Happy Tuesday, WFNY!
Well, here we are again. It’s been a week since my last While We’re Waiting segment, and in that time the Cleveland Cavaliers have played exactly zero games. I love that the Cavaliers are getting as much rest as they need, but I’m also getting a little stir crazy watching all these other teams play playoff basketball while the Cavs are just waiting. The Western Conference plays Game 2 of their series tonight, which means by the time the Cavaliers and Boston Celtics get started on Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs will have already played two games. That’s pretty ridiculous, in my opinion1.
But alas, here we are, the day before the Cavaliers start their next phase of this journey. The problem with the team having more than a week off between playoff games is that, frankly, I have precious little to say about the team right now. In some ways, this reminds me a bit of college football bowl season. It’s always a little jarring when a team you follow has such a long break between games. You can almost forget what was going on with the team the last time you saw them play.
So, in case you forgot, the last we saw of the Cleveland Cavaliers, they were blitzing their way through the Eastern Conference Playoffs by playing some of the best offense we have ever seen while stepping up on the defensive end as well. How good have the Cavaliers been on offense? Well, in the regular season this year, the Golden State Warriors tied the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers for the best Offensive Rating of all time at 115.6 points per 100 possessions. In the playoffs, the Cavaliers have scored an insane 119.3 points per 100 possessions, well above the ridiculous mark of 116.3 points that the Warriors have posted in the playoffs. The last two regular seasons, the Warriors have matched their own record eFG% of .563, but in the playoffs, the Cavaliers have established an eFG% of .579.
Obviously, the playoffs present a very limited sample size, but these numbers are only used here to help illustrate just how insane the Cavaliers offense has been so far in the playoffs. The Pacers and Raptors finished the regular season 16th and 11th, respectively, in defensive efficiency. So, not elite defenses but not bottom third defenses either. It would seem highly, highly unlikely that the Cavaliers would be able to keep up this level of efficiency on offense, but then again, they do have LeBron James. And, well, with LeBron, anything is possible.
Whether or not the team continues to play at this level is not really the point here. It’s more just that the Cavaliers had been doing something pretty special and now they have a chance to finally attempt to build on that momentum. It’s also interesting because, for the first time this year, the Cavaliers will open a series on the road. On paper, this Boston series doesn’t really worry me. The Cavaliers have shown in previous years that playing on the road in the playoffs doesn’t bother them. The Cavaliers also made their point to the Celtics in the last regular season matchup. Cleveland is deeper and has the best player. The Cavaliers should win this series.
But there is something sort of special happening with this Celtics team. They’ve been tested deeply in both of their series so far and every time people want to write them off, they have responded and been able to bounce back and do whatever it takes to win the series. Teams like this can be scary in the playoffs. All they need is the slightest glimmer of hope, and they’ll be ready to pounce on it. And if there’s one thing that has been consistent about the Cavaliers this season, it has been their tendency to offer opponents a lifeline.
Which isn’t to say I think the Cavaliers are going to lose this series, either, of course. I just think a lot of people are writing off the Celtics too easily. Boston earned the best record in the East this year and they are not an opponent to take lightly, especially with Isaiah Thomas’s fearless demeanor. The Celtics are a team that should be taken seriously.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am also a little uneasy about this series because I do fear the chippiness factor. I’m worried about the Celtics taking their pound of flesh if it becomes apparent they are going to lose this series. Yes, I still remember Kelly Olynyk pulling down on Kevin Love’s arm. I’ve seen Jae Crowder get chippy in playoff series before. To be perfectly clear here, I am not saying the Celtics are a dirty team. I’m just saying they are a team that plays extremely hard and isn’t afraid to play physical to prove a point if they need to. Again, the Celtics are a fearless team and they will not back down and roll over.
But the Cavaliers control their own fate here. If they keep doing the things they can control, they will beat the Celtics. If the Cavaliers don’t take the Celtics seriously, or if they play careless and loose and start turning the ball over too much, the series will be a lot more difficult. I feel like it’s really that simple. Sure, it’s possible the Cavaliers will just hit a frustrating cold streak with their shooting. After all, most of the time stats return to their averages. If the Cavaliers have been this hot to start the playoffs, there’s a chance a cold streak is around the corner. But even if the Cavs go cold, they still have two of the best players in the world at attack the lane in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. They have the depth and pieces to play a multitude of different styles and Ty Lue has shown an ability to adapt when needed.
I’m not expecting a sweep this time, but I do think the Cavaliers will make it past Boston and into their third straight NBA Finals. No matter what happens, though, it will just be nice to finally get to watch Cleveland play some playoff basketball again. The break was nice for the players, I’m sure, but as fans, I’m ready to get this thing going again.
- Yes, I know, the series will catch up by giving the West more days off between games. That doesn’t change how dumb I think it is that one series is starting so far ahead of the other. [↩]