For two quarters last night, everything everyone spent the entire season calling out about the Cleveland Cavaliers was on display. Lazy effort, nonexistent defense and general disarray. All of it was front and center during the first half of Game 3 against the Indiana Pacers.
Unsurprisingly, the scoreboard reflected it. As Cleveland lackadaisically fumbled around the court, the Pacers went on a tear. Numerous possessions seemed to end with two outcomes – an incredibly easy basket for Indiana and multiple Cavaliers looking at each other confused.
Suddenly, concern started to creep in. Perhaps all this talk of Cleveland just flipping the switch come playoff time and rolling through the Eastern Conference was off the mark. Maybe the porous defense and half-hearted effort wasn’t left behind in the regular season, and it had now led to the Cavs being down 25 points at halftime.
Final Score: Cleveland 119 – Indiana 114
Somehow, on a night when all the Cavaliers’ warts were thrown into the spotlight, when it seemed as though they were on the verge of self-destructing right in front of us, they ran roughshod over the Pacers en route to a comeback of historic proportions. The hope is a game like this becomes the turning point for a Cleveland team which has been desperately seeking one.
To be fair, saying last night’s massive turnaround was a full-scale team effort would be fabricating things a bit. In reality, I would say about 98% of last night’s comeback was a result of LeBron James playing otherworldly basketball. Outside of the 41-point, triple-double effort he put forth, nobody on Cleveland contributed more than 13 points.
At the same time, look at who was on the court with James to help spur last night’s resurgence. He received help in erasing a late third quarter 20-point deficit from the likes of Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, Iman Shumpert and Deron Williams, with J.R. Smith subbing in midway through the fourth. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson didn’t touch the court during the final frame of the game.
That the Cavs were able to surge back from what appeared to be an inescapable hole with James and a handful of backups, without the help of Irving and Love, is one hell of a statement. While much of it can be attributed to Cleveland having the best player on the planet at its disposal, you also can’t ignore the fact the team finally seemed to shake off its bad habits.
Gone was the sluggish defense which offered countless open looks, replaced with a concentrated effort in forcing the Pacers to rely on their weaker shooters. The blatant lack of energy was nowhere to be seen, as the Cavs instead started playing with an intensity which hasn’t been seen since before the All-Star break. You could see it in the eyes of everyone on the court, from both sides – Cleveland was finally clicking.
The enthusiasm and spark the team began to show as the comeback started taking shape, both on the court and even on the sideline, hasn’t been seen present in months. It was as if the light bulb finally turned on, as though they realized they were indeed playing in games that matter now.
This is why the Cavs need to use last night as the season-changing moment it very well should be. They just pulled off the largest halftime comeback in postseason history, and did so while two of their best players watched from the sideline. They took a shot to the mouth from Indiana, and responded with an epic counter from James and various role players.
It’s the type of moment which should finally kick-start this team and shake it from the doldrums it’s been dealing with since late February. A realization that, if James can pull off a victory with Frye and Williams as his sidekicks, there’s no telling what he can do when playing at that level alongside Irving and Love.
If the Cavs can turn last night’s momentous comeback into a seminal moment, we might finally start seeing the team play up to its full potential. The timing couldn’t be much better.