What to watch in a crucial Cavs-Pacers Game 2 matchup

Cavs-Pacers

• Cleveland might want to write this off as a “make or miss league” loss. Cleveland shot a hideous 8-of-34 from deep. Hit their average mark, and this is probably a close home loss against a fifth seed that didn’t exactly rain fire either. So … hooray?

What a listless, disengaged effort. The Cavs played as if this were Game 83, starting with LeBron James. He drifted off Darren Collison several times in the first quarter; Collison led the league in 3-point percentage. Trevor Booker scooted right around James for an offensive rebound on a free throw. He let Turner sneak behind him for a layup. He sulked. He didn’t get back on defense.

Ty Lue is crowing about a secret best five-man lineup the Cavs didn’t use in Game 1. Umm, the playoffs started. The Pacers smacked Cleveland with a level of intensity these Cavs have never displayed. Might want to ratchet things up, guys.

• The Cavs will get a dunk, layup or 3-pointer on a huge majority of possessions — like, almost all of them — when LeBron posts up Bojan Bogdanovic or Lance Stephenson. Those guys have no chance. (That’s no slight. Bogdanovic played LeBron well. No normal wing has a chance when LeBron decides it’s time to work.)

This is classic LeBron: He knows this, but he rarely cares to exploit it on an almost-every-possession basis until he has to. And don’t lean on the “he just wants to get other guys involved” trope. His post game is, first and foremost, a vehicle with which to get other guys involved.

• Jeff Green was awful, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Lue yanks him from the starting five, or at least pulls him earlier. The Cavs can’t run an optimal spread pick-and-roll with Green on the wing, because the defense ignores him. He’s not an accomplished pick-and-roll screener, so they can’t adjust by using him that way. The Pacers are hiding Myles Turner on him, which has the ripple effect of slotting two like-sized players — Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young — on LeBron and Love, neutering that pick-and-roll combination.

If anything, Turner paid Green too much respect. Cleveland hurt Indiana clearing one side of the floor and having a guard screen for LeBron:

The Pacers might want to shift Turner across the paint, onto LeBron’s side, or at least prime him to scoot over earlier.

Green has limited utility if he’s not making open 3s. It’s tempting to suggest the Cavs have Green defend Turner, so they could switch the Victor Oladipo-Turner pick-and-roll. But that would mean Love on Young, a tricky screener himself. And it’s unclear if Green would fare all that well switching onto Oladipo anyway.

Larry Nance Jr. did a decent job switching onto Indy guards, though Oladipo drilled a couple of stone-cold jumpers in his face. If Nance can hang — and he is hit or miss on switches — the Cavs might as well just start him over Green. He is a better defender and rebounder, and the Cavs can use him as a screener to unlock LeBron’s spread pick-and-roll game:

• If Kyle Korver is healthy enough, he should play more. Korver’s effort has been a rare constant amid Cleveland’s endless melodrama. He’s not a stopper, but he tries, he’s in the right place and he has knack for deflections and gang rebounds — the little plays that galvanize lethargic teams. Also, he can shoot. The Cavs might want to explore smaller, all-shooting lineups with LeBron as the true power forward — groups that include LeBron, Love, and three of the George Hill/J.R. Smith/Rodney Hood/Jordan Clarkson/Korver/Cedi Osman crew.

• Lue continues to have Love trap pick-and-rolls 25-plus feet from the rim, even though doing so opens holes everywhere. The Cavs were so worried about Turner slipping behind Love, they parked a third guy at the foul line — Jordan Clarkson here, about 30 feet from his actual man — to help before the pick-and-roll really even got started:

You’ll never guess what happened:

You can understand this: Make anyone but Oladipo beat you. Cleveland allowed less than a point per possession on trips when Love defended the screener — a stingy mark, per Second Spectrum.

But this is surrender masquerading as aggression. The Cavs have no faith in Love, no matter what strategy they use, so they’re loading up behind him. When Love hung back in semi-garbage time, Oladipo zoomed right around him:

Some of the numbers back Lue up. Even so, this strategy feels exploitable for any team prepared to take what the defense gives.

And that, more than anything, is what the Pacers do. They have a lot of clever, versatile players. They adapt.

One great example: With about 10 minutes left in the game, Cleveland switched against the Cory Joseph-Domantas Sabonis pick-and-roll, leaving Clarkson on Sabonis in the post. Joseph entered the ball. LeBron saw the mismatch, hustled across the paint and dragged Clarkson off Sabonis — and onto LeBron’s original assignment, Booker.

What happened? Booker ducked under the rim with Clarkson on his back, and Sabonis dumped him the ball for a layup. The Pacers have been opportunistic like that all season — a delight to watch.

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