It’s somewhat ironic that the start of the NBA post season coincides with the end of tax season. After all, teams work hard all year to find loopholes in the salary cap to avoid tax penalties and try to position themselves leading up to the playoff deadline to insure they get the maximum return. When the Cavs filed the 1040 on their regular season, complete with the deductions they could claim due to injury or lack of interest or effort, they undoubtedly hoped that the accounting of their flaws and mistakes wouldn’t come back to bite them in the games that matter.
The first game up on their ledger balanced out better than the previous four of the regular season, but there were still some issues that wound up taxing them more than they should have. The dividends accrued mostly on the offensive side of the ball, as the Cavs hovered upwards of 60% shooting for most of the contest, while the defensive side remained mostly insolvent, as they frequently weren’t able to exclude the Pacers from scoring when they chose to do so. Yet, the biggest rollover bugaboo that threatened the Cavs’ success rate was their failure to claim all of their charitable contributions (i.e. nearly half of their numerous trips to the charity stripe).
Though the mental errors came close to costing them the game, and subsequently their home court advantage in round one, the Cavs ultimately came out ahead by the slimmest of margins. Here’s a quick audit of the action…
The Cavs stuck to their usual game plan of getting the ball into Kevin Love’s hands early and often. Kev responded with a fairly stellar opening quarter of work, scoring 10 points on two triples, an inside bucket and a trip to the line. He even blocked a Myles Turner shot, but got called for a phantom foul on Jeff Teague. Kyrie also got into the act with eight points in the period, almost all of which were on drives to the hoop. Though he couldn’t hit much from range (just 1-9 for the game), he was also actively dishing dimes early (four in the first alone), including this terrific one to Tristan Thompson…
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) April 15, 2017
LeBron seemed content to conserve energy and facilitate for most of his first quarter time. He dispensed three dimes of his own (one each to Kev and Richard Jefferson for threes), and didn’t even attempt a shot until almost the 10 minute mark. He did show off his new free throw form though, knocking down his first two of the night before going coast-to-coast on a layup. As well as the Cavs’ offense was clicking in the opening frame (65% shooting), however, the Pacers kept it close with a couple of threes from Paul George and some hot shooting of their own (56%). Cavs led 34-29 after one.
While there was sadly no re-emergence of the wildly successful Jumbo Lineup from February to start the second period, 4/5ths of it was on the floor with LBJ, Channing Frye, RJ and Kyle Korver. The difference was in the DWill (Deron for Derrick). One other notable DNP-CD was Iman Shumpert, who surprisingly stayed glued to the pine for the duration. At any rate, this lineup held it’s own for a few minutes… at least until RJ fouled PG-13 on a three ball, and Kevin Love re-entered. This quarter featured a rekindling of the LBJ/PG showdown, with each star alternating between being an unstoppable scorer and a superior passer. George tallied 10 points (with two more triples) and three assists, while LeBron equaled him with 10 points of his own (drawing three and-ones) and pitched (literally on this one) another five dimes. The King also seemed to float in mid-air on the receiving end of this reverse alley-oop from Kyrie…
LeBron from Kyrie. Nuff said. pic.twitter.com/JabGU1jlSj
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 15, 2017
Here it is again in PhantomCam:
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2017
Though the Cavs extended their lead by as much as eight points in the quarter, as they remained hot from the field, they got outworked on the boards and gave up second chance opportunities to the Pacers. Also, late in the period was when their free throw issues started to materialize. Love split three trips to the line, then Kyrie missed his only attempt of the game, and finally LeBron couldn’t convert his third and-one at the end of the half. Indiana also got some great energy off the bench from Lance “Romance” Stephenson and Kevin Seraphin to stay within seven at the break, 66-59.
