You wouldn’t have been wrong to assume the Cleveland Cavaliers would look sluggish out of the gate last night. Opening up the Eastern Conference semis a good week after their most recent game, it was reasonable to assume there’d be some rust to chip off. Considering, too, the fact Cleveland had just completed a relatively lackluster sweep last round, it certainly appeared as though you had a recipe for another night of sleepwalking.
All of this makes the end result of Game 1 that much more impressive.
The Toronto Raptors – seen by some as the biggest competition for Cleveland in the east – are currently licking their wounds after getting outright blitzed in Game 1. The 116-105 victory the Cavs pulled off only looks close on paper, as they spent the final minutes of the contest running the bench unit out for garbage time. Offensively, Cleveland was able to get pretty much anything it wanted, while defensive efforts were markedly increased. It was a far-cry from the ho-hum effort we’ve seen for the past couple months.
So what happened? What took place to suddenly shift this team from going through the motions to thumping a deep Toronto team in a game which only looked competitive for a handful of minutes? Was this really a matter of – using everyone’s favorite phrase – “flipping the switch?”
Turns out, all this team really needed was a breather.
It’s quite crazy to think this was all it took for the team to shake out the cobwebs which have been hanging around since the All-Star break. That said, looking at the schedule these players endured on their way to this point, you can see where exhaustion had to be becoming a factor.
Remember, this team endured a March schedule which included 17 games in 31 days. Only five of these contests were home. Additionally, Cleveland had to play five different back-to-backs in said span.
Obviously, when on the road this often, free time is a rarity. When it did occur, it made far more sense for coach Tyronn Lue to give his players an off day than to host practice.
So, with a week off between their defeat of the Indiana Pacers and their bout with Toronto, the Cavs were clearly going to embrace the chance to catch their breath. Kyle Korver noted how the team had never received this much time off since he joined, while LeBron James noted the importance of getting a week to both regroup and practice together as a team.
That said, Cleveland seemed to be plagued with issues which appeared to go deeper than just exhaustion. While some vacation time was surely needed, initial thought was it would take more than just that to get back on track.
However, it sure looks like this was all it took to deliver a box score filled with plenty of sights for sore eyes.
Cleveland’s starters dominated, with each delivering an overwhelmingly positive plus/minus rating. The team shot 45.9% from the floor, 41.2% from three. The concept of ball movement returned with a vengeance, as the Cavs tallied 26 assists, with Kyrie Irving surprisingly leading the way with ten.
All (seemingly) because the team as a whole got a chance to catch its breath. The chemistry concerns, putrid defense and token fourth quarter collapses took a night off all thanks to the fact the players got a few of those themselves last week.
It’s important not to overreact to just one game. The four contests before last night were underwhelming, while Toronto is also notorious for barely showing up in Game 1’s. We’ll need to see more than one night of proof to determine some vacation time was all Cleveland needed to fix glaring weaknesses.
That said, if extra days off is all the Cavs need to look like championship contenders, I suggest they work hard to eliminate the Raptors as soon as possible. Provided they play like they did last night, said task shouldn’t be tricky.