INDEPENDENCE — Want to know how the Cavaliers are faring tonight at Quicken Loans Arena in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals?
It’s not a foolproof method, but watch how “The Non Brons” are performing.
In pulling within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series with a resounding 116-86 victory Saturday night, the Cavs got 89 points from players not named LeBron James, with five individuals — Kyle Korver (14), Kevin Love (13), George Hill (13), J.R. Smith (11) and Tristan Thompson (10) — joining the four-time league MVP in double figures in scoring.
“If you look at any box score throughout the postseason or throughout the regular season, if you’re able to get four, five, six guys in double figures, most of the time that team is going to win,” James said after scoring 27 points on a remarkably efficient 8-for-12 shooting night. “You look at the shot chart — me with 12 and Kev with 12, G-Hill with 11 and even Jordan (Clarkson), his 18 minutes throwing up 11 attempts as well — is just well-balanced.
“Obviously, every game doesn’t work out that way. We can sit up here and say, ‘Why doesn’t it happen like that every game?’ but it’s just not how the game works every game. But (Game 3) was good ingredients of that, for us to be able to get everybody involved.”
In Cleveland’s 108-83 loss in Game 1, Non Brons scored 68 points. Only Love (17), Rodney Hood (11), who is now totally out of the rotation, and Clarkson (10) joined James (15) in double figures as Cleveland shot .360 from the field (31-for-86).
In dropping Game 2 107-94, only Love (22) and Korver (11) joined James (42) with 10 or more points as Non Brons scored just 52 on 21-for-51 shooting (.412).
Then, after averaging 88.5 points over the first two games, the Cavs exploded for 116 in Game 3, with Non Brons going 29-for-64 from the floor (.453), including 14-for-31 on 3-pointers (.452).
The production started immediately, as Hill, who had just eight points and eight shot attempts over the first two games, poured in 11 first-quarter points as the Cavs raced to a 32-17 lead.
Smith, who was scoreless in Game 2 and entered Saturday 2-for-16 from the field and 0-for-7 on 3-pointers in the series, also joined in the fun by making 3-of-4 from deep, while Korver’s 14 points came on 5-for-5 shooting, including 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.
“It’s very important for our guards to be aggressive,” James said. “No matter if they are making shots or not, we want them to be aggressive. It just keeps the defense at bay. It allows me and Kevin to have more open lanes as well when those guys are being aggressive looking for their shots.
“You saw that in G-Hill’s mindset to start the game. He just had an aggressive mindset that if they’re going to slide under his pick-and-rolls, he is going to shoot it. He gets a swing-swing (pass), he’s going to shoot it. And the same for J.R.
“We always sit up here and talk about how much pressure me and Kev try to take off our teammates. Those guys took pressure off us (in Game 3). Their aggression just settled us in and allowed us to play free.”
It was reflected in James’ offensive usage rate, which was just 23.2 percent in Game 3, his lowest of the 2018 postseason. By comparison, it was 34.1 in Game 1 vs. Boston and 46.7 in Game 2.
Factor in great defense with the team-wide contributions on offense and the Cavs improved to 7-1 when at least four players score in double figures, as opposed to 2-4 when they’ve had three or fewer. The lone loss with four double-figure scorers came in Game 1 of the Celtics series, when Hood and Clarkson got there largely because of an inordinate amount of garbage time.
“It’s big for us,” coach Tyronn Lue said Sunday following a light workout. “When we’re playing defense the way we played (in Game 3) and we’re getting out in the open court, everybody’s going to touch it. Guys are going to get easy shots. We can get four, five, six guys in double figures when we’re playing that way.”
The key, of course, is continuing to help James in Game 4 tonight, with the backcourt of particular importance. In Game 1, Boston’s Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown outscored Hill and Smith 31-9. In Game 2, it was 41-3. In Game 3, however, it was 24-23 in the Cavs’ favor.
James, who didn’t have to expend nearly the same amount of energy on offense in Game 3, channeled that extra fuel into a great defensive performance. He was largely responsible for holding Brown, who had 23 points in each of the first two games, to 10 on Saturday, including just two on 1-for-3 shooting as Cleveland took a 61-41 halftime lead.
“We know Jaylen is a first-quarter player,” Lue said. “He plays good throughout the game, but he really sets the tone early in that first quarter, so we wanted to do a good job on him.
“I thought LeBron really did a good job of closing out to him, making him put it on the floor, cutting him off and making him play in a crowd. It was good for us to slow him down that first quarter, because he’s been really good in Boston.”
It will be equally good for the Cavs if The Non Brons can come anywhere close to matching their Game 3 impact tonight.
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