LeBron isn't getting much help, doesn't need it

Cavs super-vets are chipping in however

Jake Chapman
April 25, 2018 - 11:20 pm
Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates his game-winning three-point basket in the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers in game five of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Another playoff game, another magnificent performance, and another “I remember where I was…” moment for the man we call King. LeBron James drilled a buzzer-beating triple to give the Cavs a 98-95 win Wednesday, and more importantly it gave them a 3-2 series lead on the plucky Pacers. But the moment wouldn’t have been possible without the Cavs’ impossibly impressive third quarter.

The third quarter has been a killer for the Cavs all series. In game 5 it was simply killer. James was absolutely dominant – he scored 15 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and dished 4 assists in the stanza. He added a perfect 9-9 from the free throw line. At one point in the third he was 12-15 from the field for the night, while his teammates were 12-37. The Cavs turned a 7-point halftime deficit into a 9-point lead in the first 6:04 of the period, extended the lead to 12, and then carried an 8-point advantage into the 4th. Alas, it wouldn’t last. The Pacers charged back, as they’ve done all series.

The Cavs offense went completely stagnant in the 4th; they went 7:16 without a field goal, subsisting only on free throws as the Pacers erased the Cleveland advantage. Gifted a wide open free throw jumper, Domantas Sabonis converted for the final 2 of his 22 points and tied the game at 95 with 33.6 seconds left. With the clock winding down and Victor Oladipo exploding toward the basket, LeBron uncorked the chase-down block we’ve seen so many times and swatted the shot (and potentially Indiana’s designs on a series upset) away. For the record, it was a goaltend. But it wasn’t called and the stage was set for James’ game-winner. And if you haven’t seen that shot by now, why are you reading this blog?

This was another game where LeBron put the roster, the franchise, the city on his back. He scored 44 of the Cavs 98 points. He added 10 boards and 8 assists. He was 15-15 at the free throw line. He was the savior down the stretch. And he showed that he's a great enough player to win a first round series virtually all by his lonesome. Short of Kyle Korver’s shooting and JR Smith’s defense, James has not been given much help in this series, and that’s a major issue not just as the Cavs try to close the Pacers out, but if they hope to accomplish anything beyond. Kevin Love notched his first double-double of the series in game 5 and he shot 2-11 from the floor. It may be a bad matchup for him, but nearly everyone knew he’d have to play like a second star for the Cavs to make any playoff noise, and right now he looks more like a sunken star. The Cavs are still waiting for their young, new contributors to acclimate themselves to playoff intensity, but they can’t wait much longer.

The Cavs 2 best non-Bron performances in game 5 were from 2 dudes born in 1981. Korver was outstanding, chipping in 19 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. He’s now hit 9 of his last 18 3-point attempts in the series. He’s emerging as the Cavs second option offensively, although they will give Love every opportunity to maintain that mantle. Calderon has been pressed into starting point guard minutes the last two nights as George Hill deals with back spasms. He hasn’t lit up the stat sheet, but he also hasn’t made many mistakes. In about 20 minutes per game over the last 2, he’s averaged just one turnover. The third non-Bron performance that was noteworthy in game 5 was Jeff Green’s. He’s been much maligned for a lot of the series because of his anemic offensive output, but he made 2 huge defensive plays in the 4th quarter, one when he took a charge on Lance Stephenson and one in the final minute when helped on to Sabonis and forced an awkward attempt that fell off. Green’s numbers won’t jump out at you, but it’s clear he has a role in crunch time. If you’re going to be playing 3 guys who aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts (Calderon, Korver and Love,) then it helps to trust the 4th guy out there alongside James, and Green has quietly played well in the last 2 games. JR Smith deserves credit too for the job he's done on Oladipo, but he had a really bad shooting night Wednesday.

James hasn’t gotten much help in this series, save for some crafty contributions from a bunch of guys who remember when Rocky 4 came out. But on Wednesday night he hammered home what we probably all knew already. In a first round series, he really doesn’t need much help.