Source: Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (LeBron James) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
First thing's first: Detroit played tough. Word around the league has been - for years - that the way to beat a LeBron team is to be extra physical. It's not every team's cup of tea, and it doesn't necessarily work, but it's the only idea anyone has been able to grab hold of. Detroit used it and used it pretty well.
There were throw-downs, shoves, elbows-to-the-head, and a surprisingly small amount of flopping. Each game was close, and hard-fought games often end in chippy fouls and the occasional injury (hard to remember a time that happened though, right?). The Cavaliers came away with the sweep and full health, so it's a double-victory, but I want to look at a few more pieces to consider - I'll answer a few of my own questions and ask a couple more.
1) Did Ty Lue suddenly become a really good coach? The narrative this series was that Lue switched to Love at the 5 and the Cavs started running away from Detroit. Articles were written that lauded the move and heaped praise on the young coach. Additionally, the abundance of well-run timeout-plays contributed to people jumping on the "Ty Lue is a genius" bandwagon pretty fast. I disagree to some extent. He did something simple in moving Kevin Love to center and then didn't go back to it. When each game got close in the 2nd half, it wasn't that Love was moved to center and the Cavs took over, it was that the defense just put in a little more effort and slowed down Detroit's offense. Nothing fancy about that. In my opinion, he proved to not be a bad coach, which is a victory because I had very little confidence in him at all.
2) Shooters gonna shoot. This goes both ways - Lebron fancies himself a shooter, even after he referred to himself as a tank. If he fancies himself a shooter, he'll shoot. James was 1-6 from deep in game 3 and 1-6 from deep in game 4. Only once or twice in his career has he been good enough to be shooting 6 times from deep. There were multiple possessions late when he would pound the ball and hoist a contested 3. It was ugly. Following the leader, Irving did the same thing a few times. One went in. It was nice.
But while he made that all-important 3 above, everyone was taking bad shots down the stretch. They weren't even running pick n rolls, they were just going 1-on-1 and launching threes. Irving's miss on Cleveland's final possession was a near-criminal shot attempt. It was awful.
3) The defense has strange problems. First half scoring numbers for the Pistons: 52, 53, 53, 58. Obviously things clamped down in the 2nd half, but what's the issue here? Was it that the games would ebb and flow, and the Cavs needed some time to figure out what was going to work? Was it that Lue is still toying with lineups? Was it that Cleveland's primary focus early is to get Love going on offense and they lose focus on defense? I don't know what the answer is, but this was strange. I'm sure part of it was because they were figuring out what was happening with the center position, but Detroit got tons of open threes early in each game. That's not a good sign with the possibility of Atlanta coming next.
4) Can the Cavs win games when 1 or 2 of the star trio plays badly? Seems like yes. Irving carried the load offensively and Love had a terrible game in game 4. He was fine on rebounding but couldn't make a shot to save his life. LeBron shot poorly a couple times this series, but did enough to get by. Irving shot not-that-great in game 1 while playing bad defense. All of those problems resulted in a sweep. Granted, this gets harder against a better team, but this could be a lot worse. Previous Cavaliers teams would lose if LeBron was off and that was that.
5) Does Lue have the nerve to bench Love occasionally? David Blatt was not afraid of doing this, and that was kind of a nice thing about him. Tyronn Lue watched Love go 3-15 last night. Love is obviously not known as a tough defender, so why not poke around with the lineup a bit? Channing Frye was surprisingly effective defensively in his limited minutes, and he offers a similar upside to Kevin Love offensively. I was surprised to see so little of him while Love struggled. This may not be a big problem, but I was interested in it - the nerve to play the hot hand is important.
6) JR Smith is still my hero.
I had a short Twitter interaction last night that started with @thatnbagirl tweeting "JR smith is equally as terrifying as LeBron in a series. He will get you one to two games." She's right, and it proves my point from before the series that JR is just the greatest. I love this guy unabashedly and am as happy as ever that he's a Cavalier. I don't know if they'll be able to re-sign him or not, but I hope he stays in Cleveland forever and moves in to my extra bedroom.
Next up for the Cavs will either be Atlanta or Boston, and my preference would be Atlanta. I only say this because the Cavs have had some weird thing over Atlanta recently and last year's relatively easy sweep makes a repeat seem more likely this year. I'll be checking back in before that series starts, so until then, go Cavs.