Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford made NBA history this season, becoming the first three-time winner of the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Crawford, who averaged 14.2 points in the regular season and 17.3 points in the playoffs, was an important contributor for the 53-win Clippers and will soon have the opportunity to cash in on his successful season.
In July, Crawford will be an unrestricted free agent. He could have a long list of interested suitors since the ability to create shots, lead a second unit and spread the floor with three-point shooting are highly valued skills in today’s NBA. With the league’s salary cap rising to an unprecedented $92 million due to a new national television deal, the 36-year-old will get a significant raise from the $5,675,000 he made this season in L.A.
Even though Crawford didn’t start most contests for the Clippers, he often finished them and came up big in late-game situations. In fact, Crawford led the team in fourth-quarter scoring with 341 points.
Without question, Crawford is one of the league’s best one-on-one scorers. He finished the season ranked seventh in the NBA in total isolation points and isolation points per game, trailing only James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan.
He’s so effective because he can score in a variety of ways. His pull-up is deadly and he used the move to score 8.3 points per game, which was 11th-most among all NBA players. Crawford has great range too, as only 13 NBA players hit more threes than Crawford’s 117 this season. He’s also terrific at drawing contact (there’s a reason he has the most four-point plays in NBA history), and shot 90.4 percent from the charity stripe this season – the second– highest percentage in the league behind only Stephen Curry’s 90.8 percent.
Fellow NBA players have a lot of respect for Crawford and his game. With his handles, shot-creating ability and quickness, he’s incredibly difficult to contain. In March, Basketball Insiders talked to a number of players about what it’s like to defend Crawford.
“Jamal is one of the toughest covers in the league,” Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard C.J. McCollum said. “His ability to shoot off the dribble and manipulate ball screens makes him a unique guard. [He] also gives the Clippers a secondary ball handler. Jamal could potentially win [the Sixth Man award] every year.”
“He’s one of the best players to have ever come off a bench,” Indiana Pacers point guard Ty Lawson said. “You never know what he’s going to do. He might come down and just pull up for a three. Or he might give you a hesitation move, which he normally does right before he pulls up for a three, or he might just blow by you. It’s so hard to guard him. Even in the lane, he knows how to throw up floaters and he always seems to make them.”
“He’s so important to that team because he’s instant offense off of the bench,” Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton said. “He’s somebody who can come in and bring energy and get the crowd into the game. Also, when it comes to closing games, he’s someone who can create his own shot, so he’s very important to the Clippers. He’s tough to guard because he is so good at making tough shots. No shot is a bad shot for him. I remember watching him when I was younger – four-point play after four-point play.”
“He’s a game-changer for them,” Blazers point guard Damian Lillard said. “They could be having a bad night and he can take over. He makes big shots, tough shots, and draws fouls if you’re too physical.”
Crawford’s teammates praise his game too, while also raving about his off-court contributions. After the Clippers were eliminated by the Blazers in Game 7 of their first-round series, Austin Rivers got choked up when discussing how much Crawford’s support and friendship meant to him.
“He’s the best teammate I’ve ever had, man,” Rivers said, holding back tears. “A lot of people doubted me when I came to L.A. a year ago. People thought I was just getting a chance because of my father. Jamal believed in me, man.”
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Crawford to discuss his upcoming free agency, the Clippers’ future, the rising salary cap, his willingness to recruit star players and much more. Check out the exclusive Q&A:
Are you excited for free agency? Some players dread it, but others look forward to it. How do you feel about it?
Jamal Crawford: “Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. I think with the way the league is now and the way things are going, this is a great time to be a free agent – for sure.”
With the salary cap going up, there will be some crazy contracts handed out. As a player, how much do you follow the cap information and how do you think the increase will impact things this summer?
Crawford: “I’m very aware of it. I have been for a while now, just being such a student of the game – and not just the game itself, but also things that are happening around the game and the way that the league is growing. I’m very aware of what’s going on. I think with the way that the popularity of basketball and the business of basketball are trending up, the game is in great shape.”
Most people don’t know what it’s like to be a free agent or how it feels to approach this process. There aren’t many jobs where there’s a public list that shows who you’re competing against, how productive they’ve been and what they’re earning. As you approach free agency, do you look at the other guards you’ll be in the market with and all of the teams with cap space and consider all of the scenarios?
Crawford: “Yes and no. Yes, because you have to be aware of which players are out there and what teams can do so that you know what people are looking for and what options exist. But I also say no because I feel like at the end of the day, I just need to do what I do on the court and I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I can feel good about what I’ve done and be confident entering the summer. I’m definitely aware of who else is out there, but I’m not too concerned about it.”
This is your first time entering free agency coming off of a Sixth Man of the Year season. How much do you think that helps you?
