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The Cleveland Cavaliers have tried something new in just about every game of the 2018 postseason. But no matter what they do, they often arrive at the same unsettling, potentially defining conclusion.
This team is not like any of LeBron James‘ squads from years past. It has no switch to flip, no next gear to enter, no secret supply of untapped energy and engagement stored in its reserves.
These Cavaliers are a wild card prone to spurts of adequacy but also long, drawn-out fits of division, relative ineffectiveness and complete meltdowns.
Head coach Tyronn Lue has tried pushing all sorts of buttons. Different starting lineups, varied rotations, a carousel of “did not plays” and welcome-backs—anything that might shake up the status quo for a thought-to-be contender fast transitioning from a general underachiever to an exposed fraud.
The Cavaliers stayed true to their Jekyll-and-Hyde act during Tuesday’s Game 2 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Another new starting lineup and another at-random rotation incited another slew of questions and concerns.
A double-digit lead devolved into a seven-point edge at halftime. It became a seven-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, which then turned into a 15-point chasm that eventually settled into a 107-94 loss and 2-0 series hole.
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This was a master class in mid-game implosions. James pumped in 21 points during the first quarter alone, but the rest of the team only added six. Led by Jaylen Brown’s own 14-point effort, Boston remained within four, essentially laying LeBron’s herculean detonation to waste.
Kyle Korver breathed some life into the supporting cast during the second frame, dropping in 11 points as Cleveland ever so slightly extended its lead. But that margin never once seemed safe. On the contrary, with James suffering a strained neck near the end of the first half, the Cavaliers limped into the locker room worse for the wear, hardly in control of anything.
For the final two quarters, they played like it.
James labored his way to 17 points and six assists—he finished with 42 and 12, respectively, en route to another triple-double—but his touch from beyond the arc disappeared. Korver went ice cold (0-of-3). Jeff Green played more. Kevin Love perked up a bit, piling on 13 points and nine rebounds, but the starting backcourt of George Hill and JR Smith went scoreless over the final 24 minutes.
And yet, it wasn’t just that the Cavaliers forfeited their lead and the game. It was how they lost—how they surrendered, really.
The Celtics didn’t just outplay them. They outhustled them. They targeted Korver in the post. They freight-trained their way to loose balls and soft-pitch passes. They swung the ball around until the Cavaliers’ rotations folded. On most plays, that didn’t take much:
The Crossover @TheCrossover
Seriously, you play better defense than the Cavs https://t.co/ZkvGd6UuWP
Cleveland waited for rebound