LeBron car­ry­ing Cava­liers again

The Expositor (Brantford) - - SPORTS - TOM WITHERS

IN­DE­PEN­DENCE, Ohio — LeBron James re­cov­ered quickly from his neck strain. There’s still too much stress on his back.

He’s car­ry­ing the Cava­liers. It’s a spring­time tra­di­tion.

As has been the case for much of his 15-year ca­reer, James has had to per­form at an ex­tra­or­di­nary level through­out these play­offs, most re­cently in Cleveland’s Game 2 loss at Bos­ton.

Bounc­ing back af­ter tak­ing a blow to the jaw from Jayson Ta­tum’s shoul­der that vi­o­lently twisted his head and sent a chill down the spines of Cleveland fans, James fin­ished with 42 points, 10 re­bounds and 12 as­sists.

It was not enough, how­ever. His team­mates failed him and the Cavs fell into a 2-0 hole in the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals.

Kevin Love (22 points, 15 re­bounds) helped, so did Kyle Korver (four 3-point­ers) and Tris­tan Thomp­son (8 points, 7 re­bounds). But too many other Cavs ranged from medi­ocre to aw­ful.

If Cleveland is to even the se­ries at home, that has to change start­ing in Game 3 on Satur­day.

“We have to ramp it up,” said J.R. Smith, who didn’t score in Game 2 and com­mit­ted a crit­i­cal fla­grant foul. “We’re play­ing too slow. We’re mak­ing ’Bron play hero ball, which is tough to do, es­pe­cially in the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nals. We got to help him. With that said, we have to give him an op­por­tu­nity to make him feel con­fi­dent to give us the ball so we can make the right plays. We got to help him and he’s got to help us.”

Cavs coach Ty­ronn Lue said James “did ev­ery­thing” in prac­tice Thurs­day, but the 33-yearold had left the floor by the time me­dia mem­bers were al­lowed in for interviews. James was spot­ted in the fit­ness and train­ing area in­side the fa­cil­ity.

Lue said the Cavs spent time break­ing down video of the two losses. There was plenty to dis­sect.

Cleveland has had puz­zling de­fen­sive lapses, and Lue said there were up to nine in­stances in Game 2 alone where com­mu­ni­ca­tion break­downs led to easy bas­kets or open shots for the Celtics.

On of­fence, Lue feels Smith and point guard Ge­orge Hill, who have been outscored 72-12 in two games by Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, need to be more ag­gres­sive and at­tack the bas­ket.

Smith be­lieves it’s sim­pler than that.

“Make shots, that’s the only thing we can do,” said Smith, who is 2-for17, and 0-for-7 on 3-point­ers, in the se­ries. “I mean ob­vi­ously we can do more on the de­fen­sive side, but our main fo­cus is to make shots right now when we get it. If we don’t have them, try to make the next-best play. Right now ’Bron and Kev are work­ing overly hard, try­ing to carry us. We just got to step up and do our job.”

But talk­ing a good game is one thing, play­ing one is an­other. The Cavs don’t have time for speeches or ex­cuses. With their sea­son inch­ing to­ward dan­ger, re­sults are all that mat­ter.

Hill didn’t record an as­sist in 28 min­utes in Game 1 and had three points in Game 2. He missed time in the open­ing round against In­di­ana with back spasms and has been puz­zled by his drop-off af­ter play­ing so well in the sweep over Toronto.

“I’m try­ing to fig­ure it out my­self,” he said. “I think a lit­tle bit of just try­ing to be more in­volved of­fen­sively, try­ing to be more in­volved de­fen­sively, not wait­ing until a play is pos­si­bly called and things like that to go do it. I’ve just got to be more as­sertive, I’ve got to play with that edge like I did in the sec­ond se­ries

“There’s no one to blame but my­self. You’ve got to look your­self in the mir­ror and say, ’What can I do bet­ter?’”

The Cavs know they need to be more phys­i­cal af­ter the Celtics took the fight to them in Bos­ton.

Lue raised some eye­brows fol­low­ing Game 2 when he de­scribed Bos­ton’s play­ers as “goon­ing up” the se­ries. Lue ex­plained he wasn’t be­ing crit­i­cal.

“It’s not a bad thing to goon it up,” he said. “Like, they’re tak­ing hard fouls, they’re be­ing phys­i­cal. They’re play­ing play­off bas­ket­ball. So that’s all I meant by it.”

Thomp­son said he loves that Bos­ton is play­ing “hard and chippy.” But he knows if the Cavs don’t ease the bur­den on James, this fight could be over sooner than ex­pected.

“Other guys have to con­trib­ute and other guys have to step up,” Tris­tan Thomp­son said. “Of course, it’s a huge lux­ury hav­ing LeBron on our team. At the same time, we have to be ready to play and we have to do our job.”

And get off James’ back.


Cleveland’s LeBron James has, as has been the case for much of his ca­reer, again been forced to carry his team through the play­offs.

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