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The LeBron James Cavs start the NBA playoffs with a groan, and it was not even a defense

The problem with the Cleveland Cavaliers was supposed to be simple: Defense. In the course of their wild, bizarre and wild 2017-18 season, they have dealt with many changes, including but not limited to endless injuries, a complete restructuring of the list by the deadline and coach Tyronn Lue should miss nine games to address their health, but one thing has remained: with LeBron James on the court, they have not had problems scoring.

In the regular season, Cleveland finished No. 5 in offensive qualification despite everything that went sideways. However, he finished 29th in defensive qualification, and the big question before the opening game of Sunday's series against the Indiana Pacers was whether this would improve or not. The Cavs were not great in defense in Game 1, but after their 98-80 loss, they have to face a new problem: What happened on the other side of the world?

If you did not know which team was considered a championship contender and which team was not tested in the postseason, you would not have been able to solve it in the first quarter. Cleveland started sloppy, falling behind 18-4 and flipping the ball more than seven times in the first quarter. Seeming disorganized for most of the game, the Cavs scored at a rate of 84.4 points per 100 possessions, shot 38.5 percent and scored only 8 for 34 (23.5 percent) from the 3-point range.

Apart from a race in the third quarter Cleveland never found much flow or rhythm. He barely did anything in transition, scoring only 10 fast break points. If the Cavaliers thought it would be easy to score points against the Pacers, they quickly realized they were wrong.

  LeBron James Game 1

The LeBron James Cavs have some things to solve.
USATSI

James, of course, got his numbers: 24 points in 7 for 17 shots, plus 12 assists and 10 rebounds. However, that triple double was not enough for a victory on an afternoon when no one else on his team managed more than 15 points. Cleveland forward Jeff Green, who started and played 26 minutes, missed all seven shots, including three deep. Sniper Kyle Korver, who has problems with his right foot, played less than four minutes. Kevin Love had 17 rebounds, but only scored nine points in 3 for 8 shots. Indiana was extremely aggressive in pushing the ball, but was selective in sending help to James.

"I thought offensively, we did not shoot, we did not shoot, we just were not aggressive enough," Lue told reporters. "I thought his pressure really bothered us early: picking up the entire court with his guards, post-ups with Kevin, they tried to be physical and get him out of it, we have to be more physical for Game 2 and possess our space offensively."

] This does not mean that the offense was only responsible for the Cavs starting the playoffs with a whimper. While they have not been an elite defensive team in any of their past careers until the Finals, in previous postseason they were at least effective in terms of getting their opponent out of their comfort zone. That did not happen at all against Indiana – Victor Oladipo had 32 points in 11 for 19 shots, another three Pacers scored in double figures and basically they did it in the same way they did in the regular season.

It seems, however, that Cleveland's offensive frustration spread to the other side. If he had taken better care of the ball, or simply improved the look he created, then it could have been a totally different game. Lue actually said he believed the team was "pretty good" in defense, a moot claim but one that raises important questions about whether or not it has enough two-way lineups at its disposal.

Maybe this poor performance shows how much the Cavaliers miss Kyrie Irving's game: when their offense stalled, they did not have many options out of the hope that James would rescue them. Maybe it shows the importance of Korver and George Hill, who was dealing with a back injury and only played three minutes in the second half. Maybe Tristan Thompson needs to re-enter the rotation to get Cleveland some additional possessions against a team that recovered poorly in the regular season. Regardless of who is on the court, however, the Cavs can not afford to be the least decisive and least disciplined team. If they are, the always professional Pacers will punish them.

"You can not get into the playoffs," said Lue. "I thought they came in and attacked us and beat us first, and we could never recover."


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