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Small sample shows chemistry growing in playoffs for Cavs

In two sweeps, Cleveland's offense could pose problems for foes

POSTED: May 8, 2016 9:36 PM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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— Eight games.

Eight.

That's all the tangible playoff data Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue has to work with as he prepares his team for the Eastern Conference finals.

Given the way the Cavaliers have played, steamrolling the Detroit Pistons in the first round and finishing off a conference semifinal sweep of the Atlanta Hawks Sunday at Philips Arena, eight games is all Lue needs to know that his crew is ready for whatever comes next.

The Cavaliers await the winner of the Toronto Raptors-Miami Heat semifinal, a series the Raptors lead 2-1 heading into Monday's Game 4 in Miami. And they'll likely have a bit of an extended break as they wait for that series to end.

But the way they shot the ball against the Hawks, particularly from beyond the 3-point line, no one wants anything to interrupt the groove.

The Cavaliers sank 77 shots from beyond the 3-point line against the Hawks, the most in a four-game series in NBA history. They topped their own mark, the 57 they dropped on the Pistons, which bettered the previous best mark (49) they used to sweep the Hawks in last season's Eastern Conference finals.

A 36 percent 3-point shooting team during the regular season, the Cavaliers are shooting 42 percent from deep through these first eight games of the postseason.

If there were any doubts about his team's cohesion and focus, their camaraderie and flow, Lue said it's all gone away with the way the Cavaliers have performed with the lights at their brightest.

A healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, a locked in and focused LeBron James and a supporting cast energized by the challenges still to come is all the proof Lue needs to know that his team is ready.

"Really, the last three or four weeks of the regular season we started playing really good basketball on both ends," Lue said. "And it just carried over. Guys are trusting the offense and trusting the defense. And when you can lock into a game for a seven-game series, it's easier to pick up a team's tendencies and understand what they like to do and things like that. I just think we hit our stride the right time and the team is playing really well right now."

We're in a great rhythm right now as far as us three. We know exactly where we want to be on the floor.

– LeBron James on his on-court chemistry with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving

The challenge, of course, is to keep it going. Last year injuries, to Love in the first round and Irving in Game 1 of The Finals, didn't allow the Cavaliers to keep the momentum going through the finish.

That's the plan this time around, especially when you consider that the Cavaliers are 12-0 all-time LeBron, Love and Irving in the lineup during the playoffs.

Lue's 8-0 start to the playoffs is tied with Hall of Famer Pat Riley (1981) for a first-year head coach.

So this is a new feeling for all involved. But the collective confidence in one another was evident against the Hawks, who could not slow down LeBron's facilitating early for Love and himself late in Sunday's 100-99 series clincher.

Love drained eight 3-pointers through three quarters, feeding on a steady diet of spectacular looks from LeBron, and finished with a game-high 27 points and 13 rebounds. LeBron chased a triple double (21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists) and nailed two crucial baskets in the final 76 seconds to seal the win.

Irving added 21 points and eight assists, but when the game was on the line late LeBron had the ball in his hands this time.

"(LeBron) is a special player. His passing ability, and he has a great feel for the game," Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore said. "People see how great he is, but I don't think they understand the feel he has for the game. To be able to throw those crosscourt passes right on the money and hit guys right in the numbers and watch them shoot three's."

As LeBron continues to build up the trust in Love and Irving, it's clear that he is getting back into the comfort zone he thrived in alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, when the Heat played in four straight Finals, winning two.

Sure, he's more than capable of toting a larger scoring, rebounding and facilitating load. But he clearly feels he's at his best when he can share those duties.

"I know the guys have been waiting for this opportunity, being a part of the postseason again after what happened last year with their injuries," he said. "So they've been building up towards this, both mentally and physically. Obviously I can't say that I haven't waited for them as well, to get them back to this moment so I can be out there with them because it's something that we all envisioned when I came back here and (Love) was traded here. And obviously (Irving) was already here. We're in a great rhythm right now as far as us three. We know exactly where we want to be on the floor. We know exactly where we are on the floor. It's benefited all of us individually and obviously it's trickled down to the team."

The work accomplished thus far, however brief, will serve the Cavaliers well in the near future. The Raptors and Heat will both struggle to match up if the Cavaliers continue to light it up from distance and Lue keeps hitting the right switches with his rotations and remains calm in a sea of chaos.

"He just kept us even-keeled," LeBron said. "Anytime we come to a timeout, if we're up or down, or if the game is close or if it's a game of runs that a team is making on us, he's always talking about the next possession. Let's not worry about what happened the previous possession or a couple of possessions before, let's try to figure out how we can get better and he keeps us calm in those moments. It's definitely beneficial for our team."

Maybe eight games is enough, at least this time around, to shine a light on the path ahead.

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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