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Cavs seek improvement on lessons learned from Game 3

Cleveland forward Jefferson: 'We The South are going to be OK'

POSTED: May 22, 2016 7:31 PM ET
UPDATED: May 23, 2016 11:01 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


Media Availability: LeBron James

Cavaliers forward LeBron James spoke with the media in Toronto on Sunday, May 22 as the Wine and Gold prepare for the Raptors in Game 4 on Monday.

— Dinner was drearier for the Cleveland Cavaliers. But a dampened mood beats drained spirits and they're both better than damaged psyches, so the Cavaliers aren't too worried heading into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday night (8:30 PM EST, ESPN) at Air Canada Centre.

"I wouldn't say 'down' is the right word," Cavs reserve Richard Jefferson said Sunday, before the team huddled for a film review of their 99-84 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 Saturday. "I would say 'disappointed.' Not in the fact that we lost but how we played in the loss."

It's a fine line that Cleveland needed to walk after suffering its first defeat of the 2016 NBA postseason. In going 10-0 while sweeping Detroit and Atlanta before taking the first two games of the East finals against Toronto, Cleveland had played its best basketball of the long season, so one poor performance shouldn't send the Cavaliers into any sort of panic.

Then again, things are 2-1 now with Toronto at home and in position to pull even in the best-of-seven series. A pair of vital Raptors players -- guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry -- "got going" and combined for 52 points Saturday. A third, recent backup big man Bismack Biyombo, surprised and delighted most non-Cleveland fans who paid attention with a massive stats night (26 rebounds, eight on the offensive end, and four blocked shots) and exuberance in his play.

Meanwhile, two of the Cavs' Big Three sputtered, as Kyrie Irving (3 of 19) and Kevin Love (1 of 9) shot horribly and combined for just 16 points. The help to which LeBron James has grown so accustomed unexpectedly too had the night off, and Cleveland is loath to have to happen again.

So while the Cavaliers don't want to overreact to their poor outing, they don't want to underreact either.

"It's tough because you want to keep that balance," Jefferson said. "Trust me, we were not in the mood that we wanted to be in last night. ... That's the first time in a month the dinner conversation wasn't joyous and excited and having fun. It was a night where we were kind of talking about things we need to do. We were trying to keep our minds off of it, but you could see that everybody was a little off."

Few if any of the players and certainly none of the coaches was inclined to shrug off 35.4 percent shooting, just 15 assists and a 54-40 rebounding disparity as merely an off night. If anything, the Cavs were inclined to err on the side of caution. Deep down, the coaches might have welcomed a real teachable moment after so much winning, while the players know how much they enjoyed and benefited in rest and recuperation by getting through the first two rounds so swiftly.

"There's a lot to learn from that night," Jefferson said.

James had a solid game with 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists, but he never did shift into that game-dominator people have seen before in tough postseason times. Some of that was due to the trust level in what had been working, namely Irving's and Love's contributions that have lessened James' load this spring.

"They've been a huge part of our success, so we're not going to go away from it just because of one game," James said. "It happens. The ball doesn't go in sometimes. But we can't lose confidence in those guys."

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue shouldered responsibility for not pushing a few different buttons and perhaps shifting the offense to run more through James' hands. It's not just on the Cavs star-of-stars to make an on-the-fly decision to stray from the plan and take over a game.

"I should have put the ball in LeBron's hands a little bit more to let him create and let him draw double teams," Lue told reporters in a hotel conference room. "So that was more on me."

The Cavaliers were able to find reasons for much of what went wrong in Game 3. Biyombo was such a force in the middle, racking up big numbers, because the Cavs were missing so many shots, for instance. That created the rebounds he grabbed and sent less-than-confident Cavs into the paint where he could block or alter their shots.

As for DeRozan's big night, the Toronto shooting guard scored only one of his game-high 32 points in the fourth quarter, by which time James was the Cleveland defender hounding him. A little more of that, a little less offense from DeRozan and things could began to shift, dreary dinners or not.

"We have a lot of respect for Toronto. So it was never 'We're going to sweep them,' " Jefferson said. "We want to get as many wins as quickly as possible, just like they want to get as many win as quickly as possible.

" 'We The South' are going to be OK. We're going to be just fine."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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