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Picking nits when a team wins each of its first nine postseason games isn’t recommended, but such activity couldn’t be avoided for a Cleveland Cavaliers squad preparing for a seemingly inevitable rubber match with the Golden State Warriors.
Cleveland swept the Indiana Pacers in the first round, but it won the four games by a combined 16 points. Its defense hadn’t yet flipped the proverbial switch. The margins increased while the brooms came out against the Toronto Raptors, but Kyle Lowry was injured. And LeBron James was doing all the heavy lifting for the defending champions.
Game 10 ensured the “buts” would go away.
En route to a 130-86 victory over the Boston Celtics on Friday—who, lest we forget, are actually the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference—the Cavaliers rocketed to a playoff-record 41-point halftime advantage at TD Garden:
Ben Dowsett @Ben_Dowsett
Cleveland’s 41-point halftime lead is the biggest in a playoff game in NBA shot-clock era history, per @bball_ref.
And for the first time, everything clicked.
The offense was on point throughout the proceedings, scoring 71 points in the first 24 minutes and refusing to take its foot off the gas until the final buzzer. The defense took Isaiah Thomas out of the game before he eventually exited for good with a hip injury. It rotated perfectly against everyone, ensuring a high-powered Boston attack could never get going.
But most importantly, this was a team effort.
The first three rounds have been little more than perfunctory performances for Cleveland. It was always going to storm through the East, awaiting a showdown with either the Golden State Warriors or a Western Conference foe that managed to upset Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and the rest of the Dubs. So while going 12-0 before hitting the biggest stage was a nice goal (and still an achievable one), getting the entire roster on the same page always carried more import.
Through the Indiana and Toronto series, as well as the first game of the Boston beatdown, many of the Cavs weren’t just on different pages; they were reading different chapters. As evidenced by NBA Math’s total points added (TPA) metric, wine-and-gold-clad players not named LeBron James had been thoroughly mediocre:
NBA Math @NBA_Math
Heading into Game 2, here’s how the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers stack up in postseason TPA: https://t.co/vghvoLvGtG
Each axis represents league-average play, which means through nine games, only Tristan Thompson and JR Smith had served as distinct plusses on both ends. Kyle Korver, Deron Williams and Channing Frye had made substantial offensive contributions off the pine, but that didn’t make up for the relative disappearances of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (buried under the mass of humanity at the graph’s origin).
That changed Friday night.
James was (again) otherworldly, picking apart the Celtics with his…