Cavaliers need to do more than let James carry team.
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 the Cavaliers’ 107-94 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 Cavs 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 the Cavaliers are 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 his team spent time breaking down video of the two losses. There was plenty to dissect.
The Cavaliers have 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 offense, 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-for-17 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.