Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals started about as poorly as possible for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday. The Cavs trailed the Chicago Bulls 27-15, and LeBron James – who finished one assist shy of a triple-double – was focused on getting his teammates involved, rather than setting the tone early as a scorer.
“I’ve seen him do that before, (and) the only reservation I had about it was our personnel is different,” former Cavalier and current Cavs television analyst Austin Carr said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “Guys like LeBron, when you go into that triple-double situation where you’re trying to get everybody involved, what happens is, if you don’t score, then all of a sudden it’s like, wow, they stop coming to you. So by the time he realized he wasn’t going to get anything out of moving the ball, it was a little bit too late there in that first quarter. We worked back into it, but we just started out with the wrong intensity level, I thought, and we never could regain it.”
James finished with 19 points on 22 shots, and the Cavs lost, 99-92.
With Game 2 approaching Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, the Cavs will reportedly bench Mike Miller in favor of Tristan Thompson, a move that will allow James to move back from power forward to small forward.
“The only problem is, with not having an extra body, we don’t have much coming off the bench,” Carr said. “So now it’s going to come down to three or four of those starters are going to play 40 minutes – and that’s tough if you get off to a bad start. You got to get off to a good start and get into a good rhythm so you can have a good (finish) and you can take a hit – because you know the Bulls are going to come after you. You got to be able to take a hit, but you got to have a little bit of a cushion to take that hit.”
Jimmy Butler may be the one delivering the blows. The 6-7 guard not only scored 20 points in Game 1, but also held James in check, limiting him to 7-of-18 shooting as the primary defender and forcing five turnovers.
“Butler has proven himself to be a pretty formidable opponent,” Carr said. “If I was in LeBron’s shoes, I wouldn’t expect (to just come out and dominate). I’m going to go out there with that mindset, but I know I’m going to be challenged at every step with Butler. I think tonight you’ll see LeBron taking him into the low post a lot more and distributing the ball and scoring from that point there. Because there was a point in the game last game that when he was down low with Butler and it was one-on-one, he could get what he wanted. So I’m expecting – even though he’s going to play the 3 – that he’s going to do a lot in the low post against Butler and see if he can distribute or score from that area.”
A loss Wednesday would be devastating to a Cavs team hoping to win an NBA title. Would a second-round exit be a huge disappointment?
“Personally, I would say it would be,” Carr said. “But being realistic, when you lose J.R. and Kevin Love – I think a lot of people are not realizing what Love meant to us. In our scheme, the way we run things, we needed that power forward who can stretch the defense. That opens it up for Kyrie and LeBron. We don’t have that now. So the Bulls will pack into the lane, and they are tall and physical inside. So I’m looking at the whole thing to be a tough battle. I think we should win the game, but it’s not going to be easy. The Bulls are trying to put the nail in the coffin going back to Chicago 2-0, but the Bulls have not been too strong at home this season, either. Even in the postseason, they’ve had some problems at home. So I’m looking at the Cavs to win this one tonight and (get) an opportunity to get that next one in Chicago.”