The Cavs had just come off a resounding victory over the Washington Wizards the night before, exacting some revenge from last Sunday’s putrid performance. The team seemed to find some success going small-ball, which contributed to one of the most convincing wins the Cavs have put forth in a couple weeks. All in all, it appeared Cleveland ready to turn the corner from a relatively strange few days full of tweets, trips to Florida and cries for an enforcer.
Then, as the Celtics ripped the Cavs apart throughout last night’s opening frame, it looked like everything was undone again. Down 33-17, Cleveland appeared as though it was going through the same motions it has all season long – follow up a solid victory with an uninspired defeat. The Cavs were getting worked defensively, the body language was poor and it was tough to think there was anyone on the bench who wasn’t already mentally moving on to the next game.
However, it turns out Cleveland actually wasn’t going through the same routine this time. The Cavs buckled down, quickly erasing a sizable deficit and taking a one-point lead into halftime. In total, they outscored Boston 82-50 from the final minute of the first quarter until midway through the fourth. By the end of the 120-103 victory, you couldn’t help but be impressed by Cleveland’s resolve and ability to overcome such a sloppy start.
However, as fun as this weekend was for the Cavs, it won’t mean too much if they take yet another step backwards. If Cleveland follows up this three-game winning streak with another display of zombie-basketball, concerns will once again pop up as the playoffs near.
At this point in the season, the team can’t afford more alarming lulls. Now that they’re finally seeing what works and what doesn’t, it’s time for the Cavs to finally start building off this momentum.
Obviously any claim that basketball in March is more important than games played in April and May is a little off. Clearly the Cavs will want to save their best for the postseason.
At the same time, the team finally seems to be figuring out some consistent in-game strategies, and they’re significantly paying off.
For one, Cleveland’s small-ball lineup looks like it could be a crucial weapon come playoff time.
The team began utilizing a lineup of Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, LeBron James and Timofey Mozgov during Friday night’s beat-down of the Wizards, and it definitely played a major role in the end result. The lineup was broken out last night, too, once again working to perfection.
Granted, coach Tyronn Lue is likely not going to make this his starting five anytime soon. James has already essentially told everyone not to get too used to him playing at power forward.
Still, teams have gone small against the Cavs before, and there never seemed to be an answer for it. If this weekend is a sample of what’s to come, it certainly appears as though Cleveland can counter-attack small-ball from here on out.
Additionally, the team showed last night there’s no real need for an enforcer to increase the physicality. A big reason for the comeback against the Celtics was Cleveland toughening up on defense. And, just as it did midway through last postseason, physical play changed the game.
However, now that the Cavs’ past two victories have given prime examples of what can happen when they’re giving max effort, they can’t just revert again. They can’t go on cruise control next time they play a team deemed unworthy. Cleveland certainly appears as though it’s figuring things out at just the right time, but the team has to keep moving forward.
The playoffs get closer with every game, and it’s getting to the point where every team needs to start dropping bad habits. For the Cavs, this means no longer ditching what works in exchange for inconsistent basketball. This weekend was a major sign of progress after quite a stressful week, and momentum is definitely picking up.
Instead of tossing it aside again, it’s finally time for Cleveland to start building from it.