NBA

Cleveland Cavaliers do enough to help fatigued LeBron James while Toronto Raptors revert to old habits

Jay Asser 21:24 23/04/2018
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Kyle Korver had 18 crucial points in Game 4.

A theme has emerged on the Eastern Conference side of the playoff bracket: the more desperate team has usually won.

Desperate is what both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards were in their respective Game 4s as they came up with series-tying wins to turn their match-ups into best-of-three affairs.

In Indiana, the Cavaliers did just enough to survive on the road, beating the Pacers 104-100 despite LeBron James being relatively quiet in the second half.

As he did in Game 2, James came out with the intent of imposing his will, scoring 23 points on 8-of-11 shooting in an aggressive first half which saw Cleveland put up 60.

After the intermission, however, James looked like an exhausted man and managed just nine points on 4-of-11 from the field.

Perhaps on any other night, that would have resulted in a loss for the Cavaliers. It didn’t in Game 4 though because James received enough scoring help from Kyle Korver of all people, while Cleveland held up defensively.

Korver stepped up with 16 of his 18 points in the second half by hitting 4-of-5 on 3-pointers, including a pair of triples in the final minutes.

With Kevin Love a non-factor (five points on 2-of-10 shooting), James seriously needed someone, anyone, to alleviate the burden.

James may have more explosions like the 46-point effort he produced in Game 2 on the way, but considering how many minutes he’s playing (43.0 per game) and how much he has to do, it’s likely fatigue will keep him from dominating to the fullest extent every night.

Which is why the Cavaliers will need to bring the kind of defence they played in Game 4 more often.

After the first three games of the series featured zealous trapping on Victor Oladipo, Cleveland employed that strategy a little less on Sunday, instead choosing to drop their big men into the paint more and dare Indiana to beat them from mid-range.

The Pacers missed an opportunity to put at least a preliminary nail in James’ coffin and with the series now shifting back to Cleveland, they’ve left the door open for LeBron to do more LeBron things.

Raptors of old

Those who were hesitant to fully trust the Toronto Raptors, even with their shift in playing style this season, were somewhat validated down the stretch of the Game 4 loss to Washington.

Toronto have received plenty of credit for their switch to a more modern, egalitarian offence, but old habits crept back in during the fourth quarter of the 106-98 defeat.

When the going got tough, the Raptors reverted to too many isolations for DeMar DeRozan, expecting the shooting guard to bail them out through one-on-one play.

DeRozan is more than capable of coming through on such occasions, but on this night he was just 2-of-8 in the fourth quarter as Toronto melted to close the contest.

The Raptors built their identity this season on ball movement, side-to-side action and working it around to find open shots, regardless of who they came from.

Aside from DeRozan and Kyle Lowry at the end of Game 4, none of Toronto’s players seemed particularly willing to be aggressive and make a play, choosing to instead put the ball in their stars’ hands and hope for a bucket.

Their 3-point shooting approach has also faded as the Raptors shot a total of 46 treys in their two losses. In the regular season, they attempted 33.0 per game, which ranked third in the league.

Part of that has been due to the Wizards’ defensive improvement and they’ve put more ball pressure on Toronto, forcing 37 turnovers the past two games.

But if the Raptors want to go far in these playoffs, let alone get out of this round, they’ll have to trust what got them here.

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