LeBron James has reached The Finals in seven straight seasons, making it difficult to ever pick against him in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
But this is clearly the worst team that has surrounded James since his move to Miami in 2010. Going back to 2008-09, no James team had outscored its opponents by less than 3.2 points per game. This Cavs team was just a plus-0.9 per game. The last team to outscore its opponents by less than a point per game and reach The Finals was the 1980-81 Houston Rockets (plus-0.3).
The Cavs had drama, trades and injuries disrupting their season, and they never got an extended look at their new roster, with injuries lingering through the last game of the season. But their defense was bad throughout and they’ve run out of time in regard to working out the kinks.
Their first round opponent is the same as it was last year, except that it’s different. The Indiana Pacers traded their best player last summer … and got better. They were clearly the most pleasant surprise this season, grabbing the fifth seed with improvement on both ends of the floor.
The Cavs may be a bigger first-round favorite than the three teams that finished ahead of them in the East standings. LeBron James has never lost a first round series and hasn’t lost a first round game since 2012.
We’ll see if the Pacers are good enough (or if the Cavs are bad enough) to change that.
Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 4-5 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more. Game 1 is Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32)
Pace: 100.1 (12)
OffRtg: 110.6 (5)
DefRtg: 109.5 (29)
NetRtg: +1.0 (13)
Cavs team notes:
- First team in the last 11 years to rank in the bottom three in defensive efficiency and make the playoffs. In the 25 years since the playoffs went to a 16-team format, they’re the highest seed to have ranked in the bottom three defensively. The other seven teams to make the playoffs while ranking in the bottom three on defense were all seeded 7 or 8, and all lost in the first round.
- Only team that was undefeated (they were 39-0) when leading after the third quarter.
- Only team that ranked in the top five in both the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (fourth) and the percentage of their threes that came from the corners (fourth).
- Ranked 26th in opponent field goal percentage in the paint (58 percent) and 25th in opponent effective field goal percentage from outside the paint (51 percent).
- Had the league’s third biggest differential between their “expected wins” (based on point differential) and their actual wins. Were 50-32 with the point differential of a team that was 44-38. If the standings were based on point differential, the Pacers would be the 4 seed and the Cavs would be the 5 seed.
- The 68.5 percent they shot in the restricted area is the highest mark for any team in the 22 years for which we have shot location data.
Cavs individual notes:
- LeBron James led the league with 1,068 total points scored in the restricted area. The 75.2 percent he shot in the restricted area was the second best mark among players with at least 200 restricted area attempts and the fourth best mark of his career.
- James led the league with 197 points scored in the clutch (with the game within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime). His effective field goal percentage of 61.2 percent on clutch shots ranked second among players who attempted at least 50. But he shot just 65 percent on clutch free throws.
- James ranked second with 6.4 isolation possessions per game. The 0.96 points per possession he scored on isolations ranked 15th among 30 players who averaged at least two isolations per game.
- James led the league with 344 assists on 3-pointers (4.2 per game), assisting on threes from 15 different teammates.
- Jeff Green saw an increase in effective field goal percentage from 44 percent last season to 52 percent this season. That was the second biggest jump among 126 players who attempted at least 500 shots both seasons.
- Rodney Hood (15.1) and Jordan Clarkson (13.7) had the league’s third and fifth highest scoring averages off the bench (min. 30 games off the bench).
- Kyle Korver attempted 78 percent of his shots from 3-point range, the third highest rate among 222 players with at least 400 field goal attempts. Only nine percent of his shots came in the paint, the lowest rate among those same 222 players.
- Kevin Love had an effective field goal percentage of 57 percent in quarters 1-3 and just 42 percent in the fourth.
- Opponents shot 66 percent at the rim when Love was there to protect it. That was the second worst rim protection mark among players who defended at least four shots at the rim per game.
- J.R. Smith took 51 percent of his shots from 3-point range after the All-Star break, down from 70 percent before the break. That was the biggest drop in 3PA/FGA among 203 players with at least 250 field goal attempts before the break and 150 after it. Rodney Hood had the third biggest drop (from 48 percent to 32 percent).
Indiana Pacers (48-34)
Pace: 98.2 (24)
OffRtg: 107.2 (12)
DefRtg: 105.6 (14)
NetRtg: +1.6 (12)
Pacers team notes:
- Ranked ninth in 3-point percentage, but 26th in the percentage of their shots that were threes. This was the second straight season in which they ranked in the top 10 in the former and in the bottom 10 in the latter.
