I attended game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals last night expecting to be treated to another 48 minutes of Cavalier poetry. Needless to say, 24 of those minutes fell a bit short of my expectations. I left the Q hoarse, angry, and exhausted.
I'm not going to recap the game. I'm not going to point out all of the obvious and ridiculous things that the Cavs botched, both in their execution and strategy in the second half. All I'm going to do is offer a few suggestions that I think might help the Cavs handle a team that they just don't match up with particularly well; and yes, I'm well aware that "don't stand around on offense" is probably near the top of the list of adjustments that need to be made, but we're going for a few things that are a little more subtle:
1. Take 75% of Szczerbiak and Gibson's minutes and give them to Sasha. Keep in mind, I am not a Pavlovic fan. But I just don't see how you can justify playing a guy a) whose feet are glued to the floor, or b) who is undersized and brings nothing to the table right now, over a guy who is 6'7, agile, and can also put the ball on the floor on the offensive end. Listen, I'm well aware of Sasha's deficiencies. I just think that with both Lewis and Turkoglu out on the floor, when the Cavs decide to change things up by going to the bench, the should do it by bringing out a big perimeter player who can bother Orlando's shooters a little bit.
2. Increase Lebron's minutes. I know, this sounds a little bit ridiculous since he only sat about 90 seconds in the 4th quarter but part of what has made the Cavs such a tough playoff out for the last couple of years is that the team becomes significantly better when Lebron is playing 48 minutes. I thought it was a costly mistake to put him on the bench to start the 4th last night. Playoff leads are too hard to build. It is senseless to have a guy work all game to build and maintain a lead just to let it slip away so that he can get a quick blow. There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs. The TV timeouts are endless. Lebron can go 48 minutes without a problem. Let him do it. At the very least, eliminate the rest at the start of the 4th. The Cavs can't afford to take him off of the floor for defensive reasons, let alone offense.
3. Give Andy a crack at Howard. I completely agreed with the strategy of forcing Howard to beat single defenders to win the game. Boiled down to its simplest form, in a pure pissing contest between Howard and Lebron, Howard loses 99 times out of 100. He just doesn't have the offensive arsenal to score every time down the floor like Lebron does. That said, having Z guard him all game is making things a little too easy. At least Andy might be able to stay in front of him and draw a cheap charge or two. I'm not saying the Cavs should do it all game because they can't afford to have Varejeo in foul trouble but he definitely needs to spend a little more time on Howard, if only to force him to make a few more baby hooks. Obviously, if the Cavs do this, it means more time for Wallace and Joe Smith because one of them is going to have to guard Rashard Lewis. I'm fine with that (assuming they stop screwing up the switch-offs on the sideline pick and roll). I love Z but unless the Cavs are going to run offensive set through him in the low post (which they won't as long as Howard is down there), then there isn't much reason to have him out there all game.
4. Stick Lebron on Alston and leave him there until somebody else gets hot. I'm not sure why the Cavs switched the assignment last night when Orlando's perimeter players were quiet in the first half. Plus, having Lebron on Alston gives him a little more flexibility to be a helpside defender down low. I'm not saying he can just go roam and block shots, but it's not like Turkoglu or Lewis where helping equals instant death.
5. Stop making Z show on screens 30 feet from the basket.
6. Push the perimeter defense out even further out. I know, it sounds absurd but Orlando can't win games with 2 point shots. On that last possession, I wished Varejao had just waved Rashard Lewis by him and made him make an uncontested 8 footer. I know, putting guys in a position to beat you off the dribble forces defenders to help and causes things to break down. Still, I'd rather take my chances with that than allow Lewis and Turkoglue to get good looks at the rim all game. The Cavs defenders need to be up in Lewis and Turkoglu's chests swatting at the ball trying to make their lives difficult and disrupt their shooting motions.
Aside from the aforementioned, there are a host of other obvious adjustments that need to be made (e.g. Mike Brown not doing his best S.V.G. impression by pissing his pants and overreacting to his opponent's play by abandoning his gameplan) but I have confidence that the Cavs will make them. The Cavs are a 66 win team. The Magic are a team that is built to succeed one night and fail the next. The sky is not falling. The Cavs have spent 8 months convincing us that they're the best team in the league. One bad half doesn't change that. Keep the faith everyone. This series is going to be a roller-coaster but I still believe the Cavs will prevail.