Two straight years, two rookie coaches, and two different storylines, but the Cavs are back in the Finals.
It's real. The Cleveland Cavaliers are going back to the NBA Finals.
Now that it's official, we can finally talk comfortably about the possibility that Cleveland actually wins the championship. As a lifelong Clevelander, talking about it before it becomes real is taboo, but now it's real.
The Cavs haven't just made the Finals, they've dominated the conference. In the six games of the ECF, Cleveland was +91 in total points despite losing two games. That's unheard of. When playing in Cleveland, the average score was Cleveland 113, Toronto 84. There was virtually nothing Toronto could do to stop the Cleveland offense in the four Cavalier wins.
There were negatives in this series for the Cavaliers. They had several bad defensive quarters and were basically sleeping on their feet in game 3. In the deciding game, the Raptors missed some open threes - particularly in the first half. There was a feeling that the Cavaliers might have another game with a lot of shoulder shrugs and finger-pointing. However, the shots didn't fall for Toronto and now Cleveland is back in the Finals.
We (I) have been a little bit hesitant to acknowledge just how good the Cavs have been in these playoffs because they "haven't won anything yet." We are now far enough in that we can say the Cavaliers have a decent shot to win the Finals this year. We now know that Golden State is hobbled and not looking themselves. We know that OKC has been a good match-up for the Cavs all season long. We also know that the Cavaliers currently have the highest ORtg of any Finals-bound team in the past 20 years. Cleveland is scoring a ridiculous 116.2 points per 100 possessions in these playoffs despite having a multi-game stretch when the whole team was shooting 40% from inside the three point line.
As I said earlier, Toronto may have had a chance in game 6 if they'd hit open shots, but it sure wouldn't have been easy to keep up with the Cavs on offense. Once LeBron James made his first couple of threes, the floor completely opened up. He's the only guy you can sag off of from outside (unless Thompson is in the game), but once he hits a couple, the opponent is out of luck. You simply can't cover everyone both inside and outside - especially when you have two guys who can beat anyone off the dribble.
Granted this is coming off of a broken play, but what do you do to stop these guys? He'd been hitting his threes so you sure can't leave him out there. If Biz commits to challenging this dunk, LeBron finds Love fading to the corner and there would've been no defender within 6 feet by the time the shot got off. If Biz challenged but Patterson followed Love to the corner, then LBJ drops it to Thompson for an easy dunk. Lowry (#7, guarding Kyrie) decides he's better off watching this one than collapsing down and committing a meaningless foul. When the Cavs move the ball and everyone is running, there's just no stopping them.
LeBron though. What can you even say? According to ESPN, LeBron James just completed his 2nd best playoff series in his career by field goal percentage. He hit 62.2% of his shots from the floor. He averaged 26 points, 8.5 rebounds (including 2.2 offensive per game!), and 6.8 assists...with 2 steals and a block per game. His turnover numbers are down because he has delivered on his promise to stick to the team's game plan. He's been bad from the FT line, but he's also not getting nearly as many calls as he rightly should be getting. He's a freight train.
Wait a minute. What am I doing? I'm telling you that LeBron James is great at basketball? You've heard that before. You know this. I'm finding it very hard to make a point and stick to it here because it's damn near impossible to stay objective. The Cavs are playing great, I'm enjoying every minute of it. The next few days are going to be intense. I want to know who's next but I want the WCF to go 7 games to maximize wear-and-tear. I want the Cavaliers' current success to be drilled into the heads of the opponents. I want the Cavs to be a team of destiny. I want the Cavs to win.
I can't stay objective. This is big.
One last thing. Can we talk about Channing Frye? This guy has been unbelievable. He makes every shot, he plays great help defense, and his postgame presser in the Atlanta series was the best postgame interview I've seen in ages. He even wagged the finger at Biz.
This team is just a lot of fun right now. They're playing hard, they're playing fast, they're playing fun. For as fun as it was to watch Biyombo blow up this series - and make himself an extra $10 million per year this summer - it was equally fun to watch the Cavs go wild for each other when the team got hot. Whether it was the bench getting up when the starters hit big shots or it was the starters going nuts when the bench went on a run, these guys are loving it.
Last clip I'm going to pull is of the end of the 1st quarter. Try to figure out how to defend this set.
If Derozan steps in front and cuts off the drive, Frye has already lost Patterson and is drifting to an open spot where Irving starts the play. JR Smith has 8 feet between himself and Carroll after the switch. Irving is fading to the corner as Cory Joseph tracks him. Love is in the top corner on the play-side where his defender has to stay tight. If any of those players leave their current spot, there's an open 3. Hell, there's at least one (Frye) and the Raptors didn't play bad defense here. Patterson didn't commit to getting in the lane because he didn't want to leave Frye for three. He left him anyway because he was in no man's land.
The Cavaliers have a lot of ways to beat opponents. The next two weeks should be a lot of fun.