With Day 1 of the NBA Playoffs in the books, it's time for some knee-jerk reactions. The home teams (AKA the better-seeded teams) won in three out of the four games. We'll start with the first game of the day.
In the regular season, teams can get away without having much in the way of star power. A good coach, team chemistry and effort go a long way during the 82 game season. However, playoff basketball is when it especially helps to have superstar talent. Both LeBron James and Paul George were outstanding in this one, but that's more predictable than it is noteworthy. So, let's look on the periphery.
Even though both teams shot the lights out, the final score was just 109-108. The slower pace was strongly in favor of Indiana, as the Pacers do not have the offensive weapons to keep up with Cleveland in a shoot out. Even when those weapons aren't scoring, they are creating advantages. Watch this pick-and-roll between Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.
Pacers power forward Thaddeus Young (number 21) is guarding Richard Jefferson. He is supposed to be the one to help off his man to bump Thompson on the roll. But, he's so worried about the pin down screen being set for Kyle Korver that he completely ignores the main action. Korver gets zero credit for this play in the box score, but it's the spacing he helps provide that makes this Cavs offense hum.
As good as Cleveland's offense is, their defense is nearly just as bad. Of the eight teams that played yesterday, the Pacers actually had the third most efficient offense of the night, putting up an absurd 1.17 points per possession. During the season, Cleveland's poor defense could be attributed to a lack of effort and focus. Yesterday, though, the Cavs seemed content to let anyone other than George beat them, which resulted in a surprising number of Lance Stephenson buckets. But, lousy defensive effort is a tough habit to break. Just watch Irving's "rim protection" on this pick-and-roll between Mona Ellis and Thad Young.
Irving will never be Dwyane Wade at the rim, but come on.
There will be a lot of talk about the Pacers' final play, and whether George should've gotten the ball back from CJ Miles. But, Miles is a good shooter who got a clean look, so I have a hard time begrudging that shot. Indiana had enough defensive miscommunications earlier in the game that they can point to as having been game-deciding.
The Pacers missed out on a real opportunity to steal Game 1 in Cleveland, but they also proved that they can hang. With a team effort they managed to out-rebound Cleveland 41-34. Rebounding is one place Cleveland will be vulnerable, especially if Kevin Love isn't quite right after recovering from minor knee surgery. The downside is they shot 45.8% from three and wasted a very strong offensive performance from Stephenson. You have to imagine those two things will regress. Picking knits is fun, but at the end of the day (Stephen A voice) the team with LeBron is likely going to win the series.
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