In Game 1 Sunday, the Indiana Pacers clearly knew who they were as a team. Indiana was confident in how they wanted to attack Cleveland and anything the defense threw at them (such as attempts to trap Victor Oladipo). The Pacers knew how they wanted to defend and how to help off of. Indiana played with confidence.
Cleveland looked lost.
LeBron was not attacking mismatches (and with him, everything is a mismatch), guys were standing around watching and waiting (seemingly for LeBron to just take over), and on defense the LeBron lacked energy and Cavaliers looked like they had all season when they were 29th in the league.
Telling quote from LeBron James on Wednesday looking back at the season and looking smack in the face of the 0-1 deficit the Cavs are in against Indiana: “I think we spent so much time trying to figure out who we were in the regular season and getting the right lineups and guys in and out and things of that nature, we could never build for the playoffs. It was kind of like, build for the next game. So the postseason finally hit us and it hit us very well. And I think that can be the best teacher for us to know exactly what we should be ready for tonight.”
The Cavaliers didn’t have time to build a proper identity with this lineup, and that did have an impact heading into the playoffs. So did the talent level around LeBron this year compared to the last three.
Expect a different Cavaliers team in Game 2 Tuesday, starting with an attacking LeBron James from the opening top — especially of Bojon Bogdanovic remains the primary defender on him. Look for Kevin Love to get more touches. Look for more J.R. Smith (maybe starting). Look for the Cavaliers to play with some desperation.
But does this team have an identity yet? Do they have the trust and habits built up with each other to get by the Pacers? And if so, what about a Toronto team finding it’s groove.
If the Cavaliers don’t have that identity and fall short, it will make for a very wild offseason in Cleveland.