- One of two teams (Charlotte was the other) that won three games after trailing by at least 20 points. That included a win over the Cavs on Jan. 12.
- Allowed their opponents to shoot 58 percent in the paint, the second worst mark in the league.
- Ranked No. 1 in clutch defense, allowing just 97 points per 100 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
- Assisted on just 32 percent of their field goals with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. That was the league’s lowest clutch assist percentage. They ranked 28th in assist percentage (assisting on 54 percent of their total buckets) overall.
Pacers individual notes:
- Bojan Bogdanovic had an effective field goal percentage of 52 percent in the first half of games and 62 percent in the second half. That was the fourth biggest effective field goal percentage jump from half to half among players with at least 200 field goal attempts in each half.
- Darren Collison was the league leader in both 3-point percentage (46.8 percent) and assist-turnover ratio (4.28). He was one of three players who shot better than 50 percent on at least 50 first-quarter 3-point attempts.
- Cory Joseph committed a turnover just 3.3 percent of the time on drives, the lowest rate among players who averaged at least five drives per game.
- Victor Oladipo saw an increase in usage rate (percentage of team’s possessions used while he’s on the floor) from 21.3 percent last season to 30.0 percent this season. That was the second biggest jump among players who played at least 1,000 minutes in both seasons. Domantas Sabonis saw the seventh biggest jump (from 15.8 percent to 22.0 percent) among that same group.
- The Pacers outscored their opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions with Oladipo on the floor, and were outscored by 7.3 with Oladipo off the floor. That (13.7 points per 100 possessions) was the second biggest on-off NetRtg differential among 266 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.
- Oladipo led the league with 16 clutch 3-pointers.
- Sabonis took only six percent of his shots from 3-point range, down from 33 percent last season. That was the biggest drop among 160 players with at least 400 total field goal attempts both seasons.
- Sabonis saw a increase in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) from 14 attempts per 100 shots from the field last season to 34 per 100 this season. That was the biggest increase among that same group of players. Oladipo (from 17 to 27 per 100) saw the fourth biggest increase in free throw rate.
- Myles Turner defended 6.7 shots at the rim per game, tied for second most in the league.
- Turner shot 48.1 percent from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line), the seventh best mark among 57 players with at least 200 mid-range attempts.
Regular season matchup
Season series: Pacers won 3-1 (1-1 in Cleveland)
Nov. 1 @ Cleveland – Pacers 124, Cavs 107
Dec. 8 @ Indiana – Pacers 106, Cavs 102
Jan. 12 @ Indiana – Pacers 97, Cavs 95
Jan. 26 @ Cleveland – Cavs 115, Pacers 108
Pace: 99.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes
Cleveland OffRtg: 105.1 (18th vs. Indiana)
Indiana OffRtg: 109.2 (18th vs. Cleveland)
- All four games took place before Cleveland made multiple trades on deadline day. But six Cavs who are still on the roster (including James) played in all four games.
- Myles Turner only played in the Dec. 8 meeting.
- The Cavs won the first halves of the four games by a combined 32 points. The Pacers won the second halves of the games by a total of 48 points. They came back to win the Jan. 12 game after trailing by 22 points in the second quarter. Kyle Korver shot 0-for-11 (0-for-9 from 3-point range) in second halves against the Pacers this season.
- The Pacers shot 54-for-117 (46 percent) from 3-point range. The makes, attempts and percentage were all highs for them against any opponent.
- The Cavs shot 38-for-138 (28 percent) from 3-point range, their third worst mark against any opponent. J.R. Smith shot 15-for-33 from 3-point range and all other Cavs combined to shoot 23-for-105 (22 percent). Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder shot a combined 3-for-29.
- Darren Collison shot 68 percent, including 9-for-12 from 3-point range. His effective field goal percentage of 79.3 percent was the fourth best mark among players who attempted at least 25 shots against the Cavs this season. The 46 percent was also the best any Eastern Conference team shot from 3-point range against the Cavs.
- The Cavs were a plus-22 in 131 minutes with Kevin Love on the floor and were outscored by 38 points in 61 minutes with Love off the floor.
- No player defended James for more possessions this season than Bojan Bogdanovic. On those possessions, James didn’t get as many shots as he did on average and the Cavs a little less efficiently than they did on average.
- No player defended Victor Oladipo for more possessions this season than Smith. On those possessions, Oladipo took more shots than he did on average, but the Pacers scored a little less efficiently than they did on average.