Thursday, May 5, 2016

Maximum Cleveland

King Me
So tonight in Game 2 of their second round series against Atlanta, the Cavs went full confetti bucket, nearly doubling up at the half and setting a new NBA record for made three pointers. It's rare to see the majority of an NBA game turn into garbage time, let alone a playoff turn in the second round, but that's just how hot the Cavs were. Also, just how badly Atlanta matches up with them. When JR Smith is making hands in the face shots from 27 feet and beyond, and the misses are just bouncing back to you for lay ups, you are going to blow a team out. Especially at home, when you are the better team to start.

This is the kind of game (see Spurs v Thunder Game One, or Warriors v Blazers Game One) that either get teams into false senses of security / bounce-back games later, or just signal the arrival of dominance. And as the Cavs are now 6-0 in the post-season, have worked the Hawks like a speed bag for years, and seem to be putting more and more distance between them and their opponents with each succeeding game, we have to start considering the latter possibility.

It's not just their lackluster competition... but yeah, you are forgiven for thinking it is just that. Detroit is the modern embodiment of a team that doesn't win in the playoffs, from the weak free-throw shooting dominant big to the benchies that can't make open threes but try real hard. Atlanta is the kind of star-free team that never play better in the playoffs than they do in the regular season, and LeBron James looks at them the way a hungry man looks at an all you can eat buffet.

But when you watch actual game, you see more than James doing his usual early round beatdowns against the lEast. Kevin Love finally looks right in this laundry. Kyrie Irving is a long way past the injuries. Tristan Thompson is able to do just what he does best, which is pound the glass and defend with full throat. Matthew Dellevadova still looks like hot garbage, but good plays keep resulting during his minutes. And then there's Smith.

At this point in his career, we all know what you get from Smith; the biggest wild card in the NBA. There are no bad shots for him when he's on, and no good shots when he's off. If you need him to play well to win games, you are going home, but if he's just a nice to have off the bench? You can suddenly find yourself, as in tonight's game, looking at absolute blowout margins, because there's no benchie in the NBA capable of just taking over the game like he can.

Oh, and one final point about this... I don't harbor any illusion that Tyronn Lue is any kind of NBA coaching savant, or that he has to be to win with this roster against these opponents. There's every chance that if he goes against Steve Kerr or Gregg Popovich, that he gets worked badly.

But what he does have going for him is strong buy-in from the Cavs in the here and now. When a James team is getting all cylinders firing on defense, you get a team that's putting James in transition, and that's unstoppable. It also limits the amount of stand around hero ball that they commit, and stand around hero ball is just about the only way this team gets bad on offense. By stressing tempo and simply Not Being David Blatt, Lue is far more effective, even if just in the short run, than you might expect.

I still don't think they are good enough to win the Finals, but I'm beginning to warm to the idea that the Finals may actually be, well, the Finals. Especially if Miami and Toronto go long -- there's not much chance the Hawks are making a fight of it -- or if the Heat suffer an injury, because every time Hassan Whiteside hits the floor, it's terrible. Usually rest doesn't matter in the Finals due to the crazed amounts of time off, but remember last year's series, where James had his team up early, before the Dubs went small and beat him down into paste. That was without Irving and Love, and with Smith getting starter minutes, rather than bench.

And if they keep hitting threes like they did tonight?

That Finals might go really long.

And really, really great.

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