The Cavaliers have won the first two games by a combined 33 points. It has been nowhere near that close. Who - or what - has been the difference compared to round one?
There's a lot to like about what the Cleveland Cavaliers have done through two games. The scores have only been partly reflective of the dominance, as the Cavs have been outscored by 11 and four in the fourth quarters when the benches have been emptied. There have been several reasons for the Cavaliers' burst of success, but let's take a look at three of the biggest.
1) Kyrie Irving, point guard
Kyrie Irving's round one performance left something to be desired. That "something" was quality. He shot 22% on three-pointers, handed out just 12 assists in four games, and watched Deron Williams run the point in the giant comeback win of game three.
This series has already been different. Granted he's still not shooting well (37% overall), he's rediscovering his three-point shot. Irving was 3-6 in game two after going 3-8 in game one. The Cavaliers can certainly live with that kind of productivity beyond the arc.
As nice as that shooting uptick is, that's not the exciting thing about Kyrie in this series. Through two games, Kyrie has recorded double-digit assists twice. That's enormous. He hasn't been shooting as well overall, so he's working the ball around and getting open shots for his teammates. In fairness, some of them are easy assists like this one.
But some of them aren't easy dimes. Some of them are drive-and-kicks to Channing Frye (who, come on, is killing it right now).
Back to the shooting for a second: Irving shot more than 23 times per game in round one in spite of the fact he wasn't exactly on fire. Through two games he's dialed that back to 17.5 times per game. It's hard to argue with this success.
Of equal importance to those passes and the alley-oop above, Kyrie was hounding Lowry on that play. I have some issues with the way Kevin Love hedges on screens (somewhat shown in that clip above), but Irving has been playing substantially better defense in this series than we've seen him play since last year's Finals. He has four steals through these first two games and in many cases they're leading to run-outs and easy scores. That is overwhelmingly important.
If Kyrie continues to play well, the Cavaliers are nearly unstoppable. As mentioned in the past: No guard has outplayed Kyrie Irving for an entire playoff series in his career. We're still waiting. It looks like we'll be waiting at least one more round to see if it's possible.
2) The defense
There are lots of guys to give credit to here, but the Cavs have forced Toronto into action that Toronto is uncomfortable with. On the radio during game two, Cavaliers radio announcer John Michael said that on DeMar DeRozan's first 12 touches, the Cavaliers blitzed him 10 times, he passed out of it nine times, and he was 0-2 shooting. This is the fundamental tenet of the Cavaliers' defensive strategy against Toronto: Someone else has to beat you.
DeRozan was great in the regular season. He is 9-27 from the field through two games this series. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert have absolutely locked him up. The whole team has annoyed him, overworked him, and forced him into tough shots. Admittedly, several of the shots he's been missing seemed to go in during the regular season, but DeRozan's playoff reputation is looking more accurate by the day.
The Cavs are rebounding, too. Between Valanciunas, Patterson, and Ibaka, Toronto should be a good rebounding team. Cleveland has a few less offensive rebounds than Toronto thus far, but that's partly because Toronto has missed 18 more shots than Cleveland. Even with that Valanciunas outburst in game two, the Cavs are holding Toronto's offense in check anytime Tristan Thompson is on the floor. Per NBA.com, in 67 minutes, Tristan Thompson's DRtg (points allowed per 100 possessions) is 83.8. That would be 10 points better than the best team in recent NBA history and a laugh-out-loud kind of statistic.
Important note: Kyrie Irving is right behind TT at 84.3. There is nobody who plays more than 10 minutes per night ahead of Thompson and Irving. Over the course of both rounds, the best DRtg list is basically the Golden State Warriors and then Tristan Thompson. TT has been very good, even if he's not putting up 15/15 per night.
3) Most importantly: LeBron James
We've long since run out of ways to appreciate this guy. It's unfair to him, but it's true. In these two games, LeBron is averaging 37 points on 62% shooting. He's 54.5% on three-pointers in this series. He is leading the series in steals and blocks. He is setting records. He's taking warm-up shots in games and making them.
There's nothing this guy can't do. And as long as he keeps doing virtually anything he wants to do, the Cavaliers are going to keep rolling along to the Finals.