Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts after a dunk in the third quarter against the Indiana Pacers in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. (David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
The reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers have developed a habit of giving away late-game leads but LeBron James is not losing sleep over that trend and feels his team are on the cusp of their top form.
What started late in the regular season and kept Cleveland from securing the Eastern Conference’s top seed has carried over into the first two games of their best-of-seven series against the Indiana Pacers.
Two days after giving up a lead and escaping with a one-point win, the Cavaliers nearly squandered an 18-point cushion during a shaky fourth quarter on Monday before holding on for a 2-0 series lead.
A number of questionable shots and breakdowns on defense by Cleveland allowed Indiana to make a late charge but none of this seems to concern the player carrying the team’s title hopes.
“I’d rather have an 18-point lead than not have a lead at all,” James said after Monday’s game.
“We make plays down the stretch to win a ball game and in the postseason that’s all you can ask for. But we’re right there on turning the switch on what we really can become.”
The Cavaliers boast a number of weapons that, when clicking, make them one of the NBA’s most dangerous teams but their habit of allowing teams back into games could prove costly.
They closed out their regular season with four consecutive losses and some pundits felt they looked vulnerable heading into the postseason.
Cleveland were outscored 13-7 over the final five minutes of the second quarter on Monday, opened up a 19-point lead during the third but Indiana regrouped and got back to within four points with 19 seconds to play.
In the end, the Cavaliers picked up the intensity when it mattered most and James, a three-times NBA champion and four-times league Most Valuable Player, is choosing to stay focused on the positives rather fret about nearly blowing another lead.
“We’re playing some really, really good basketball,” said James. “Even in, you know, the first two quarters, we build a lead, we didn’t close out the second quarter as well as we would like to and, but, we have a chance,” said James.
“We have a chance to do something we all have been wanting to do all season, and that’s to put together a four-quarter game. And I think we’re right there on the cusp of doing that.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto. Editing by Steve Keating.)