The Eastern Conference Finals and specifically the 2018 Cavaliers in said Finals promises an intriguing case study in hardened teamwork and its benefits compared to a singular superhuman basketball entity putting a team on his shoulders. While the first drubbing of the Cavaliers at the hands of the Celtics came through as particularly satisfying, it also blares more alarms than we anticipated after merely a single game.
Besides, the Cavaliers have faced team-imploding crisis after team-imploding crisis this season yet they always find a way to wiggle out of. Generally, the shovel lies in LeBron’s hands, magically able to claw the Cavaliers past a skin-of-their-teeth seven-game series against the Pacers or haphazardly hot glue a roster of newly acquired prospects-turned-starters into a viable team at the midseason mark.
This could be chalked up to magnified squabble surrounding the Cavs. If history has a say, there is no reason to count them out yet, especially after one game.
This odyssey, however, feels a little different. Victor Oladipo’s quick-hit spark faded too briskly to be within the possibility of taking down the mighty Cavs and a team flaunting LeBron relishes in self-induced chaos, therefore almost thriving in such a drastic midseason shift. But the Celtics, the latest challenger of the throne, have been far too consistent for game one to be simply written off as a fluke.
After a slight adjustment period against the unheralded explosiveness of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, the chips naturally fell into place after an upset(?) over the skyrocketing Sixers en route to a profound coaching driven style built on deep lineups and wide scoring outputs. The Celtics boast six players scoring double digits and four players above fifteen and helmed by the brilliant Brad Stevens, they pose the finest chance to end LeBron’s seven-year Finals streak.
For the bombastic Cavaliers, they, whether by design or not, blindly live and die by LeBron. In wins, he averages an otherworldly 37.5 points, 9.0 assists, 2.6 turnovers, and 9.5 rebounds while in losses he puts up a more mundane 22.3 points and nearly doubles his turnover totals (5.0 per loss). His plus-minus also drastically shifts between game outcomes, a difference of 25.6, indicating the boom-or-bust mentality of the Cavs. If they go down, they go down spectacularly.
And this is where the nerves begin to creep in for the Cavaliers. LeBron has shown he can win almost exclusively by himself. Whether the 2015 Finals run without both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love where he actually led the eventual champions Warriors at one point or these exact playoffs where no other player averages more than fifteen points a night. When he dominates, the Cavs sleep easy.
But now he’s facing the best defense in the league highlighted by the best defender he has seen these playoffs. Marcus Morris locked down LeBron in game one, allowing him only a stinky five points on six shots. Not to mention the sublime switching and group effort in keeping LeBron from his prized drive. Nearly the whole Celtics team got on him, resulting in a fifteen point, seven turnover dud.
By preying on his outside shot creation and forcing him outside, the Celtics successfully neutralized LeBron in this first outing. While he says he isn’t nervous about this series, he has every right in the world to be.
The porous defense from the Cavs has come back to haunt them. Love can’t contain Horford as the Celtics center went seven for eight when Love guarded him and Boston went off for 60 points in the paint. They lack depth and Tyronn Lue often scrambles for playmakers mid-game. Jordan Clarkson has lost any pop he can bring and J.R Smith can’t keep up with Jayson Tatum. The bread-and-butter three ball no longer exists, going four for twenty-six on the night.
Interior defense was a no-show in game one and offense could have been produced with the catalyst LeBron struggling as hard as he did. The trickle-down effect of LeBron’s offensive woes struck virtually the entire roster and his game has a bigger effect on the team than it should. The foundations have been built on LeBron really only because they can be however as we have seen in game one, this will backfire if opposing teams key in on it.
A single game doesn’t necessarily indicate an entire series’ outcome but the outlook for the Cavs is as dreary as dreary can get. If the defensive scheme holds true for the Celtics and LeBron has hit point break of his greatness, it could be the end of the Cavaliers as we know it. Without cavalry, it will be LeBron against the world once again but this time, the world may just be too great for the King.
In LeBron we trust.