So maybe it was an effort thing?
It’s a little tough to draw too many other broad conclusions from Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, save perhaps the equally illuminating analysis that shots made generally are preferable to shots missed. The Cavaliers found the mojo they apparently left in Cleveland over the weekend, crushing the Raptors 100-60 through three quarters and coasting through garbage time for a 116-78 final.
All the letdown areas for Cleveland from what now seems like a very curious trip to Toronto were patched up in this one, starting on the defensive end. The Cavs tightened up their focus while making a few notable tactical changes, most importantly increased pressure on the Raptors’ ball screen action featuring Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan handling the ball. Lowry saw mostly hard traps, with both his man and the Cavs’ big man leaping out to contain him – Cleveland weak side defenders were flying around the court to cut off the numbers advantages resulting if Lowry got a pass off between the trap, and caused a bunch of turnovers for easy points the other way. DeRozan wasn’t trapped as often, but instead saw Cleveland’s defenders trailing on his hip over the top of screens rather than the duck-under strategy he’s seen most of this postseason. This kept Cleveland’s bigs (especially Kevin Love) comfortable and in position, and Cleveland’s wings were excellent staying attached to DeRozan, who shot just 2-8.
Speaking of Love, it appears home is where the heart is. Largely absent on both ends north of the border, Love was involved and on point early with a more familiar, active brand of basketball. The defensive schemes against Lowry and DeRozan suit him much better than the previous tactics, and he looked more engaged on that end as a result. He won’t shoot 8-10 (and not miss a shot before halftime) every game, but the comfort level was apparent for Love and should be a point of emphasis for Cleveland moving forward.
Cavs coach Ty Lue also rebounded from a punch in the jaw behind the bench, maximizing the few things that worked in Toronto and shedding most of the excess. He got back to LeBron’s normal rotation in the first half after curiously diverging in Games 3 and 4, sitting him late in the first quarter and then bringing him back to anchor the bench (this wasn’t necessary in the second half, as the starters all sat the fourth quarter with a 40-point lead). Lue also leaned on the Horns Rub set that had dominated the Raptors in Game 4, but one he had strangely abandoned down the stretch after a single failure; the Cavs probably ran some variation of the set 10 times in the second quarter alone, and got consistently good looks. It will continue to be a weapon until the Raptors (or Cleveland’s next opponent) proves they can stop it.
All the increased activity for the Cavs defensively led to some chaos in Toronto’s attack, and a ton of killer turnovers. Cleveland matched their total points scored on the fastbreak from Games 3 and 4 combined with over eight minutes still to play in the third quarter Wednesday night, forcing 17 cough-ups through three quarters while only committing nine of their own. This second figure could come into play in the next round should Cleveland advance since both their potential opponents thrive on the break, particularly the current iteration of the Thunder, and the Cavs have been honing some positive ball-control habits that could come in handy. Wednesday was their first game over 10 turnovers since Game 1, and they only got there during mostly garbage minutes (they had just five at the half).
Barring a return to the weekend’s malaise from Cleveland, it doesn’t feel like the Raptors are long for this series. Lowry and DeRozan came back to earth with much more pressure on them, and Bismack Biyombo was thrown around a bit on the defensive glass by Tristan Thompson, who had his most active game of the series. The Cavs managed to carve up Toronto’s defense without any emphasis whatsoever on the three-point line, attempting just eight through the half but shooting 20-32 from two-point range in that same span. They seem to have needed a reminder that their talent advantage won’t show through if they coast through long stretches, and as long as this idea doesn’t leave them again, they should move on.
Game 6 Prediction: Cavs close the series
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