USA Today Images

You Can Always Count On Cleveland's Defense

As good as LeBron was, Cleveland’s defense was complete and utter garbage.

May 16, 2018 - 9:54 am

Legalized sports gambling is going to become more widespread, in time. And sooner than later in some places. Just not yet. You can’t get down legally just yet. But if you could, I’d have some Intel to share with you. If you could, my Lock of the Week would’ve been that LeBron James was going to have a LeBron James Game last night. Down 0-1 in the series after a blowout in Game 1, everyone knew that was coming. I knew it. Brad Stevens knew it. The Celtics knew it. And it still happened. 

21 in the first quarter, tying his playoff career-high for points in a quarter. 42 on the night, along with 12 assists and 10 rebounds. His fifth 40 point game of these playoffs. There was absolutely nothing surprising about it. He was doing everything. And dominating everyone. Nobody delivers like that. Nobody delivers in a situation where you know he’s going to do it and he still does it. 

The only thing that could slow him down was a shot to the head that sure looked like it might have been a concussion. But he still came back and balled out. Because you knew he would. You could count on that. 

And here’s something else that you can always count on: Cleveland’s defense. Because as good as LeBron was, and he was tremendous, Cleveland’s defense was complete and utter garbage in the second half. And why it wouldn’t it be. It has been all season long.

And while that was a LeBron James Game. It was also a JR Smith Game. And when you have a JR Smith Game, there are only two possible outcomes: Soooooo rigggghhhtttt and soooooooo wrrronnnggg.

And last night was sooooo wronnnngggg.

Zero points. Zero for seven from the field. A shooting percentage of zero point zero. 3 rebounds. 1 assist. And one incredibly dirty and dumb play. 

You cannot do that ever. And you certainly can’t do that down 8 with less than four minutes to go in Game 2, a game that would be really nice to steal. Hell, a game you needed to stay in the series. But instead, he shoved Al Horford in the back, got the building even more amped than before and helped the Celtics extend their lead. I’m not looking for J.R. Smith to split the atom, but that wasn’t smart. In fact, it was really dumb. 

Then again, this is the same guy who threw once soup at an assistant coach, so if you’re like me, you couldn’t wait to hear how JR would explain it after the game, because the Celtics players were pissed. So how would JR justify it? How would he spin it so he was in the right?

Wait, what? “It was a good call. I blatantly pushed him.” Well, okay then. Respect for owning it, I guess. 

But this isn’t just about JR Smith. This is about the whole Cavaliers team, because just like Houston the night before, while the offense wasn’t great, the defense was even worse. 

The only thing that can stop a LeBron James Game is a Cleveland Defense Game. As good as LeBron James is, even he can’t erase a Cleveland Defense Game. Not when the Cavs aren’t getting back on defense, keep finding themselves on the wrong ends of defensive mismatches, and are getting flat-out out-hustled. Marcus Smart was outworking everyone who wasn’t LeBron James. Like in this sequence.

The cliché is to say that Marcus Smart makes winning plays, but he does. That was like four winning plays in one sequence. This cat’s filthy.  

I don’t want to say it’s a bad sign for Cleveland that LeBron had another epic LeBron game and they still lost by double-digits. But LeBron had an epic LeBron game and they still lost by double digits. He’ll probably have another one of those, maybe two more, hell, he could have another five more in this series, but unless Ty Lue figures out to get guys who play no defense at all, to play it at a high level. It won’t matter. Because the Celtics are that good and Cleveland’s defense is that bad. Unless the Cavs can swing a trade for four decent defenders, this series is already over. And LeBron’s already out the door and taking his talents someplace else. I said before the series, playing the way he is now, you don’t bet against LeBron. But right now, I would if I could. And with legalized gambling coming to you soon, you could too.