Cleveland Cavaliers (4-0) 106
Indiana Pacers (0-4) 102
The Cleveland Cavaliers came into Sunday’s Game 4 in Indiana against the Pacers hoping for a sweep. A win in this game would mean the team would get a whole week of rest before starting their next series. A loss and there would be a Game 5 on Tuesday. So when the Cavaliers had an 11 point lead going into the fourth quarter, they were surely going to lock down this game and put it away without letting the Pacers get back in it, right?
If you answer that in the affirmative, then you haven’t been paying attention to this team and this series. Indeed, right on schedule, the Cavaliers reverted to iso-offense, started turning the ball over, and gave up the entire lead with the Pacers taking a 102-100 advantage with 1:31 left in the game. To their credit, the Cavaliers composed themselves and LeBron James hit a knife-in-the-gut three-pointer to reclaim the lead and from there Cleveland held on for dear life.
So, if you’re keeping score at home, the Cavaliers blew fourth-quarter leads in three of the four games in this series, and in the other game, they erased a 26-point deficit. Yep, that’s just your 2016-17 Cleveland Cavaliers.
This has been one of the most confusing teams in franchise history. Every time this team looks like they have things going their way, they inexplicably stop doing the things that give them success. That’s the frustrating side of this. The other side, however, is that the team is still doing things to survive, win, and advance.
While the offense was far from stellar in this game, the team was able to step up just enough on defense. One of the hallmarks of the Cavaliers in the playoffs since LeBron has returned has been their ability to limit the opposing teams’ best players and forcing others to be the ones to beat them. Whether it be Steph Curry, Kyle Lowry, Al Horford, or now, Paul George, the Cavaliers have had a lot of success limiting the best player on the opposing teams.
Regardless of the wild swings, the comebacks, the close games, etc, this series still ended with a sweep and the Cavaliers should be extremely happy about that. While some may want to fixate on the close games and 4th quarter collapses, the fact is in the playoffs sweep is hard. LeBron has made them look easy, but they are not. And the Eastern Conference is not the pushover that it used to be. For further proof of all of this, look to the #1 seed Boston Celtics, who are trailing 2-1 in their series with the Chicago Bulls, and the #3 seed Toronto Raptors who are tied 2-2 with the Milwaukee Bucks. There’s no shame in getting out a series clean, healthy, and with a sweep, no matter how pretty or ugly it may be.
Now, the numbers:
- 4 – In an eight-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers scored just four points. With 9:29 remaining in the game, LeBron James finished an and-one to put the Cavaliers up 13 at 96-83. With 1:31 left in the game, Thad Young secured a put-back to give the Pacers a 102-100 lead. So what happened over those eight minutes? The possessions went: LeBron missed layup, Korver missed three, Shumpert missed jumper, Korver missed 3, Thompson made two free-throws, Kyrie missed layup, Kyrie made jump shot, Kyrie missed jumper blocked by Teague, Kyrie missed three, Love missed three, Kyrie turnover bad pass, Kyrie missed jumper, Kyrie missed three, Love turnover bad pass, LeBron missed jumper, LeBron missed layup blocked by Teague, Kyrie missed jumper. Some of those missed shots were simply misses on good looks that should have been made, but some were also the result of the team slowing down the pace too much and taking bad shots in isolation late in the shot clock.
- 3 – The Cavaliers only had three players in double figures. LeBron led everyone with 33 points and Kyrie added 28 points of his own. The only other Cavalier with double digits was Deron Williams, who was excellent off the bench scoring 14 points. Nobody else had more than seven points. It’s actually kind of amazing the team got to 106 points when you see the poor scoring numbers outside LeBron and Kyrie.
- 15 vs 21 – Paul George took 21 shots in this game, while Lance Stephenson took 15. In the series, Stephenson took 13, 13, 12, and 15 shots in Games 1 through 4, respectively. And those numbers were exactly what the Cavaliers wanted. Stephenson had a great series, no doubt, but far too often Paul George was reduced to a spectator as Stephenson had the ball in his hands in crucial possessions. The Cavaliers routinely used a hard trap on George to get the ball out of his hands, and they sagged off Stephenson, daring him to shoot. As Cavaliers coach Ty Lue stated after the game, “defensively, even though they shot 46%, the guys taking the shots and making the shots were who we wanted taking them.”
- 11 – The elephant in the room was the 11 assists the Cavaliers had in this game. A lot will be made of Kyrie Irving’s zero assists, but even LeBron James only had four, which actually led the team. The Cavaliers only had two games with 11 or fewer assists this season, and they lost them both. So from that standpoint, it’s somewhat amazing that this team won a series clinching game on the road while only having 11 assists. On the other, it’s extremely problematic to have one of your three worst assist games in the playoffs. For as much as the team is saying they are coming together at the right time, there are still some glaring issues that need to be addressed.
- 7.25 – CJ Miles had just six points in this game, finishing this series with a 7.25 points-per-game average. This was huge for Cleveland as Miles came into this game with a reputation as a Cavs-killer. In the regular season, Miles had two games with 23+ points against Cleveland and he averaged 17 points against the Cavaliers. In addition to mostly keeping Paul George in check and making Lance Stephenson take on a bigger role, the Cavaliers did an outstanding job making sure CJ Miles was never able to get going.
Now the Cavaliers will wait to see if they will play the Toronto Raptors or the Milwaukee Bucks in the next round. The Cavaliers will hope that one goes to seven games as each team can do some things that bother the Cavaliers, but regardless, Cleveland now knows that they will have a week off to rest. They will use the time surely to recharge as well as to keep working on some things that need fine tuning.
Overall, though, it’s always great to earn a sweep. I thought the defense was mostly better in this series and there are some excellent things to build on. The lapses in the offense were frustrating and it will be something to continue to keep an eye on moving forward, but really this was as good as you could hope for in a first round series. The Cavaliers didn’t suffer any injuries and they won 4-0. What else do you want?