The Cleveland Cavaliers are up 2-0 on Detroit. What have been the keys and what are we seeing?
(AllIn216 photo credit: Erik Drost)
The good news about the Cavaliers is that they're winning games. The bad news is that they're supposed to be winning games, so it's not earth-shattering to have defended the Q against the Pistons. Let's try to examine what's gotten our beloved Cleveland Cavaliers to this point.
1) LeBron James. Surprise, surprise. LeBron James has been instrumental in getting the Cavs ahead in this series. 9-17 shooting in game 1, 12-18 shooting in game 2. He's passing the ball beautifully, he's doing a good enough job on defense, and he's scoring when points need to be scored. However, I thought it was strange in game 2 when there were several possessions clumped together featuring James was 1-on-1 on the wing, holding the ball like it was last year's finals. He wasn't quite posted up either, as he was about 15 feet out at the start of the ball-holding. They did this with Love also and it struck me as weird. The offense is unstoppable when passes are zipping around and guys are moving, but the theory seems to be that the offense is also pretty damn good when they go 1-on-1.
2) Front Court Adjustments. Yes, Ty Lue started playing Love at center occasionally, even though he publicly announced that Tristan Thompson was his starting center about a month ago. Yes, Love at 5 and James at 4 has been pretty effective, and having Frye at the 5 was nice for a stretch in game 2. What I don't understand is why we're pretending that Ty Lue "out-coached" Stan Van Gundy in game 1 by putting Love at the 5. Wasn't that the whole purpose for the Cavaliers to get Kevin Love in the first place? It was a huge deal for the Cavs to land Love because they could put 4 shooters around LeBron and let him go to work and find the open man. And I'm sorry, Ty Lue has not earned the good-will for me to believe that he was saving this for the post-season. He stumbled into it, and the proof is that Channing Frye played 0 minutes in game 1. There will be at least one full-length article about coach Lue in the next 6-8 weeks.
On that topic, Thompson and (especially) Mozgov are virtually worthless against Andre Drummond. Drummond is a monster inside. He's got much better footwork than Mozgov and is bigger than Thompson. Why not immediately go to the smaller lineup instead of screwing around with Mozgov? You know, dictate the game instead of following your opponent's lead. Once TT got into foul-trouble early in game 2, I understand the theory behind entering Mozgov, but all statistical evidence shows that the Cavaliers are worse with Mozzy on the floor. That's sad because I like him as a person, but it's a fact. Getting Drummond away from the paint on defense is a huge opportunity for Cleveland - if he sags near the paint, there's an open shooter but if he covers the shooter the lane is open. It's a win/win. Example.
Watch that loop a few times and you'll notice that Drummond was 7 feet from the hoop when Kyrie sent back that pass. That's the entire point of having a big-man who can shoot. This will be relevant again against, Toronto and Miami, who have big meaty centers.
3) Occasionally Hot Shooting. I gushed at-length about JR Smith before the series started and he made me look smart in game 2. However, he was a ghost in game 1 and KCP nearly kept the Pistons in it by himself. Kyrie Irving has also been a streaker, which is nothing out of the ordinary. However, for as much as people have been praising him this series, he's 18-42. That's not terrible, but it's not very good for a guy who is labeled as an offensive savant - especially when Steve Blake beat him off the dribble multiple times in game 1. Steve Blake!
For his part, LeBron nailed a couple of deep-balls in game 2, although they were "ehhh don't shoot th - Oh, it went in" shots.
4) Playing with Faster Guys. Why would Andre Drummond be upset to have Kevin Love on him instead of Tristan Thompson? What about Channing Frye? It's because those smaller guys run like hell and irritate big-guys to no end. It will occasionally result in an easy bucket for Drummond, as we saw Wednesday night, but it also allows the Cavaliers to play fast and loose. I'm willing to trade an occasional Drummond dunk for a few more open 3s.
5) Weather the Storm. Stan Van Gundy is a really good coach. The Pistons aren't a great team, but they're a good team - winning 44 games doesn't happen by accident. Drummond is a monster inside, Jackson is a hell of a spark-plug, and Marcus Morris can light it up from time to time. Not to mention, the Pistons won two of the three meaningful games in the regular season.
The game one 3-point firing range approach was a new Stan Van tactic, and it nearly got them a home-court steal. Game two was more of their typical style and it wasn't nearly as close. With that in mind, I'd be impressed if SVG comes up with something totally new for the Detroit games. I'd be impressed, but I wouldn't be surprised. He's good at what he does.
This doesn't mean that Cleveland is going to roll the rest of this series without any hiccup, but the better team seems to be the one south of Lake Erie. I'm expecting fewer right-block isos from James in game 3 and more Irving (or Delly) and James pick and rolls. The few times Delly came in alongside LBJ it felt like the offense immediately clicked. That was really nice.