The Cavaliers didn't finish the regular season with the best record in the East, and their late-season slide (combined with a defensive rating that's the lowest of any team that's won a title since the 2001 Lakers) had plenty of pundits ready to believe that this would be the season that LeBron James' incredible run of six straight Finals appearances would finally come to an end.
But after the way Cleveland clicked offensively in its first two playoff games against the Pacers, along with the way we've seen the other supposed contenders in the conference play in their opening-round matchups, it's already become clear -- after just two postseason games -- that LeBron and the Cavaliers will be back in the Finals once again.
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We all know how impossible LeBron can be for opposing defenses to deal with, but the help he has around him may be at its all-time best.
In Game 1 against the Pacers, his 13 assists kept the defense guessing, and he picked his spots offensively, finishing 12-of-20 from the field for a game-high 32 points.
In Game 2, however, it was Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love that did the bulk of the damage to put the game out of reach. LeBron was as impactful as ever, finishing with 25 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and four blocked shots -- as good as, if not better than, Draymond Green's near 5X5 effort in the Warriors' Game 1 win over the Blazers.
But in the decisive third quarter, it was Irving and Love who took control, while James was able to simply sit back and watch his teammates go to work. Love took advantage of a mismatch against Lance Stephenson to go on a personal 10-0 run, while Irving scored 14 of his game-high 37 points in the period to push the Cleveland lead to as many as 19 points.
It was the first time that Irving, Love and James each scored at least 25 points in a playoff game since the trio joined forces in advance of the 2015 season. It was a sign of what they're capable of, and why the defensive inconsistencies might not matter until they play one of the elite teams in the West.
Based on what we saw in the first two days of the playoffs from the rest of the teams in the East, there isn't a single one of them that has the right combination of offense and defense to even slow these Cavaliers.
The situation Isaiah Thomas had to deal with heading into Boston's Game 1 matchup against the Bulls was as heartbreaking as it was tragic. But the Celtics' best player managed to perform at an All-Star level regardless, finishing with 33 points on 10-of-18 shooting, to go along with five rebounds and six assists.
But he didn't get enough help along the way, and Jimmy Butler's stellar performance sent the top-seeded Celtics to an 0-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series.
Boston was already viewed as one of the weakest No. 1 seeds in NBA history, and the results after just one game confirm that assessment. The team was going to have a tough enough time getting through the East without the Thomas situation impacting things emotionally, but even if Boston does manage to earn a conference finals meeting with the Cavaliers, the Celtics don't have the firepower to match Cleveland's offense, and their defense isn't strong enough to sufficiently slow the Cavaliers down.
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The other supposed threat to the Cavs didn't inspire much confidence in their first game of the playoffs, either. The Raptors were manhandled by Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry began their annual postseason slide right on schedule, and the Bucks took Game 1 in Toronto easier than anyone expected, winning by double-digits in a game Milwaukee led by as many as 19 points.
The Raptors were supposed to be infinitely better defensively with the midseason additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, but they had absolutely no answers in that first meeting with the Bucks. The defense in Toronto was supposed to be the biggest threat to the Cavaliers in the East, but we have yet to see it perform even serviceably, much less live up to the hype. And if Lowry and DeRozan can't at least play to their regular-season levels -- something they haven't proven they can do in the playoffs at any time over the past four years -- then it's tough to see how the Raptors could even hang with the Cavaliers, much less take them down in a best-of-7 series.
The Cavaliers aren't without their flaws, of course, and the defense in Cleveland remains a real concern.
But when the offense is playing at the level it's capable of, there isn't a single team in the East that has the right combination of talent to prevent LeBron from reaching the Finals for a seventh straight season -- and it only took us two postseason games to realize it.