Silly me, I thought the Cleveland Cavaliers had figured it out.
After watching them claw back from an 0-2 hole to even the Eastern Conference Finals with the Boston Celtics, I assumed it was safe to feel confident again. What the Cavs did right in Games 3 and 4 was blatantly apparent to anyone watching, so it wasn’t lofty to bet on them taking the same approach in last night’s pivotal Game 5.
Or so I thought. Instead of this, the team dusted off the very same bad habits which caused such an ugly start to the series to begin with.
Last night’s loss, which put the Cavs on the brink of elimination, was extremely frustrating to watch, mostly due to the fact they essentially refused to stick with what had been working so well for them.
Gone was the savvy coaching from Tyronn Lue, who I had literally just heaped praise towards two days ago.
After Game 4, Lue was being celebrated for hampering Boston’s approach, nullifying big man Al Horford and getting the most out of once-dismissed players like J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson. He found a role for Larry Nance Jr., who had played his way out of the rotation earlier in the postseason, yet was now suddenly making an impact on the court. He even received a slight pass for some of his questionable calls with the lineup.
Last night, it was as if Lue lost interest in making his critics eat crow. Instead, he went back to making bizarre decisions, and providing painfully inexplicable defenses for them.
Once again, he opened the fourth quarter with both LeBron James and Kevin Love on the bench, a situation the Celtics happily accepted. Once again, he ran offensive sets centered around Jordan Clarkson, who rewarded this call with eight points on ten shots, all of which he jacked up in just 15 minutes of playing time. Once again, he gave a surprisingly low amount of time to Kyle Korver, arguably the second-best player on the team through the postseason.
His reasoning for the latter issue – that Boston not playing reserve forward Semi Ojeleye threw him off – was the subject of numerous post-game jokes.
For reference, Ojeleye has averaged 2.5 PPG on 13.3 minutes per game this series. He played just nine minutes in Cleveland’s Game 4 win, while Korver logged 25. The idea Boston not playing him merited benching one of the Cavs’ best weapons is beyond laughable.
As Cleveland’s coaching blunders returned in Game 5, so did the disappearance of its back-court.
After two straight strong showings from George Hill and J.R. Smith, both guards vanished again last night. It was as if each player forgot what it took to help the team win, both ditching their energetic play and exchanging it with extremely passive performances. In a dominating Game 3, Hill and Smith combined to score 24 points. Last night, they chipped in a total of nine.
These, of course, weren’t the only negative tendencies which returned with a vengeance last night.
Just as we saw in the first two games, the Cavs ran back into their shell the second it appeared they were enduring another cold shooting night. When the shots don’t fall, Cleveland looks as though it just plain gives up. There’s no tenacity, no sense of urgency. Just a bunch of players who seem to accept a loss halfway through the second quarter.
Everything mentioned above plagued this team as it bumbled its way through the first two games of this series. Based on how the Cavs performed in Games 3 and 4, not only were they aware of this, but they seemed ready to ditch these mistakes heading into Game 5.
Instead, they chose to to trot out a greatest hits of some of their worst blunders at the worst possible time. It resulted in their inability to beat a Boston team which shot just 36.5% from the field.
It also put Cleveland one loss away from elimination.
This situation alone is cause for concern. That the team found itself here by abandoning everything which was working just makes it worse.