Cavs Lack Reliable Options to Help LeBron…and it Showed

All of the Cavaliers’ worst nightmares came true during Game 3 as they lost 92-90, putting more pressure on a team that has been under intense scrutiny for almost the whole year.

If you just looked at the final score, you wouldn’t think that this loss was as bad as it was.

After all, the Wine & Gold only lost by two on the road to a team that has played them tough all year, with the series being viewed as the worst possible matchup for them and having the potential to go six or seven games.

To their credit, the Cavs came out with an amount of intensity that was almost unmatched by what we saw during the first two games of the series.

The defense was great, holding the Pacers to 40 points in the first half.

Kevin Love was draining threes and providing a reliable second option on offense, something the Cavs lacked in the first two games.

Several Pacers were in foul trouble, limiting the effectiveness of several of Lebron’s most irritating adversaries, including Lance Stephenson.

Perhaps most notably of all, the team was actually containing Victor Oladipo, with the former Hoosier going 2-6 from the field with five points in the first half.

All of these factors added up to give the Cavs a 57-40 lead at halftime, a lead that should be untouchable for any team that has Lebron Raymond James playing for them.

Now, if you were to tell me at halftime that the Cavs would end up getting outscored 52-33 in the second half, blemishing their perfect record after being ahead at the start of the fourth quarter and looking every bit like a team that was prepared for a shakeup after this year, would I have believed you?

The answer to that question, regrettably, is yes.

Like many Cavs fans, I was in denial about what transpired in the second half of Game 3, even

The Pacers cut the lead to 10? So what, we have Lebron!”

“Bojan Bogdanovic is raining threes like the European Steph Curry? Lebron can fix this!”

“The Cavs are missing open shots and not getting back on defense? Lebron can…Did Lebron just not run back on defense and allow a 1 on 4 fastbreak to happen?”

However, this inconsistency has been a staple of the team all year.

Remember the Cavs’ 19-2 run going into their Christmas Day showdown? How about the next 20 games, where the Cavs proceeded to go 7-13, culminating in the shocking trade deadline that supposedly assured the Cavs the top spot in the East?

This inconsistency has been maddening for fans to watch, making it extremely difficult to predict their performance on a night-to-night basis.

Even with this in mind, this loss is a very hard pill to swallow.

Before this season, the Cavs had not lost a game in the first round since Lebron’s return.

The last time this team trailed 2-1 to a team not named the Golden State Warriors? You would have to go all the way back to May 3, 2015, when Derrick Rose banked in a miraculous buzzer-beater over the outstretched hand of Tristan Thompson to give the Bulls the victory in Chicago.

Now, the Cavs did end up storming back and winning three straight to take the series, with Lebron responding the next game with a buzzer-beater of his own, but something feels different this year.

There were players other than Lebron that stepped up, with Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and Kyrie Irving all proving their place in that 2015 team. These were all players that you knew the team could rely on if Lebron went out, not only to create their own shot but to instill a sense of calmness and order on the court.

This year, there are no such players, with most of the team’s role players (save for George Hill) looking as if the spotlight of the playoffs is devouring them like Lebron has to the Eastern Conference for most of this decade.

Yes, Kevin Love was unavailable in that 2015 series and has looked great at times this year, scoring 19 this game and hitting a three that made it 91-90 very late in the fourth.

However, he has a tendency to disappear. He only had six rebounds in Game 3 and that late three-pointer was the only basket he scored in the whole second half.

Lebron, as always, was fantastic, almost posting another triple-double with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists, but even The King is not absolved of any guilt.

There were many times where the body language was just not there and you could tell that perhaps the King’s head was somewhere else, somewhere with a more bountiful plethora of young talent and the cap space for a max contract….

All speculation and jokes aside, I think the pressure is really starting to get to this team. Attempting to retool the roster on the fly was certainly a bold move from GM Koby Altman, but it did come with a lot of growing pains and risk, with the playoffs proving to be no exception.

Perhaps the team will find its stride, whether it’s through simply performing better on offense (the team did shoot 44% from the field after all), adjusting the rotation (Will Jose Calderon, Cedi Osman, or Tristan “DNP-Coach’s Decision” Thompson get minutes?), or Lebron doing Lebron things.

Game 4, no matter how you cut it, is put up or shut up time. I do have confidence that these Cavs can (and will) put up. However, they could also go out and lay an absolute egg, which makes Sunday’s game perhaps the most pivotal in a season that has been fraught with both good and bad from the start.

Image: ESPN

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