The Cleveland Cavaliers have a matchup problem when it comes to the defending NBA champions, partially because of Kevin Love. But he’s the same player that makes them so difficult to stop for pretty much everyone else, and possibly holds the key for the Cavs in rectifying their failure from last year in the finals.
Love finished with a game-high 29 points as the Cavaliers rolled to an impressive 115-92 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in OKC. The game was pretty much even until the middle of the third quarter, when the Cavaliers took their defense to a higher level while the Thunder had no answer to that change. Their own defense was abysmal for most of the game, but when the shots stopped dropping, they couldn’t keep up with a Cavs team that has a way, a system and the know how of execution, especially when the jugular is showing.
LeBron James had a very good game with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 11 assists, and all this with Kyrie Irving playing just nine minutes, with the flu (probably) making him sit out most of the game, and possibly miss a bit of time in the near future. Matthew Dellavedova was fantastic in his place, scoring just 2 points but adding 7 assists and playing great defense, showing once more why he’s so important to the Cavs, developing into one of the best backup point guards in the NBA, or at least being the one the Cavaliers need. J.R. Smith showed the big difference between him and Dion Waiters with 15 points, Tristan Thompson had a 14-14 night and even Richard Jefferson shined, scoring 15 points off the bench.
But enough with the specifics about one game. The Cavaliers, like anyone trying to win a championship, are about the long run and the big picture. And what does this game show about that picture? It does show that the Tyronn Lue change is working. The Cavaliers haven’t been unbeatable, but overall their offense has a much better flow, with James trying to fight his own instincts of taking over too much, as they showed one of their better offensive spreads in the last few weeks. Nothing felt forced, as they shots 51.3% from the field and 43.5% from beyond the arc.
But back to Love, who against the Thunder doesn’t present too much of a defensive problem which forces the Cavaliers to play without him. But against the Golden State Warriors, the difference between him and Draymond Green make it better for the Cavaliers to play without him, making them lose an offensive asset that in the long run, they can’t do without. And either hiding him on defense or making him at some point someone who isn’t afraid to put his body on someone heading towards the basket could be the difference between putting up a fight against the best team in the league and being butchered in the finals.
The crushing home loss to the Warriors got David Blatt fired eventually, but unlike other predictions, it didn’t get Love traded. Maybe the way to beat the Warriors eventually has nothing to do with this or that player but by completely changing the system, which is something the Cavaliers are trying to do. But you can’t change an entire team and organization in one season, not do the Cavaliers plan to. With what they have, they’re hoping that maximizing their ability to get the most out of Love, hiding his weaknesses and improving in pretty much every other aspect can be a game changer when it comes to trying to win the championship once again.