I knew that the Cavs would be in for a long game last night after their first offensive possession, when LeBron jacked up a contested 18-foot jumper from the corner. I communicated that last night to some of my friends, and their response was common:
“But Scott,” they asked, “how can you judge a game after the opening 30 seconds?”
It’s simple: LeBron James, arguably more so than any other player in the NBA right now or the past 10 years, influences the course of the game from the opening tip. I’ve watched enough Cavs basketball to know that he does three things in the first quarter:
1. Attacks, attacks, attacks – I love this the most because it’s the attitude, “Hey, I’m here, I’m better than you and you can’t do anything to stop me.” We’ll call this “Aggressive LeBron”.
2. Passes, passes, passes – I don’t mind this philosophy, either. There are four other guys on the court, and with the defense focused on LeBron, get it to the open guys and let them prove why they’re in the NBA. This either works really well or goes really poorly, depending on if the shooters show up on those particular nights. This is “Benevolent LeBron”, by the way.
3. Settles, settles, settles – Last night being a prime example. LeBron is not a consistent outside shooter, and I don’t have any numbers to support, but in the first half he seems to always struggle with his jump shot. The only time I remember this working was a few weeks ago against the Bulls when he had about 38 points in the first quarter - though I chalk that up more to "Aggressive LeBron" than anything else.
But overall, for whatever reason, he just seems to shoot better from the outside in the second half of games. When he takes jump shots in the first half, he becomes one-dimensional, and that one-dimension honestly isn’t all that good. So we’ll call this “Mediocre LeBron.”
I’m not going to panic because of one stinker of a game. The Cavs are prone to those on a regular basis (as Brian Windhorst wrote, it’s “par for the course” for the Cavs this year to back up a great game with a terrible one.)
But when LeBron’s not playing well, and choosing to ignore his strengths on the court, this Cavs team becomes very, very average. And it doesn’t matter who you’re playing in the postseason, if you don’t bring your best game on the road, you will get hammered. The Cavs proved that lesson last night, and they need to display a killer instinct in Game 4 to regain command of this series.