When LeBron Can’t (or Won’t) Save the Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers have hit rock bottom. All of their good playoff works against above average but not great Eastern Conference teams, in retrospect, was a slaughter of the innocent. It created an illusion that now has holes. So far, in the NBA Finals, the Cavs are out of their league. They don’t have the offensive depth, they don’t have the defensive toughness or grit, and their iconic best of everything, top 5 of all time player, isn’t pushing his team through the muck. He’s having a lackluster series which means the Cavs are doomed to their traditional pathetic storyline history of losers if LeBron James doesn’t suddenly get into 35 points 14 rebounds, 9 assist LeBron James mode.

It’s hard to escape the psychology. Last year when the Cavs were decimated by injury, LeBron pushed his work level way up because he had to. He did the impossible and that translated into two wins. This year, with a healthy crew, he isn’t forcing himself towards manic effort. He is comfortable to let Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love do their pathetic part.

But this is where LeBron miscalculated and why he went to Miami to join Dwyane Wade in the first place. In big moments, you need mythical players next to you as soldiers. As great as Irving can be, he can disappear and his defense is shoddy and he can seem very average and you can’t trust him.

LeBron has to be the leader of men and influence by example. He has to give more than he’s giving. This is not an equal relationship. A 5th NBA Finals loss is staring him in the face.

Before this series started, the matchups seemed intriguing because both teams had a high efficiency three point offense. But no one took into account the pathetic perimeter defense in the east that pushed the Cavs towards that efficiency.

3-Point Shooting (2016 Playoffs) vs. Eastern Conference vs. Warriors
LeBron James 32.2% 33.3%
Kyrie Irving 45.5% 14.2%
Kevin Love 44.5% 33.3%
Channing Frye 56.5% 0%

The Cavs have two basic philosophies. Hit threes and let Kyrie and LeBron drive. Take one of those away and they are doomed. Take two of them away and the Cavs won’t win a game in this series.

The Warriors perimeter defense of Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, plus Draymond Green on switches, has kept the Cavs perimeter game in check. They are shooting 27% behind the arc. They have made 12 threes in two games while jacking up 44 of them.

LeBron James and Kevin Love have missed 12 of the 18 threes they have attempted. They are shooting 33% from long distance. Kyrie Irving, who was supposed to be helping LeBron on the wing, has connected on 14% of his threes. Channing Frye, who was specifically brought over to help in a Warriors matchup with his three point shooting, has taken one three in two games. The most efficient shooter has been Iman Shumpert, 50% on threes, 2-4. Even Matthew Dellavedova has gotten in on the bad shooting act, hitting 33% of his threes.

Last year, the Cavs leaned on the Kyrie was hurt so we were doomed excuse. But Kyrie is not hurt and he has disappeared amid the bright lights of Oracle. He has made 12 shots in two games. His three point shooting is in the toilet. His overall shooting is mediocre and that is a compliment to the rest of his game, 33% shooting. His defense is living up to the Kyrie billing, one of the worst defensive point guards in the league because of zero effort. His plus minus in two games of the NBA Finals is -36. Last night, he had one assist.

Nevertheless, you live and you die with your best player.  All the responsibility and blame is on LeBron James shoulders. Post-game, he atoned for his turnovers. The truth staring him in the face is when Andre Iguodala is guarding him LeBron is going to have ball control problems. Iggy is gifted at the strip and no foul, or the you think I am going to strip you so you get rattled and turn the ball over on your own.

It is LeBron’s leadership that is lacking. There is no fight to the death. There hasn’t been the LeBron leaving everything on the floor. Or, LeBron out of oxygen because he gave everything, have mercy. This LeBron is so not last year. He has been oddly passive and placid and frankly he has cheated the game. A top 5 player in the history of the league is supposed to give a 110% effort, particularly when his team doesn’t have the offensive fire power. He has to fill in the gap.

But he hasn’t.

The Warriors are in the Cavs head. That happens when you lose seven straight to a team. They have you thinking you are not good enough and perhaps the Warriors and all their arrogance and happiness and three point shot making and depth are right.

They are better.

 

photo via llananba