- Boston was letting LeBron play 1-on-1 for most of the night and he took the ball right to the front of the rim whenever he could, either by the drive or the post-up. His jumper has been completely off all season but it doesn't matter when he's that big and that strong and he's allowed to play in enough space.
- It's hard to watch LeBron expend so much effort in games like this (he played the most minutes of any player in the game at 36) and not wonder about the cumulative effect on his body. The good news for him is that he has the room to completely re-invent his game as he moves deeper into his 30's. In 3-4 years, he's going to be playing out of the post full-time and that should actually somewhat limit the amount of wear and tear on his body because they'll be playing slower and he can just kill people with the fade-away jumper every time down the floor - he basically needs to become like second three-peat MJ.
- Kevin Love is clearly more comfortable in the Cleveland offense this season. He's giving them a really effective combination of three point shooting + low-post scoring. What he does a really good job of is using his strength and his wide body to get under longer defenders like Amir Johnson and pin them on his side to create a shooting angle at the basket. From there, he can bust out all his pump-fakes and send guys flying by him. He busted that out on Kelly Olynyk and made him look ridiculous in the second half.
- Timofey Mozgov had one of his best games of the season as he gets more comfortable coming off knee surgery. One thing I really like with him is using him as a cutter off the ball - it's a really effective counter to small-ball because he's very good at catching and finishing on the move and there's nothing a smaller defender can do to stop a 7'1 250 mountain of a man rolling to the basket. There are other ways to counter small-ball besides throwing the ball into the post and that's going to be crucial if they end up playing the Warriors again in the Finals.
One thing I worry about with Boston when you are talking about them as a playoff team is how much size they give up at a number of positions.
- You saw the problem with Isaiah Thomas when he got stuck on JR Smith a couple of times and could absolutely nothing to contest his shot - the only way he was doing anything on defense is if he was given a broom to whack at the ball. Break down the match-ups in the Eastern Conference and ask yourself who is he guarding:
- CLE: Kyrie Irving, Iman Shumpert or JR Smith
- CHI: Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler
- TOR: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan
- CHA: Kemba Walker, PJ Hairston
- This is really the only team where you can find places to hide IT2 on defense or at least hope that he is big enough to stick with Kemba Walker.
- IND: George Hill, Monta Ellis
- MIA: Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade
- They aren't really big upfront either. Amir Johnson is big enough to be a stretch 5 in the modern NBA but he's still giving up a lot of size and bulk to Timofey Mozgov, Pau Gasol, Jonas Valanciunas and Al Jefferson.
- They are probably going to put Jared Sullinger on the 5's because he's pretty stout and it's going to be tough for him to guard perimeter 4's like Kevin Love, Nikola Mirotic, Patrick Patterson and Chris Bosh.
A few other observations from this one:
- Cleveland isn't all that athletic especially with Shumpert coming back from injury and Kyrie still out. They only have four 25-and-under guys in the rotation in those two plus Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova and they play a ton of older guys with a lot of miles on their body. You could really see the difference in the first half when a younger and more athletic Boston team was getting to most of the loose balls. The good news for Cleveland is they seem to have found a style of play and a pace that works for them. The key for them is not turning the ball over, which will be easy when you have three guys who can score off isolations.
- Boston has figured out the perfect way to use Evan Turner as a 2nd-unit point forward who dominates the ball and takes smaller players into the box and scores from 15-feet and in. That's basically how he was used at Ohio State and he was always miscast in that role on a first unit because he's not athletic enough and he's not good enough of a shooter to dominate the ball against the best defenders in the league. The nice thing about playing ET as a 2nd-unit ball-handler is it allows you to play some all 6'7 line-ups that overwhelm teams with size. That's where Brad Stevens reminds me of Rick Carlisle in that he finds ways to maximize the strengths of his players and put them in position to succeed.
- The nice thing about James Young is that he has a 7'0 wingspan that allows him to mix it up with bigger players and impact the game without scoring, which he did not do on Tuesday. All he really has as an offensive player is the 3-point shot and he's not terribly efficient at it so he still needs to figure out who he is on that side of the ball. One thing I wonder is if he could play as a small-ball 4 with those long arms and that could go a long way towards helping him find a spot in the league.
- One of the biggest benefits of getting Kyrie Irving back for Cleveland will be staggering the minutes of their Big Three so that A) they can give LeBron some more rest and B) they can avoid any 2nd-unit line-ups without a primary offensive option. There were some sequences in the first half where Mo Williams was kind of dribbling around in circles that were just ugly and the Cavs bench kind of allowed the Celtics to stay in the game.