A series full of ups and downs for the Cleveland Cavaliers ending with a Game 7? No this is not the 2016 NBA Finals, this is a first round series.
From an 18-point home loss in Game 1, to a buzzer beater in Game 5 by LeBron James. This series has offered quite the range of conclusions and emotions for the Cavaliers.
Once expected by many to finish off the Indiana Pacers in a quick 4 or 5 games, there is plenty of uncertainty that Cleveland will not survive to see the second round.
Several theories have been tossed out as to why the Cavaliers have not played this series. To be frank there is no singular reason to explain the inconsistent play this series.
Cleveland, who averaged nearly 111 points per game in the regular season, is averaging just a shade above 93. That is a staggering 18 point swing, which no one saw coming. In fact, if the defense was not playing at the level they are, this series may not by tied 3-3.
On an individual level the players Cleveland needs to play well are doing just the opposite. Kevin Love, thought to be the No. 2 option on the Cavaliers has largely been M.I.A. this series. While his thumb injury may be playing a small role in Love’s issues, his history of playoff disappointments cannot be ignored.
Love averaged 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds in the regular season while shooting 45.8 percent from the floor and 43.6 percent from beyond the arc. While Love’s rebounding numbers have remained constant in this series (9.8) other statistics are down, including points (11 per game) and 3-point shooting (37 percent).
LeBron James on Kevin Love: "If we want to have any success, be it in Game 7 or moving onto the next round, Kevin has to be a part of it."
— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) April 28, 2018
LeBron can be as dominant as he wants to be, but without a reliable No. 2 option Cleveland will not go far.
Other players such as Jordan Clarkson (13.9 points per game regular season) and Rodney Hood (14.7 points per game, regular season) have largely been absent this series. Hood is shooting just 17 percent from beyond the arc (38.1 percent regular season) while Clarkson is shooting 15 percent (35.2 percent regular season).
Seemingly the only player who is providing some help to LeBron is Kyle Korver. Over the last three games Korver is 11-22 from 3-point range and averaging 14 points. They will need him to hit his three point shots to take down the Pacers.
After making over 37 percent of their 3’s during the regular season (12 per game) the long ball numbers have taken a dive. In this series Cleveland is a touch under 32 percent (10.5 per game). Bottom line, if Cleveland is cold from beyond the arc, they are not winning Game 7.
If there is one last hope for the Cavaliers, it is LeBron and his track record of Game 7 performances. This will be the sixth Game 7 James is apart of, going 3-2 in the previous games, including two Game 7’s to win a championship. James averages 33.2 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists on 45.6 percent shooting.
In the last six elimination games LeBron played in, he is averaging: 35.7 points, 12.6 rebounds 9.5 assists. The King pulls no punches when his team needs him the most.
LeBron James on if he has thought about Game 7 potentially being his last game as a member of the Cavs…
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 28, 2018
The offense is not the only thing that needs to play well. The defense must be there. In Games 3-5, Cleveland held Victor Oladipo to 12-50 (24 percent) shooting and forced him into 10 turnovers.
Those double teams sent Oladipo’s way have largely been effective, but it is a risky strategy nonetheless. Especially when Bojan Bogdanovic is hitting 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts and Myles Turner scores over 13 points a game while connecting on 50 percent of his 3-point shots.
The x-factor Indiana will be Lance Stephenson. The Pacers fan-favorite will surely be up to his usual antics, but if he gets going, that may just what the Pacers need to pull the upset.
Speaking of turnovers, Cleveland must take care of the ball in order to advance. Averaging 13.3 turnovers per game, which turns into 20 points of turnovers per game. Allowing Indiana to score one-fifth of their points off of turnovers will result in a loss.
Indiana was second in the league in points off turnovers during the regular season. Some turnovers are a result of the Pacers defense, but some are just careless passes by Cleveland. Those will have to be sured up.
Cleveland will have to get off to an early start, if they fall behind early the home crowd will be taken out of the game and will spell trouble. LeBron will have to be in take over mode early and save getting his teammates involved for later in the game.
LeBron's receiving less help than he ever has in a playoff series. Literally.
Kevin Love currently ranks 2nd on the team in Game Score at 7.7.
That would be the worst by any 2nd fiddle in any of LeBron's 42 playoff series, "passing" Ilgauskas from the 2006 Conf Semis (7.9).
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) April 27, 2018
With this being a Game 7, Cleveland will need all hands on deck. George Hill, who has missed the prior 3 games due to back spasms, will be a welcomed addition to the lineup if cleared.
A series full of thrilling highs and embarrassing lows now has reached its conclusion. A win for the Cavaliers will give them a clean slate for the next round, but a loss will set off an avalanche of speculation for the next several months.
Back in 2016, the Cavaliers franchise experienced the highest of highs when they won their first NBA Championship. Less than two years removed from that epic title victory, the Cavaliers may be on the verge of watching everything they have built the last four years fall apart right in front of them.