LeBron forced to carry Cava­liers

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - SPORTS - By 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-year-old 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 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.

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 Cleveland’s 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.


Cava­liers for­ward LeBron James, cen­ter, re­coils af­ter col­lid­ing with Celtics for­ward Jayson Ta­tum, right.

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