Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cavs-Raptors Game Four: Coaches Matter

Open Mouth, Insert Hook
Up until tonight's game, the 12th that the Cavs have played in the 2016 NBA playoffs, I wasn't sure they had actually faced a good team. Toronto had gotten here through a home crowd, through two middling and injured opponents, with barely more than a .500 record. PG Kyle Lowry, a down-ballot MVP pick for his best in conference work during the regular season, was playing terrible basketball after injury, with a visible crisis of confidence. C Jonas Valanciunas, necessary or so it seemed for his ability to provide interior scoring to balance the 3-ball attack, hasn't played in weeks due to injury. And with the Cavs hitting a historic number of threes, and indulging in ball movement that has been among the best of any James Gang team, the Cavs went 10-0 to start the playoffs and looked to be on cruise control for the Finals.

Even after Game 3, where the Raptors strung together a win thanks to a historic effort from going to be rich and disappoint some team terribly C Bismack Biyombo, it seemed like the only difference that was going to make would be to make the Cavs clinch at home in Game 5. Surely Game 4 would see the Cavs set the world to rights; it is, after all, what James has done his whole career.

And then the Raps went up big in the first half, with Lowry playing out of his mind, pushing the lead to 19 by intermission.

Which didn't hold, of course. PG Kyrie Irving heated up in the third. The threes started falling. The lead went away, bit by bit. In the fourth, Cleveland hit every shot they took for the first eight (!) minutes. Toronto kept pace, but we've all seen this movie before. James would close. It's what he does.

But, and here's the thing... James never came off the floor in the second half. Rookie HC Tyronn Lue never gave him a break, even in the quarter wrap-around that maximizes bench time, even with Irving getting to Full Flame On, and not really needing much help for much of the second half. James wound up logging 46 minutes, and eventually, the Cavs wilted with him, with JR Smith taking and missing the have to have shots late. Lowry never wilted, DeMar DeRozan was about as efficient as a mid-range guy could be, and Biyombo collected another 14 boards and 3 blocks. Tie series.

Can the Raps keep the magic moving in Game 5? Really unlikely, as they haven't exactly overwhelmed with their bench either, and getting 67 points from 43 shots from the starting guards isn't likely to continue. There's a reason why everyone thought his series was going to be a Cleveland sweep, and even if the Toronto crowd is James' Kryptonite, the Cavs only have to hold serve at home to make the Finals.

But what this game showed, and the fact that there's even a chance still to keep the Cavs out of the Finals, is how not having a real coach is doing James no favors in his attempt to end the half century of Cleveland Sadness. This Cavs team is too deep -- hell, they got good minutes out of Richard Jefferson tonight, and Timofey Mozgov is a DNP-CD these days, after starting in the Finals last year -- to make James go monster minutes to get a road win. Lue's got a winning hand here, but he's playing it very, very badly.

Which doesn't exactly speak well to Cleveland's chances. Either in the next 2-3 games, or the 4 to 7 to follow.

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