“I don’t think it feels like a streak,” LeBron James said after the game. “It feels like we won one game, we won the next game. We’ve taken one step at a time. We’ve tried to take care of business.”
This is more than taking care of business: This is the best James-led team we have ever seen in the playoffs destroying every opponent it faces.
The Cavaliers lead the league in offense (116.9 points per 100 possessions) and are outscoring their postseason opponents by 13.4 net points per 100, second only to the Golden State Warriors (plus-14.1 net rating). If Cleveland’s net rating holds, it will be the highest ever produced by one of James’s playoff teams, eclipsing the 2011-12 Miami Heat championship squad (plus-8.4) by five points.
Nowhere was the dominance of James-Kevin Love-Kyrie Irving more evident than in Game 2 against the Raptors. James scored 23 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 11 assists in Thursday night’s victory, giving him his 15th career triple-double in the playoffs, which, per Elias, ranks second all-time to Magic Johnson’s 30. Irving added a game-high 26 points and now leads the Cavaliers in playoff points (248), 13 more than James (235). Love chipped in 19 points.
But this is a solid team even beyond the triumvirate of James, Love and Irving. The Cavaliers have an effective field goal percentage of 56.2, the highest of any of postseason club with James on the roster, edging out the 2013-14 Heat team that lost in the NBA Finals (55.5 eFG%).
The Cavaliers are succeeding by passing the ball: Cleveland is averaging 18.6 assists per 100 possessions, the highest of any James-led playoff squad. And James has been stellar at finding the open spot-up shooter — whether it’s Love, J.R. Smith, Channing Frye or Richard Jefferson — a shot on which the team scores 1.18 points per possession with a 60 eFG%. It’s a strategy that could work against the Warriors or Thunder in the NBA Finals; those two teams ranked 10th and 16th, respectively, in points allowed per spot-up possession when combining both regular season and playoff performance.
Here it is in action. James is guarded by DeMarre Carroll, with the rest of Toronto’s defense keeping tabs on Cleveland’s best player. A quick pass to a wide-open Love makes for an easy three-point basket.
In this example, James is driving to the basket off the pick and roll against Atlanta before finding Smith in the exact same spot Love was in on the previous play. Also nets the same result:
James would drive to the basket again later in the period but this time finds a wide-open Frye in the corner after drawing a triple team.
Perhaps what speaks to the strength of this team the most is how often James is not on the court. So far this postseason, the Cavaliers have played 10.7 minutes per game with James on the bench — he had never sat more than 10 minutes per game in any of his prior postseason runs.
And remember: These Cavaliers have yet to lose a postseason game in spite of it.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Cavaliers are still the second-most likely team to win an NBA championship this year, trailing the Warriors 30 percent to 44 percent. Even so, there’s no doubt this team gives James and Cleveland the best chance they’ve ever had at winning an NBA title.
“We’ve just got a great team, and they’re playing great basketball right now,” Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’ve just got to keep it going.”