Fear and Loathing in Indianapolis for the Cleveland Cavaliers

Jake Chapman previews Game 4

Jake Chapman
April 22, 2018 - 12:59 pm
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts in the second quarter against the Indiana Pacers in game one of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports


“I think I’m getting The Fear”

It was midway through the 4th quarter of the Cavs/Pacers first round series, tied at one game apiece. The Cavs trailed 81-77. LeBron James was in trouble – he had the ball 30 feet from the basket with Thad Young draped on him like a (gray) designer suit. He dribbled across the lane toward George Hill, who was buried in the corner.

James’ momentum carried him toward Hill, which brought the Pacers’ Victor Oladipo in the same direction. Hill got the ball with 4 seconds on the shot clock and Oladipo just a step away. Without the space to get a shot off, he took one dribble toward the baseline, picked up his dribble and attempted to flip it back to James.

The pass was picked off by Young and the Pacers were off to the races. Four Cavs ran back. James stood and watched. He’d been the main reason for a poor offensive possession, and he decided not to help his teammates at the other end. Bojan Bogdanovic hit a three, the Pacers went up 7, Ty Lue took time. It was the play of the game, and James had failed his teammates. Bogdanovic, by the way, outscored James for the night (30 points) and provided better D on him than any of his teammates in the 92-90 Indy win. Since it seems like important context, I’ll mention that James scored the Cavs’ next 10, finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists, and shot 4-7 from 3-point range.

Of course and as always, the Cavs were only in the game because of James. But not getting back on defense during the 4th quarter of a tight playoff game is a terrible look. These Cavaliers need their hands to be held. James has to set the example every single step of the way. And I’m beginning to wonder if he’s up to it. After game 1 I thought to myself: “Is there any chance LeBron would allow a team of his to lose a series like this?”  After game 2 I thought: “Obviously not.” Now I just don’t know.

He’s played a whole lot of basketball the last 7 seasons. He’s still clearly in his championship prime, but time is ticking. And he likely knows this team can’t contend for a title. Doesn’t he look around and realize this is a lost season, despite the fact that he’s at the peak of his powers? And if the only thing to be learned this year is which young Cavaliers may be a part of the franchise’s future, then he’s technically better off just deferring and seeing who rises to the occasion, right? James knows how it goes.

He knows each time he appears disinterested or disappointed in his teammates, it’s going to be blown up and scrutinized. He did a great job of avoiding throwing his teammates under the bus in the postgame presser. But you have to wonder how discouraged and potentially exhausted he might be right now. With that said, he probably goes for 50 tonight. After all, he is one of God’s own prototypes.

“When you bring an act into this town, you want to bring it in heavy...”

The Cavs hit first in game 3, leaping out to an 11-point lead after the first quarter and a 17-point lead at halftime. But the offense went silent in the second half and the Pacers saved their best for last, putting 29 points on the board in the 4th.

The Cavs need to figure out a way to slow Indiana runs, and for that they need some toughness and some experience. Ty Lue said Sunday morning that Tristan Thompson would come off the bench in game 4, hoping he’d bring some of that “toughness.” But familiarity with your teammates, especially when things go sideways, is a big key as well.

The Cavs don’t have any semblance of normal right now, but playing Thompson at the least is a fairly known commodity, especially alongside James, JR Smith, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver. I also think getting Jose Calderon back on the floor would be a good thing, despite his brutal net rating in games 1 and 2.  George Hill got off to an outstanding start in game 3, but his back remains a concern. Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood have been complete non-factors. Calderon has at least been a Cavalier since before 2018, and his regular season numbers speak for themselves.

In a series where the offense has been a mess for entire halves at a time, put the guy on the floor that can organize in the half-court and get James and Love to their money spots.

“We’d be fools not to ride this strange torpedo all the way out to the end.”

Hood and Clarkson specifically are in the middle of a massive job interview and they look like Baker Mayfield reciting the Chargers’ playbook. For Hood, millions of dollars are on the line as he approaches restricted free agency this summer.

Clarkson already has his money, so he’s playing for the right to be a piece of the Cavs future and part of the pitch to keep LeBron in Cleveland vs. being a potential trade commodity (or hindrance) this summer. Both need to rise to the occasion. Hood has taken just 9 3-pointers in 65 minutes on the floor, converting on 2 of them. He’s got a -2.7 net rating. Clarkson is somehow shooting below 29% from the field in about 18 minutes a night. Hood has dealt with injuries, and even his best games in a Cavs uniform have been somewhat underwhelming.

A night where he knocks down 3 or 4 3-pointers would be a massive boost to the Cavs offense, and to his confidence. For Clarkson it’s a little different. He’s had great moments as a Cavalier because of the spark he can bring defensively or tracking down loose balls, etc.

He can be an important part of the Cavs’ success just with his energy. But both have a special opportunity to be a part of a James-led postseason run, and both have yet to deliver on expectations.

“A little bit of this town goes a long way…”

The Cavs have to feel like they’ve been in Indianapolis for a week. They know they let a golden opportunity to snag a road win slip away Friday night, and I’m sure 8:30 Sunday night can’t come quick enough. With everything that’s been said in the last 48 hours, they can still regain home-court advantage with a win tonight.

It’d reset the thing, best 2 of 3 with 2 in Cleveland. If they can get just one role player to step up, it’d wrest a whole lot of fears. And if they can beat the Pacers on the road without LeBron submitting an all-time performance, it’d wrest a whole 'nother set of fears. If not, and if they go down 3 games to 1, it’s going to be a loud and long couple of days in Cleveland before game 5.

The NBA postseason is only for those with true grit, and I have no idea how many Cavs are chock full of that.