CLEVELAND, Ohio — This time of year it’s all about the end result. For the Cavs it was a hard-fought 109-108 win against the Indiana Pacers to open their title defense.
“It feels better than losing, so it’s good,” Channing Frye said.
That’s one way to put it. But it’s hardly the kind of outcome that should ease any trepidation. The issues that plagued Cleveland during a terrible March were still apparent, even against an inferior opponent on the Cavs home floor. Weren’t they supposed to flip the switch?
Against the seventh-seeded Pacers, the Cavs needed a missed clean look from 14 feet to escape with the Game 1 win.
Here are five observations:
Return of isolation — The Cavaliers have repeatedly said they are at their best when the ball has energy and is hoppin’ around the court from side to side. But the Pacers made that difficult with their constant switching on the defensive end.
So concerned about LeBron James and Kyrie Irving getting a full head of steam in pick-and-rolls, the Pacers ended up with bizarre defensive matchups. Sometimes undersized Monta Ellis was trying to defend Kevin Love in the post. Other times James found himself going up against point guard Jeff Teague. It’s what Indiana thought was its best strategy.
It forced the Cavs into more isolation basketball, as they kept searching for mismatches.
“We’ll go into it tomorrow, looking at what they did defensively against us late in the game,” James said. “And the coaches will give us a great game plan going into Game 2. If that’s what they want to do, we have to figure out a way to exploit it and keep the ball moving.”
While iso-ball is not always aesthetically pleasing and sometimes the root of the Cavs’ offense bogging down, they will likely be happy with the offensive looks they got when watching the film.
Who wouldn’t be satisfied with James going at Teague? The best teams exploit matchups in the postseason. The Cavs did it repeatedly. Tough to quibble with the offense too much.
No Shump — For the first time, Cavs shooting guard Iman Shumpert didn’t get into a game when he was healthy and active.
Welcome to the playoffs. Tyronn Lue has had a tight rotation in the regular season and it appears it will thin out a touch more, using just nine guys. No bench player received more than Richard Jefferson’s 18 minutes.
Sign of things to come?
“Well you know the playoffs are just a game where everybody has to stay ready,” Lue said of not playing Shumpert. “Tonight I didn’t get Shump in there, but R.J. came in early and played well. We got him in early for Kevin and just kind of flow of the game and rotations, it didn’t happen.”
That’s the politically correct answer. And maybe Shumpert will have a chance depending on a specific matchup. After all, Frye didn’t play much in Round One against Detroit and then got unleashed against the Hawks and Raptors before disappearing against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
The real explanation for not playing Shumpert likely centers on his horrid performances in the second half of the season.
One of the supposed best defensive players on the roster, the opponent boasted an offensive rating of 111 with him on the court. The defense even got marginally better without him.
He’s been labeled a 3-and-D guy. Well, if he’s not defending and he’s not hitting 3’s (he hasn’t made multiple triples in more than a month), he’s probably not going to have a role.
Love’s hot start — The All-Star power forward scored the Cavs’ first seven points. He had 10 during the first quarter, helping the Cavs build an early lead.
“They were looking for me early and that was it,” Love said. “Just wanted to get going and get the crowd into the game and it felt good.”
Love cooled after the hot start, finishing with 17 points on 5-of-9 from the field in 31 minutes. He missed both of his triple tries in the fourth quarter, the only two shots he took.
This continues to be a theme for the Cavs. Love averaged 7.6 points on 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range in the first quarter this season — his best period by far. Then he fades.
The Cavs championship chances hinge on the Big Three. That includes Love. The Cavs liked some of their matchups in the fourth quarter, looking to take advantage of Indiana’s pick-and-roll problems, ranked 26th in the league.
Still, as the postseason journey continues, Love needs to stay involved — beyond the first quarter.
Tristan Thompson’s second chances – Lue said in the days leading up to Game 1 that the sprained thumb, which kept Thompson out of three games late in the season, wouldn’t bother him.
Lue was right. Thompson looked just fine.
He scored eight points on 4-of-5 from the field, getting his buckets on the receiving end of a handful of lobs. Thompson added 13 rebounds, including six on the offensive end, as the Cavaliers finished with nine second-chance points.
Those opportunities were big. The Cavs weren’t going to win with defense. They simply aren’t good enough on that end of the floor. It was, like most games, up to the offense. They needed the game in the 100’s. Getting multiple looks helped with that.
“I’ve been doing that six years now,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the playoffs or regular season. It’s just what I’ve got to do and create second chances for my teammates.”
Perhaps the only issue came at the free-throw line. Then again, given Thompson’s season-long struggles, it’s hard to point to the thumb as the primary reason he missed all three freebies.
Stat of the night — Entering the game, Korver averaged 25.5 points on 18-of-24 shooting and 14-of-17 from 3-point range in two games against Indiana as a member of the Cavaliers.
On Saturday, the Pacers limited him to just one shot attempt. He was clearly a marked man.