Crawford: “I think it helps, just because one of the knocks on me could be age, but I think age is only an issue if it shows. If you just watch me play and don’t know, I feel like you might think, ‘Oh, he’s 25 or 26.’ I’m better than a lot of guys who are 10 years younger than me. And, if you look, my numbers per-36-minutes are better now than they were 10 years ago when I was with the New York Knicks. I understand the rule that ‘Father Time is undefeated’ and all that, but for whatever reason – my faith in God, my style of play and my clean living – age hasn’t had any effect on me whatsoever.”
What’s your approach to fending off Father Time and staying effective for so long? Whatever it is, it has worked really well. Jared Dudley told me that you’re “the Benjamin Button of the NBA.” What’s the secret?
Crawford: “I think clean living and taking care of myself are really important. I’m always doing preventive stuff. I don’t wait until any injuries happen – knock on wood – to take care of my body. I’m always doing stuff like foam rolling, stretching, going in the cold tub, drinking a lot of fluids and staying in great shape. I’m always in great shape. I’ve never been a guy who gets out of shape and then needs to get back in shape. I feel like that’s like taking a job and leaving your house for nine months, and then when you come back, you try to turn on your lights and they’re popping and you try to start your car and you have issues. I think some injuries happen when you take a lot of time off and then try to get back into shape and back into playing. I don’t take that time off. I rest my body and recover, but I don’t take that kind of time off where I get out of shape because I think that’s when bad things happen.”
How do you feel after games or the morning after games? Do you feel more aches and pains than when you were younger?
Crawford: “No, I honestly feel fine. Because of the stuff I do after games like foam rolling, I don’t really allow the aches and pains to come. I’m always in prevention mode, especially with the Clippers’ trainers, who approach things the same way. They are always on top of things and they’ve taught all of us that prevention is key to be able to withstand a long season and avoid those aches and pains. Because I do all of those things and am very diligent about taking care of myself – foam rolling, stretching, working out – I feel fine. That’s why I play every single day in the summer. I don’t take time off because I feel great.”
What’s your hope this summer? I’m sure you’ll weigh your options since there are so many teams that have significant cap space, but are you hoping to re-sign with the Clippers?
Crawford: “My preference is to re-sign with the Clippers. But I understand that, at the end of the day, I’m a free agent so I have to look at everything. I have to take every call and consider every offer that comes to me and my agent. I have to, that’s just part of being a free agent. Like I said, my preference is to re-sign with the Clippers. But we have to take every single call that comes in. That’s the way it is.”
Has Doc Rivers (president of basketball operations and head coach of the Clippers) talked to you at all about free agency during your exit meeting or since your season ended?
Crawford: “We discussed it a little bit. He just said, ‘We want to bring you back and that’s part of the plan, for sure.’ I think I’m one of the priorities and he said that they want to bring me back to L.A. I thought the exit meeting went really well and he definitely made it clear that he wants me to re-sign.”
With the Clippers, this team has been together for quite some time and that kind of continuity is somewhat rare is today’s NBA. Since being eliminated, there have been some trade rumors and speculation that the team may be split up. Do you think the best approach is to bring the whole team back or do you think some changes need to be made?
Crawford: “I think chemistry is underrated. If you look at the really, really great teams, most of them have been together for years – and not just in this era either, even going back and looking at the great teams in NBA history. With us, if you look at the last two champions – the Spurs and the Warriors – we knocked both of those teams out recently [eliminating San Antonio in 2015 and eliminating Golden State in 2014]. I think we’re right there in terms of contending. We’re not far away whatsoever. Sometimes you have to keep knocking on that door until you break it down. It may take time and it may not be the easiest process, but that’s the way I kind of look at it.”
I feel like I ask you every summer, but how many more years do you want to keep playing? Every summer, you say five more years.
Crawford: “I know (laughs). It’s still the same! I’ll still say five years. I’m still in love with the game, I’m still playing at a high level and I still feel like I’m getting better as a player, which is crazy. This year, I thought my defense was better and I thought my all-around game was better. Initially, to start the season, I thought I took a step backward so that some of the new guys that we brought in could take a step forward. But then I switched, transitioning to being more aggressive in the second half of the year. I’ll still say that I want to play four or five more years. And if you ask me in four or five years, I may say four or five years again. As long as I’m playing at a high level and things are going well and I’m still in love with the game, why wouldn’t I keep playing?”
In today’s NBA, creating your own shot, spacing and shooting are extremely important. Do you think that the way the game is evolving benefits you and your style of play?
Crawford: “No question. No question. I think, obviously, spacing on the court is so important. If you’re a shooter, even if you are missing shots in a particular game, the other team still has to respect your shot based on what you’ve done and what you can do at any time if you can get hot. And I’m talking about any shooter, not just me. Teams have to respect that, which opens up the court. Shot creation is huge too, in the playoffs especially. When plays break down, you still have to manufacture a shot. When you have a guy who can get any shot he wants at any time or bail his team out on a bad possession to give you a chance at some points, that’s a very, very valuable weapon. When a play breaks down, it becomes, ‘Okay, we just have to get a great shot up. Who can us that shot?’ I think having that guy is very valuable. You see that from Kyrie Irving a lot. And, honestly, there are times for isolation. Sometimes that may be the best offense on particular possessions.”
