In an oddly fitting moment, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue accidentally triggered his house alarm while on a conference call with the media Thursday afternoon, then had to interrupt the proceedings while he took a call from the security company checking to make sure everything was OK.
There are alarms going off everywhere regarding the Cavs, who trail the Boston Celtics 3-2 entering Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals tonight at 8:30 at Quicken Loans Arena.
LeBron James looks exhausted, while the performances of Lue and J.R. Smith, among others, have been exhausting.
Their superstar winded on several occasions, their coach making some confounding decisions — and an even worse explanation for one of them — and their shooting guard unable to make a shot, the Cavs fell 96-83 Wednesday night in Game 5.
The Celtics, who are 10-0 at home and 1-6 on the road in the playoffs, can close things out tonight, but it won’t be easy.
Heavily in the Cavs’ favor, they dominated Boston in Games 3 and 4 at The Q, jumping to leads of 15 and 16 points after the first quarter, and are 7-1 at home in the postseason.
Of concern is just how tired James appeared in Game 5 at TD Garden, where he became gassed late in the second period and early in the third, then went just 1-for-4 from the field in the fourth quarter en route to a 26-point, 10-rebound, five-assist, six-turnover performance in 39 minutes.
“I had my moments,” the 15th-year pro said after the game. “But I think everybody at this point is tired or worn down or whatever the case may be. (I’m) still trying to make plays to help our team win, put us in position to win. We had an opportunity, but we didn’t make enough plays.”
The Cavs were down 12 after an 11-2 run — and they could and probably should have been much closer — but James committed back-to-back turnovers and the Celtics were never seriously threatened after that.
“He looked a little tired to me, yes,” Lue said at the interview podium following the game. “No concerns. You’ve got to be ready to play now. No concerns.”
While James’ sensational history suggests he’ll bounce back strong tonight, a number of other issues need to be addressed, beginning with Lue’s limited use of Kyle Korver in Game 5 and Smith’s woeful performances in three games in Boston.
After scoring 28 points over Games 3 and 4, Korver played 19 minutes in Game 5, which wasn’t drastically different from his usage in the two games at The Q, when he played 20 and 25 minutes.
The situations were much different, however, as the Cavs were in desperate need of offense in Game 5, when Smith had two points on 1-for-6 shooting, zero rebounds, one assist and five fouls in 26 empty minutes. Korver had seven points on 2-for-6, no rebounds and one assist.
Even more confounding than Lue’s limited use of the 37-year-old Korver was the explanation he gave for it after the game, attributing it to the fact Boston coach Brad Stevens didn’t play Semi Ojeleye in Game 5.
Through the first four games of the series, Ojeleye played 55 minutes, while Korver, easily the Cavs’ third-leading scorer in the series after James and Kevin Love, was on the floor for 90.
“He’s been putting Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game,” Lue said at the podium. “He didn’t play him (in Game 5), so it kind of threw us for a loop.”
Asked during his conference call if he second-guessed any of the moves he made or didn’t make in Game 5 — Jeff Green (25) played only five fewer minutes than Love (30) — Lue said no and nothing more until the next question was posed.
“If you go down, you want to go down with the guys you know have been there and know what it’ll take,” he said later. “It is a tough situation, but you’ve got to stick with the guys. At times when guys are struggling, you still have to stick with those guys because you’ve seen those guys perform at a high level on big stages.”
Smith, however, has been almost a complete no-show in the three games in Boston. The mercurial shooting guard is 3-for-22 from the field at TD Garden, including 0-for-11 on 3-pointers. Should there be a Game 7, he will likely be on a shorter leash than Remington, the beloved therapy dog that visits the Cavs on occasion.
Factor in George Hill (seven points) and Tristan Thompson (1) and the Cavs got 10 points from three starters in Game 5. Even with Love (14) added, James still outscored the rest of Cleveland’s starters combined on what was not a great night for him.
“We’ve got to be better, which I know we will in Game 6, going back home,” Lue said following Game 5. “But we’ve just got to show some grit, some toughness, mentally and physically being tougher.”
No matter how tired he might be — or get tonight — that will likely start with James, who has had six 40-point games in the 2018 playoffs.
“I look forward to seeing us respond (tonight),” James said at the podium. “I know how well we’ve played at home in this postseason. That’s the only thing I can worry about right now.
“I’m not worried about a Game 7. You have to worry about Game 6. You can’t put yourself in that moment until you take care of the present.”
Lue concurred Thursday and fully expects his best player to be ready to go tonight.
“If I had to pick one guy and choose one guy to prevail, it would be LeBron,” the coach said. “I know he’ll be great come (tonight), and then after that we’ll see.
“I just know that he always performs at a high level,” Lue added. “(Game 5) just could have been one of those nights. But believe me, he’s not the only one that’s feeling fatigue right now. ... It could have been one of those nights for LeBron, but no question in my mind that he’ll bounce back.”
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