Orbiting Cleveland: Cavaliers Big Three shine in first playoff victory

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Sixty-nine points. Twenty-one rebounds. Thirteen assists. Those were the combined numbers for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in Sunday’s 113-100 first round dismantling of the Boston Celtics.

It was an apropos night for the Big Three contingent. After all, games like this are the exact reason as to why these three came together.

Individually, it was Irving who made the largest statement in his first career playoff game. The talented guard went 11-for-21 from the field while scoring 30 points. As we expected, the stage was not too bright for Irving, whose continued growth this season might just be the most positive Cavaliers’ storyline.

For James, it was an up-and-down performance. After a hot start, it was clear his shot was a tad off, though he still finished 8-for-18 from the field with 20 points, seven assists and six rebounds.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing about his performance was the fact that he was clearly not placing too much stress on himself, instead focusing on getting all of his teammates involved. It’s clear that much has changed since the last time a James-led Cavaliers team was in the postseason. The burden that he used to carry is gone, and his body language shows that he relishes that fact.

For Love, it initially looked as if he might be the subject of much criticism. After getting off to a slow start (2-for-11 from the floor), he came alive in the third quarter and finished the night with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.

All in all, it amounted to a 13-point victory, but here’s the remarkable thing. Trust your eyes and be honest with yourself. Overall, yesterday was not a great performance for this Cavaliers team.

They struggled throughout much of the first half and really did not find a consistent rhythm until the third quarter. Now, trust the numbers. The Celtics actually shot better than the Cavaliers, shooting 46.8 percent compared to Cleveland’s 45.1 percent. Boston had 24 assists compared to Cleveland’s 19. The Celtics performed better at the free-throw line, converting 81.8 percent of their attempts compared to Cleveland’s 78.8 percent.

Basically, the Celtics did better than the Cavaliers in some significant offensive  categories, but it still only amounted to a 13-point loss? So, here’s the scary part. What would the score have been had the Cavaliers been clicking on all cylinders? What happens when this team does?

That question was partially answered during a portion of the third quarter. At the 9:34 mark, a Timofey Mozgov bucket off a Love assist sparked an 18-4 run, which was as good a five minutes of basketball as we’ve seen the Cavaliers play this season.

Transition threes? Irving’s had that covered, knocking down a beauty with 8:52 left in the quarter. Power dunks? James found Tristan Thompson for a beauty at the 6:07 mark. Solid post moves? Love exhibited just that with 5:16 left in the quarter.

When the dust had settled, a six-point lead had suddenly widened to 20. From there, the team was able to put things into cruise control to hold onto victory. Yes, the Celtics did cut the lead to six at one point, but it never appeared as if the Cavs were threatened.

Well, if they were ever threatened, it wasn’t for long, because at that point, Cleveland then rattled off 12-straight points to turn that six-point lead back to 18.

Perhaps that’s what makes this team so dangerous. Even when they’re teetering, it’s clear that they’re just one big bucket away from a run — a run that could potentially bust the game wide open. They’ve shown that on so many occasions this season, and Sunday’s shellacking was just the latest example.

In this all, head coach David Blatt deserves plenty of credit. Probably much more credit than he’ll ever receive.

That’s the price that head coach pays when LeBron James is on his team, but at the very least, one has to give Blatt credit for how he utilized such a formidable — and deep — rotation on this team.

Take James Jones for example. On Sunday, the backup forward played 15 minutes and scored eight points, including two huge 3-pointers. This guy was an afterthought for the first three months of the season, but he has since developed into a very nice cog in this Cavaliers machine. Credit to Blatt for that.

What about Matthew Dellavedova? For months, everyone has said that backup point guard was a problem area on this team. Everyone claimed Dellavedova was being overexposed by playing too many minutes.

Blatt stuck to his guns, and Dellavedova continues to play a key role on this team, and an important too. No one seems to have complained about him anytime lately either.

Everyone’s role on this team is so well defined, and everyone is making the most of that role. When this team plays as one, it’s nearly impossible to imagine any team beating it four times in seven games.

This is not meant to immediately predict an NBA Championship, but after Sunday’s win, there’s plenty of reason for optimism. An uneven performance still equaled a 13-point playoff victory, and that’s saying something.

Only one type of a team can play uneven basketball and still get by — a great one.
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About Steve Orbanek

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