The Cleveland Cavaliers advanced past a very good Atlanta Hawks defense without too much trouble, zipping into the conference finals with a 4-0 sweep. What’s different about the Cavaliers? For one, the ball movement in Cleveland these days resembles nothing so much as the classic Spurs or Warriors hot potato style. With contributions from all corners — not least the deadly play of aggressive marksman J.R. Smith — the Cavs whip the ball around the court with whack-a-mole alacrity. And unlike the wounded Cavaliers that LeBron James strapped to his enormous back for last year’s NBA Finals, this Cleveland team looks like an intricate offensive machine with a multitude of important, healthy parts.
The biggest of those parts, arguably, is 6’10” Kevin Love, whose first season last year in Cleveland as part of the “big three” (James, Love, Kyrie Irving) wasn’t quite as sensational as fans had hoped. Chemistry takes time — and it never grooves when injuries interfere. But Love has been demonstrably healthy and free-wheeling this year. His eight 3-pointers in Game 4 finished off the Hawks — and they are also testimony to the trust the team has placed in each other. James, the rare superstar who actually likes to defer at times, is in his element with this team full of guys ready to step up. People scoffed when James said in October that the Cavaliers offense would treat Love as the “main focus.” Cynics thought James was playing amateur psychiatrist to boost a (perhaps) fragile ego in Love. But from the look of the 2016 Cavaliers — playoff version — James meant exactly what he said. No Cavalier took more shots than Love in Game 4. And James took 23 of them. Maybe that’s what David Blatt didn’t get.