Congratulations to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After 50 games of coasting through the regular season, LeBron James' squad decided to show up to work in its playoff opener.
Cleveland let the Indiana Pacers hang around for the first half of Game 1 on Saturday, as neither team showed any interesting in stopping the other. Butin the third quarter, the Cavs scrapped like Matthew Dellavedova was still in town and turned a couple defensive stands into a double-digit lead and an eventual 109-108 win.
You can see it with your own eyes. The Cavs finally finally made an effort on defense. They recognized all that disrespectful nonsense they pulled in the regular season is in the past. They buckled down and played like champions when it mattered most.
Yet they didn't flip the switch.
Deciding you care about the outcome of a game is a step in the right direction. Giving your all all on every possession is even better.
Contrary to what you might have heard, though, NBA defenseisn't just about trying hard.
Kevin Garnett wasn't one of the all-time greats because he yelled the loudest and wanted to fight everyone on every possession. He combined heart with intelligence, communication, and a hard-earned understanding of what every opponent wanted to do on offense.
Intensity alone gets you only halfway there.An elite defensehas to scheme well, then execute that scheme consistently. How do you want to handle the pick-and-roll? Do you send a ball-handler toward the baseline on the strongside, or do you need to account for the shooter sliding to the 3-point line? Who helps when the ball gets into the paint and who helps the helper?
No amount of elbow grease can solvethose questions, but if you want to win a title, you'd better have answers. Engaged or not, the Cavaliers are still a long way away from that kind of cohesion.
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They made every effort to stop the Pacers in the pick-and-roll, after all, and the results were disastrous. Indiana got whatever it wanted as Cleveland tried to remember how to work as a unit against the most basic of basketball actions. Even LeBron, doing his best KG impersonation, shouted for teammates to rotate to the wrong player on multiple occasions.
Even on that final defensive possession, where the Cavaliers hounded Paul George and kept him from beating them, they allowed an open look ( or two).
Cleveland locked in and lucked out.
So no, the Cavaliers haven't flipped the switch just because they're trying. They're like a fifth grader jolted out of a deep slumber by an all-too-real nightmare, stumbling through the dark and flailing limbsin the switch's general direction. They'll find the light eventually, but it will take time.
The upside? When you have the best player in the world on your team a guy who does things like this …
… or this,you have about three rounds' worth of playoff games to figure things out:
The Cavs won't be content with a one-point Game 1 win. They know there's still work to do.
When it comes to flipping the switch, you have to trust the process.