Your teammates speak very highly of you and your presence in the locker room. How much do you think being a veteran leader helps your value?
Crawford: “I think that helps. What’s weird is that usually the guys who become a positive locker room presence and a veteran leader in the locker room aren’t contributing on the court as much because they’re in the last year or two of their career. I’m doing it at a time when I’m still playing at a high level, because that’s just who I am. That’s how I’ve always been. Hearing what Austin said… When he has tears in his eyes and he’s saying that I’m the best teammate he’s ever had, that means everything to me. That means the world to me. I obviously didn’t do that because I wanted that acclaim or attention. I did that because I wanted to be a great friend and a great teammate. You can ask any one of my teammates and they’ll say I do the same things to support them. I always try to remain positive and encourage guys. I can get on you if I need to, but it’s always a positive thing. It’s a long season, so you have to let guys know that you’re in this together and that you have their back. You can ask anyone, whether they’re a star or were on a 10-day, I’m the same way with anyone.”
You have so many friends around the NBA. You’re obviously close with all of the Seattle guys, but you have close relationships with so many random players that fans wouldn’t expect too. When I did that article about how your peers felt you deserved the Sixth Man of the Year award, players from all around the league campaigned for you. And you’ve had everyone from Kevin Durant to John Wall to Kyrie Irving to LaMarcus Aldridge to James Harden to DeMar DeRozan come through Seattle to play in your pro-am.
I bring all of this up because I’m curious: Are you open to recruiting during free agency this summer? Whether it’s for the Clippers or a new team, are you going to recruit other players?
Crawford: “No doubt about it. I’m glad you’re bringing it up, and I think you’re the first to do so. That’s an aspect of my free agency that a lot of people may not have thought about, but I certainly have. I feel like I’m cool with almost every player in the NBA. I think that respect comes because of, first off, what you do on the court and also who you are off the court. You’re as good as your peers think you are – no disrespect to the media or anyone else. We, as players, know who is a good pro and a great person and there’s a certain respect that comes with that. There isn’t a single player who I can’t get on the phone or talk to about a situation. When I sign with a team, I’m definitely willing to recruit and I’m almost positive I can land somebody too.”
What’s your response to the criticism of your defense? Does it bother you?
Crawford: “No, it doesn’t bother me at all. At first, I think they may have actually had a point. They had a right to say what they said. It’s obviously an opinion, but I’d agree that it had some validity at one point. But now, I think my defense has improved. I’m not saying that I’m Tony Allen or Kawhi Leonard or Garrett Temple by any means, but my defense is definitely respectable. And the way the league is now, it’s mostly built around team defense. You can’t touch a player or get physical, especially on the perimeter, so you really rely on team defense. I think the best defenses in the league are team defenses. I’m always going to give great effort and follow the scheme, whatever the game plan may be. At first, I think those critics had a reason to gripe about my defense. But now, I think I’ve improved. You can go back and look at my defense in the playoffs and see that it was pretty solid.”
Three Sixth Man of the Year trophies already gives you the record. Is a fourth coming before your career is said and done?
Crawford: “No question about it. Without a doubt. I can say that wholeheartedly. Alex, man, I wouldn’t lie to you or the people about this: I feel great and I can stay at this level for four or five more years, barring a major injury. With the way that the game is played and with my skill set, there’s no doubt I can do it. Think about it: When I was 32 years old and had just signed with the Clippers, people then were probably like, ‘Man, well, he’s older and may not be as effective.’ Well, I was the third-leading scorer and won two of four Sixth Man of the Year awards. I’ve heard critics say, ‘Well, he’s older now…’ for a while. If my age isn’t showing, it doesn’t matter.”
Does market matter to you? Last summer, a lot was made about the smaller-market teams landing free agents while teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks missed out on some players. Do you care about market size?
Crawford: “No. The market doesn’t matter to me at all. Like I said, my preference is to stay with the Clippers, but my door is open for anyone who wants to do business and has interest in me. I will seriously look at every single team that has an interest in me, regardless of the market.”
NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams
This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.
This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.
As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.
With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.
Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.
Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.
With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.
However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?
Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.
Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.
In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.
So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.
However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.
Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.
At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.
Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.
For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.
On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.
With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.
Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.
Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.
Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success
The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.
The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.
The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.
Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.
He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.
“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”
It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.
Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.
“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”
The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.
This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.
“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”
Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.
While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.
“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”
Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.
For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.
“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”
These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.
This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.
“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”
Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?
Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.
After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.
Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.
The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.
What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.
Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.
Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.
Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.
We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.
Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.
As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.
Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.
Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.
Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.
Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.
Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.
If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?
It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.