After defeating the Atlanta Hawks 100-99 in game 4 to sweep the Eastern Conference Semi-final round, the Cleveland Cavaliers have won 8 straight playoff games. Their run has been spectacular so far, having been the only team to sweep their first two series in any conference. They are really hitting their stride at the right time, and are just a series away from the finals.
One of the notable reasons that seems obvious, but is still worth mentioning is the 3-point shooting efficiency that the Cavs have displayed. In their series against Atlanta they shot 77/152 for 50.7% from behind the arc. To put that into perspective, they shot 36.2% during the year and the Golden State Warriors shot a league-best 41.6% for the regular season on 3-pointers, so they were almost 10% better shooting those shots in the series than the best team in the NBA.
In game 2, the Cavs hit a record 25 3-point shots for an NBA playoff record, and 10 different players hit a 3-pointer before it finished, including many of the bench players after the game clearly got out of hand. They followed up that performance with 21 in the next game, which in itself is incredibly impressive. None of their games in this recent series had less than 15 made 3’s.
This 3-point efficiency is not the only part of the offense that is running on all cylinders. A lot of the credit has to go to LeBron James as a facilitator of the system. In the series against the Hawks, one of the league’s best defensive teams during the regular season, he averaged 23.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 7.75 assist while shooting 50.7% from the field.
LeBron seems to be unstoppable, bringing the ball up like a point guard, running the whole offense, and really creating shots better than pretty much anyone else in the East right now.
The other two best players on the team, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, have been playing lights out as well. In the Hawks series, Irving averaged 21.25 point and 6.25 assists to just 1.75 turnovers per game. Love averaged a solid double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds, and has recorded a double-double in each game this playoffs.
We already knew how good these two players were, and Irving has been playing like an all-star since before LeBron came to the team, but this is seemingly the first time that Love really looks like a pivotal part of the offense. He is touching the ball more, being a bigger part of the system, and fighting for boards like we were used to seeing in Minnesota.
He received a lot of encouragement from his coach Tyronn Lue and has felt really empowered to be a star, and not just a role player on a championship-contending squad.
It’s easy to look at the “Big 3” on the Cavaliers and focus on them as the reason the team has succeeded so far. But the whole roster is playing effectively, fulfilling their roles. They have a real 9-10 man rotation and is moving the ball extremely well. In fact, they are averaging 23.9 assists per game, 2nd in the NBA
Cleveland has averaged 107.8 points per game in the playoffs, 2nd in the league, and the next best team in the East is all the way at #9 with Miami, after Atlanta was knocked out. They are also 5th in points allowed at 97.3 per game, so both their offense and defense have been effective. They are also averaging a 4.8 rebound advantage per game, due to the athletic big guys they have on the inside and people that fight hard for boards.
Cleveland has about a week of rest before the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat finish their series and determine an opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals. Neither team has looked particularly great, and that series is looking like it could go all the way to a game 7. They should provide more of a test for the Cavs, but with injuries and more wear and tear on them with long series in their first two rounds, the Cavaliers should be the heavy favorites.
It is bad practice for athletes to be looking past their current opponents, and LeBron knows that as well as anyone, but it would be hard to imagine that there isn’t anything in the back of the Cavaliers’ heads that isn’t anticipating a rematch with the Warriors in the Finals, to try and get revenge on last year’s loss. Until then, we can just enjoy the current playoff run in Cleveland for what it is.
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