Monday 19 February 2018 / 01:12 PM


It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t the type of game that I thought I’d be writing an article like this about.

But game three between Cleveland and Indiana may end up being the turning point for the Cavs back to certified contender status. Before that game, the Cavs defense has been the biggest liability of any contender in the NBA right now. They’ve tanked since February, not able to stop absolutely anyone at any moment.

Even in the first two games against the Pacers, despite two wins, the Cavs let Indiana do just about whatever they wanted on offense, struggling to stop anything the Pacers mustered and relying instead on Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and King James to outscore the opposing side and just hope for the best.

That strategy works against the Indiana’s of the world, but it’s far from a winning strategy against a team that can actually piece together two facets of the game like the Warriors. It’s what’s stopped the NBA world from anointing the Cavs the East’s favorites, and it’s why everyone has jumped on the bandwagon of the “Cavs are beatable this year.”

But for the first time in months, that narrative got challenged during game three.

It didn’t start our pretty, with Indiana roasting the Cavs for 74(!!) points in the first half, an Indiana franchise record. It start that saw the Cavs push Irving and Love to the bench to close the first half, and saw every internet outlet around the world again pointing out the massive flaw the Cavs have. The Pacers were on the verge of muscling out a win in the series, and forcing the Cavs into a series they weren’t thinking they’d have.

And yet, in the second half, the clamps of the Cleveland defense came down. The Cavs smothered Paul George and the Pacers en route to outscoring them by 18 in the frame. The Pacers shot a measly 28% in the third quarter, netting just 17 points, with most coming from forced shots from the three point line.

The Cavs defense stifled the Pacers from inside-out, relying on the LeBron James patented stifling of the paint to force the Pacers onto the perimeter. That caused a lot of uncomfortable looks for the Pacers, who before that were feasting on the Cavs pick and roll defense. Forcing them outside moved the Cavs into a more trap-centered defensive scheme, which played into what they needed to adequately force Paul George into perimeter play.

And then the fourth quarter further showed the Cavs potential, with LeBron James leading a back and forth that brought the Cavs the rest of the way back from their deficit, and supplanting them down the stretch. They played solid man-to-man defense for the first time in months,

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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