So this, apparently, is how it’s going to be as the Cavs begin their journey through the playoff snake pit:
They are constantly going to have to play against their opponents and their own proclivity for giving up big leads.
In Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round game Monday night, the Cavs were 2-0. They overcame the Indiana Pacers and they overcame themselves.
For the second consecutive game the Cavs raced out to multiple big leads, then coughed up nearly all of them, only to hit the gas again, just in time, and hold off the pesky Pacers.
For the Cavs, getting the big lead isn’t nearly as hard as protecting the big lead. But it always helps when you have a Big Three.
The Cavs do, the Pacers don’t, and that’s that.
Cleveland is two wins away from advancing to the conference semifinals, thanks to another hair-raising finish in which the Cavs overcame their overconfidence demons to send the Pacers back home again to Indiana, down 2-0 in the series, thanks to the Cavs’ 117-111 defense-optional victory.
As was the case in so many regular-season games, the Cavs seem to spend much of the game trying to gauge exactly how hard they will have to play to win. Then they play exactly that hard — and no harder.
The Pacers spent most of Game 2 chasing down the big leads the Cavs repeatedly built, then blew — almost.
Not the biggest, but certainly the most nerve-wracking near-collapse was the one at the end.
The Cavs were up by 18 points at the start of the fourth quarter, which seemed to put them in a good spot. It’s not like, you know, they’ve ever blown 26-point leads in the fourth quarter of a game or anything.
Oh, wait, yes it is.
Sure enough, the Pacers started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run, and after that it was Big Three Bar the Door.
Which they did.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love combined for 89 points, 23 rebounds, 12 assists, five steals, and five blocked shots.
“That’s a team with many weapons,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said.
Irving, with his boundless array of shots, hit some big ones. Love, who only had three points and no rebounds from the start of the second quarter to halfway through the third, went full Lovetron after that, especially when the Pacers made a defensive switch that resulted in the 6-foot-10 Love being guarded by the 6-5 Lance Stephenson.
The Cavs immediately pounded the ball into Love, who scored over, around and through the undersized Stephenson.
“If they are going to play small, Kevin SHOULD dominate,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said.
So did LeBron, who scored 25 points, with 10 rebounds and seven assists. But his shocking eight turnovers were, well, shocking.
“The ball’s in his hands a lot. Maybe he got a little tired,” Lue said. “But he knows that’s too many turnovers for him.”
It’s also probably too much Cavs for the Pacers as well.
The Cavs have won the first two games by just one and six points, but it still feels — though perhaps doesn’t always look — like a 2 vs. 7 seed. The Cavs clearly have more talent, but a smaller attention span when it comes to protecting leads, than the Pacers.
Indeed, the Cavs are their own worst enemy.
Their continuing inability to preserve, protect and defend the large leads their talent provides remains a troubling issue that must be corrected if the team is going deep into the playoffs.
And let’s not kid ourselves. By “deep” we mean all the way to the last round. The Finals. The caliber of opponent tends to increase with each progression through the playoffs.
A lead that the Pacers could whittle down, but not completely overcome, might be a lead that a subsequent opponent could take more full advantage of.
They are 2-0 in the postseason so far, but the Cavs’ turnover factory must be dismantled.
“We’ve got to take care of the basketball,” Lue said. “Nineteen turnovers leading to 24 points. It’s hard to win a basketball game when you do that.”
Lue blamed part of the Cavs’ shaky defense — the Pacers shot 51 percent from the field and 40 percent from distance — on Cavs turnovers that gave the Pacers runouts leading to easy layups and dunks.
“What hurt our defense was our offense,” Lue said.
What hurt the Pacers was the Cavs’ offense — turnovers and all.
When the Big Three plays like the Big Three it’s big trouble for the team in the other uniforms.
So now it’s on to Indiana, where the Cavs have historically struggled.
Maybe they won’t get any big leads at Indiana, but maybe that won’t be such a bad thing.
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