest competition in the East is all looking sluggish, so the fact that they’re ahead 2-0 means they’re in pretty good position.”
Still, Cleveland has struggled to maintain double-digit leads – both in the regular season and thus far in the playoffs.
“Well, it’s a two-pronged answer,” Windhorst said. “The reason they’re losing the leads is because they generally don’t get stops, so if they stop scoring at the offensive end, they don’t have the ability to hold the score because they can’t stop the other team. This sounds very basic, but it’s also true. If you’re not a good defensive team, it makes you susceptible to giving up leads because when your offense goes away, you can’t hold the score.”
The other reason goes deeper than that.
“The other thing that I noticed – and this could potentially be more of an issue long-term – is they’ve got some scars from when they blew that 26-point lead to the Hawks,” Windhorst said. “I felt that both of the last two games they’ve frozen up and gotten very tight on offense in the fourth quarter when (the Pacers) were making a run at them. And I don’t care if you’re playing the Brooklyn Nets or you’re playing the Golden State Warriors; if you’re ahead on a team in the fourth quarter, they are going to make a run at you. That’s the NBA, and they have frozen on offense the last few games. That is something that is concerning that they’re going to have to address going forward.”
Game 3 is Thursday in Indianapolis. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. ET.