LeBron and George continued their tete a tete, trading buckets to open the second half. They each hit a three ball as well, as the lead see-sawed between 4-6 points. Just as in the second quarter, however, every time the Cavs looked like they might be on the verge of separation, the Pacers fought back. Indiana eventually cut the lead down to two (80-78) on a Myles Turner free throw… but then the Cavs buckled down and played on of their best stretches of defense on the night. Kyrie stole the ball from PG-13, then two possessions later, RJ drew a charge on George. After a Frye deep three, Kyrie and LeBron pried the ball loose from Seraphin during this mad scrum, leading to a transition dunk…
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2017
The 10-0 run put them up 12 before Seraphin and Stephenson hit consecutive buckets to close the quarter with the Cavs up 92-84.
With Paul George on the bench and LeBron on the floor to start the fourth, things appeared to favor the Cavs… especially when Kyle Korver finally got free for a shot, and then “Cav Killer” CJ Miles missed an open three. But, there’s a reason why the Pacers were 5-1 to end the season once Lance returned to the fold (the only loss was the 135-130 double OT game to the Cavs incidentally). Stephenson proceeded to do his best PG-13 imitation, scoring eight points with three rebounds and an assist over the next four minutes. Only a Deron Williams triple (on an assist from LeBron) and a bucket by LBJ interrupted the Lance onslaught. Finally, Channing Frye hit his third three of the night to put the Cavs back up by nine halfway through the period. But, the Pacers took advantage of three missed chip shots at the rim by LeBron and Kyrie, attacked the offensive glass with Turner, and ripped off an 11-0 run over the next three minutes to take their first lead since early in the first quarter… 105-103. At that point, LBJ decided to take no further risk with chip shots, and threw down this hellacious dunk in traffic…
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2017
Once again, the Cavs cranked up the defense (in particular Kyrie), and shut the Pacers down for the next three minutes. Kyrie grabbed two boards, had a terrific block on Jeff Teague, and stole the ball from Turner with just over a minute left and a four point lead. That should have been enough to just about ice the game (or would have been if not for two more missed free throws), but Kyrie drove into traffic and got blocked by Turner, and then J.R. threw the ball away. With 40 seconds left, Paul George did what superstars do, and drained a contested three from just past the Cavs’ logo to pull the Pacers within one. Twenty seconds later, LeBron hoisted his own contested three that fell short, and the Pacers had the option to use the remaining time for a last shot to steal the game. The Cavs had a foul to give, and RJ used it with 10 seconds to go. The Pacers got the ball into PG-13, but LeBron closed on him with J.R. to trap him and force him to pass it to CJ Miles. The “Cav Killer” wound up with a relatively good look after RJ flew past him, but he came up just short on his 14 footer. Cavs escape, 109-108.
Will You Take An IOU? Before the game, LeBron claimed to the media that he was going to improve his free throw shooting for the playoffs after a sub-par regular season at the line.
LeBron promised he'd shoot 80 percent from line in playoffs. He appears to have a new routine after shooting .674 in reg. season. #Cavs
— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) April 15, 2017
He didn’t quite reach that bar, going 6-9 from the charity stripe. Though he clearly had a different stance and motion at the line (he admitted to working with Kyle Korver in his post game comments), the attempts that were dropping in the first half (4-5) met with less success in the second (2-4). The rest of the Cavs were worse, however, going just 14-27 from the line (52%) for the game. Say what you want about the shoddy pick and roll defense or the missed chip shots, but this would have been the most glaring statistic had the Cavs let this game slip away. Given that Indiana is one of the best free throw shooting teams (at around 80% collectively), and made 17-20 (85%) of their shots from the line tonight, the Cavs simply have to do better on this front.
Withholding Tax. The rebounding advantage wasn’t statistically all that lopsided (50-43 in favor of the Pacers), but it sure seemed like Indiana came down with opportune rebounds for second chances when they needed them most. Tristan was the only Cav even close to double digits (he had 13), and the next closest was LBJ with six. Kevin Love in particular was a relative non-factor on the glass (four boards), and lost his individual battle with Thaddeus Young (nine). Sure, the Cavs had less offensive glass opportunities given how well they shot the ball, but they fumbled away at least four rebounds they couldn’t quite control (paging Edy Tavares…).
