The Cavaliers are struggling, but they're not in trouble


Written by Kevin Nye (@kevinpnye) on 19 April 2017

Through two games, the Cleveland Cavaliers are ahead 2-0. It's hard to ask for a better start than that, even if it hasn't been pretty at times. There are two lenses we can look at this series through, so let's spend a few hundred words with our perception jaded by each of them.

The optimistic lens

First and foremost, the Cavs won both games. As LeBron James mentioned after Game 1's close-call of an ending, it doesn't matter how close it was, playoff wins are playoff wins. This was a very Dom Toretto, "you almost had me?" monologue thing to say, which is something that should be referenced at least once per playoff series in perpetuity in the NBA.

Anyway, LeBron had a monstrous first game, Kyrie went off late in the second game, and Kevin Love has scored 44 points on 16 field goal attempts. The stars have been doing more than enough for the Cavs early in this series.

Kyrie also had some major highlight reel moves in game two.

While Kyrie impersonated a 2K player, Love was absolutely a force to be reckoned with (it's almost like someone predicted that he'd be an X-factor in these playoffs). He constantly drew fouls and hit all 12 of his tries at the stripe. He set an NBA playoff record for most points scored on seven FGA and became just the fifth player in NBA history to score 27+ on seven FGA or fewer. He was terrific. The Cavaliers are just scoring like mad when he's on the floor.

Defensively the Cavs have done just enough to get by.

Not every possession has been a highlight reel like the above, but Indiana came into the playoffs playing pretty well and the Cavs have done enough to hold it together on the defensive end. The Cavs have forced 26 turnovers - which is middle of the road - and have gotten stops at the most crucial times, as shown by LeBron.

Regarding the defense, a lot of praise was heaped on Iman Shumpert for his defense against Paul George in the second half. He was a pleasant surprise after not playing in game one. The Cavs bench overall has been a major story here, as game one saw the Cavs reserves shoot 8-13 from the floor. Channing Frye was huge, Deron Williams was clutch, and Kyle Korver even pulled down an offensive rebound.

Game two wasn't quite as impressive in that area, but it didn't need to be. The starters held it together and Shump/Deron combined to shoot 4-6 from deep. Keep an eye on that bench, as there are moments where it seems like they'll go on a 10-0 run and moments where it seems like they'll get beat on every possession defensively.

With the optimistic lens, there's an air of "well it's not broken so I guess we don't need to fix it."

Winning is winning, and the Cavaliers are winning.

The pessimistic lens

Oh boy. Ready?

The Cavaliers turned the ball over 18 times in game two. Kyrie shot pretty badly in game one then basically didn't pass the ball in game two. The Cavs simply stop running an offense in the fourth quarter and start jacking up contested, low-percentage shots from isolations - they did this in both games for no apparent reason.

The free throws are just baffling. Players not named Kevin Love are 9-19 from the free throw line in the first two games of this series. This is a problem, particularly when you consider that the Cavs are drive-and-kick specialists. They need the drivers to draw fouls and they need Tristan Thompson and others to crash the offensive glass and get put-backs. Put-backs regularly end with foul shots, of course, and that's not a good thing right now.

The Cavs have escaped with two wins so far. Yes, they were both wins, but CJ Miles should've hit the game-winner in game one and the Cavs did everything they could do to blow a late lead in game two.

Speaking of blowing the lead, here's a question: If the Cavaliers make it to the Finals against the Warriors, how big a lead would Cleveland need going into the fourth quarter for you to feel safe? 20 points? 30 points? 45 points? Anything would be in play, right? They gave up a 26-point lead to the Hawks, who are not exactly working with Klay/Steph/Draymond/Durant/5th starter nobody cares about.

JR Smith's sudden hamstring issue could turn into a big thing as well. Smith has been a key cog defensively in playoffs past and now we don't know the severity of his injury. He made it sound like he was fine, but who knows? Hamstrings are known for being lingering problems, so the Cavaliers might end up rolling with Shump in what is teetering on a lost season for JR.

The Cavs, who seemed so deep for a while, suddenly are looking pretty thin. If JR remains sidelined it'll be Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson, and Deron Williams off the bench. They are a combined 400 years old (estimated). Having veterans is fine, but leaning on them for heavy minutes can be dangerous. Especially when they're known as shooters and not defenders.

I don't know which of these viewpoints is right. I don't know how these playoffs will turn out. I don't know anything beyond a 2-0 lead in a series that's far from over. My advice is to take the words above from whichever section you prefer and use them as talking points until the series ends. 

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