1. Which part of the game tells us more: the competitive first three quarters or the last blowout period?
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid Co-EIC: It’s clearly the last period, as the Cavaliers are, simply put, are very bad and the Pacers are very, very good. Indiana was unable to get into a flow offensively for three quarters, and in the fourth, the Cavaliers couldn’t keep up the defensive effort and Indiana predictably scored big. Assuming the Pacers don’t come out in a funk again and struggle to find consistency, this is an Indiana blowout waiting to happen. Paul George will get his, David West will get his and so on. Indiana is just better at every position (sans point guard, if Kyrie Irving suits up) and that will show for 48 minutes.
Trevor Magnotti, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: The Heat games this season have been like a shark attack: The second quarter is the bite, and for the rest of the game the Cavs fought the shark off, but were already bleeding out. The last Pacers game was a boa constrictor. The Cavs played competently defensively for three quarters, to the point where the Pacers’ number one defense murdering the Cavs’ inept O wasn’t a huge deal. Then the fourth quarter came, and the Pacers already had their coils around the Cavs, and just started squeezing. This is just how the Pacers like to work, and the Cavs fell into an obvious trap here, and couldn’t save themselves in the end. If the Cavs want to win today, they need to play more fluidly on offense in the first three quarters, and take the shark attack approach, trying to get a substantial lead before the Pacers can squeeze the life out of them.
Zak Kolesar, Right Down Euclid Co-EIC: The last blowout period. That’s what we’ll see over four quarters at the Q on Sunday. The Cavs were in the midst of a losing streak that was dictated mostly on stagnant offense, but when they traveled to Indiana on New Year’s Eve, this was a squad desperate for a win. Because of this, and the recent removal of Andrew Bynum from the team and the addition of Anderson Varejao in the starting lineup, this team was able to grind with the Pacers for three quarters. It was only a matter of time before Paul George exploded and Indiana ran away with this one: the same Pacers team that blew out a handful of teams by 15-plus points in their previous games before their home contest with the Cavs. So expect a blowout.
2. In 35 minutes, Roy Hibbert only pulled down two rebounds on Tuesday – about six below his season average. What did the Cavaliers do well to limit his rebounds and can they repeat their success?
CM: Anderson Varejao, for all of his issues, is a mobile center. Hibbert is at his best when he doesn’t have to move his feet as much and can use his size to his advantage. He also boxes out better against bigger, slower centers who can use his weight against. Varejao, although smaller, has a distinct quickness advantage over Hibbert. He is able to get in front of the Georgetown product, box out and make Hibbert work harder than normal to body up on his man. This largely explains why Hibbert had an off rebounding night against the Cavaliers.
TM: A big reason for Hibbert’s struggles came because both teams took, and missed, a ton of outside shots Tuesday. The teams combined to go 6-37 from three, and those missed threes, as well as all the Cavs’ midrange shots, benefitted the Cavs. These shots often produce long rebounds, which a guy like Roy Hibbert isn’t going to have a chance to grab because he won’t be in that position. It does benefit guys like Tristan Thompson and especially Earl Clark, who will be more likely to be positioned further out in the paint or outside of it, and guys like Varejao who can use their quickness to get long rebounds. For the Pacers, though, it benefits guys like Luis Scola and Paul George as well. That’s why Tuesday, the Cavs only outrebounded the Pacers by 7, even though Hibbert was a non-factor.
ZK: Anderson Varejao. Andy was aggressive enough to limit the amount of defensive rebounds (0) Hibbert had against the Cavs, even though Cleveland shot just over 35 percent from the field as a team. Andy and Tristan Thompson did great work on the offensive glass, limiting Hibbert on the defensive end. They’re starting to work good together as a team when receiving starting minutes together, which is something I wanted to see more of last season, but we all know about Andy’s injury problems. If the Cavaliers have another porous shooting day, however, I don’t think they’ll be able to contain Hibbert this time around.
3. The Pacers struggled to get into an offensive rhythm on Tuesday. What did the Cavaliers do well to limit Indiana’s offense?
CM: I am not sure the Cavaliers did anything specific to limit Indiana. Per Synergy Sports, Indiana only shot horrible (28.6 percent) in isolation, which they only ran 7.2 percent of the time. For the game, the Pacers shot pretty well and made their buckets. Early on, the Cavaliers did contest shots fairly well and did keep Indiana fairly contained. But all things considered, the Cavaliers didn’t do anything specific to limit Indiana.
One thing, however, that helps the Cavaliers is that Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson provide a much more active frontcourt that any that featured Andrew Bynum. Varejao and Thompson give up some size, but can move their feet and do more than lean on someone with their weight. They are also much more mobile in defending the pick & roll. Overall, that helps the Cavaliers’ defense.
TM: The Pacers’ offense is wildly inconsistent at times, and has been throughout Frank Vogel’s tenure. The big culprit Tuesday was that the Cavs actually played pretty good defense on the perimeter against Indy. The Pacers normally hit 36.2 percent from three, which is the 12th-best mark in the league. They were held to 5-25 shooting from three against the Cavs, and that crippled the Pacers’ offensive spacing, as well as led to that huge rebounding shift that I discussed previously. For a pretty inconsistent perimeter D, that’s incredible, especially when Paul George is forced into shooting 11 threes because he couldn’t drive as effectively. If the Cavs can perform that well again on the perimeter, and respond offensively by going just a tiny bit better than their 1-12 mark from Tuesday, this is a huge advantage for the Cavs.
ZK: I just think it was an off-day (or start) for the Pacers. Defense is definitely their strong point, but the Cavs were in this contest much too late in the game, and it had to do with (like I said above) the team desperately looking for a win. This won’t be the case on Sunday. Cleveland’s problems at small forward and the fact that one of the best players in the NBA plays at that position for Indiana will allow Indiana’s PNR to flourish this time around.