Limited Liability Partners. In the first half, the Cavs once again were susceptible to the high pick and roll action being run by their opponent. There was still too much penetration and easy layups for the Pacers. Also, despite attempts to double team Paul George, he went off for 29 points (9-19, 6-8 from deep) with seven assists. The Cavs did a better job in the second half, particularly in three minute spurts toward the end of the third and fourth quarters respectively. They still allowed the Pacers to shoot 49% (46% from downtown), and reach the 108 point level that they were giving up during the regular season.
Does He Still Count As A Dependent? Though many Cavs fans might put this in the Genius category, Iman Shumpert probably wouldn’t agree. After seeing regular minutes (even with sub-par results) down the stretch, Shump was a healthy scratch in this one. After the game, Ty Lue said it was tough for him not to play Iman, but didn’t really elaborate on the topic. We may still see Shump in this series, but maybe only in case of injury or foul trouble.
#cavs secret plan: Bench Shumpert.
— Chris Parker (@CRS_1ne) April 15, 2017
Death… Taxes… LeBron James… In his 200th playoff game, all LeBron did was put up 32 points on 12-20 shots (2-3 from deep) with 13 assists, six boards and three steals. Though he looked to be conserving energy early, he pulled off some pretty amazing plays in this game. He was likely tired late, playing all but five minutes, missing seven shots and 2-4 free throws in the second half. But, he carried the Cavs, notching his 18th straight first round playoff victory. Here are all of his highlights…
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2017
Net Capital Gain. It was almost like there were two Kyries out on the floor in this game. In the first half, he was a dynamo on offense, getting to the rack and dishing out dimes. Even though his outside shot wasn’t falling (only 1-9 from three), he was doing other things to help keep the offense humming. In the second half, he embraced his defensive side, pulling off a couple of key thefts while also blocking a shot and snagging a few boards. His offense suffered a bit with the increased focus on his D, but hopefully he’ll start putting together more complete efforts going forward.
Joint Return. Tristan and Kevin didn’t play as much (31 minutes apiece), but each brought a dimension to the game. TT was dynamite on the glass with 13 rebounds, and Kev contributed an offensive boost in the first half with his 17 points. Overall, the Cavs would do well to find ways to get both big men more involved in the offense in the second half of games to take advantage of mismatches.
Earned Interest. The Cavs shot the ball extremely well (54% for the game), and outside of Kyrie, they shot it extremely well from three also (10-19). Channing Frye was the big gun off the bench with 11 points in just 16 minutes on 4-5 shooting (3-4 from deep). RJ and Deron Williams each hit a three, and Kyle Korver hit a foot-on-the-line two. Nobody on the bench played more than 18 minutes, as Ty Lue relied heavily on the starters, but they all played with energy. J.R. Smith also hit a three, but otherwise had a fairly quiet night offensively with just six points, as he spent most of his time chasing PG-13 around on the other end.
I hate doing taxes, almost as much as I hate watching the Cavs miss free throws or give up double digit leads in the fourth quarter. But, I like getting a return back, just as I like rooting for a team that still finds a way to get the job done. That’s sort of where I find myself at one game into the post season. It wasn’t always a pleasant experience to go through, but I’m still satisfied to a degree with the results. Could the Cavs be better? Of course. But, I didn’t see a lack of effort or will in this game, as much as I saw mental mistakes or lack of focus at times. That’s essentially the key to free throw shooting, making chip shot layups or remembering the correct defensive rotations… mental focus. And, that will be the difference between the Cavs sweeping this first round series, or allowing it to stretch out to five or six games. The Pacers are a team that the Cavs can survive making mental mistakes against. That won’t be the case in the next round. Here’s hoping they can sharpen that focus and bring us all many happy returns.