The Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the Boston Celtics on April 5 with a 114-91 beatdown in the TD Garden. It felt like a statement that LeBron James and the Cavs were able, when they really cared, to handle the perceived top competition in the East.
At that point, Cleveland held a one-game lead on Boston and owned the tiebreaker for the top seed in the East with four games to play. For the defending champs, this should’ve been easy, right? Two stunning losses to the Hawks later – one to Atlanta’s bench in Cleveland and the other blowing a 26-point fourth quarter lead in Atlanta – and Cleveland was tied with the Celtics with two games to play, but, again, they owned the tiebreaker.
Those games came against the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, one team still fighting for the playoffs and another locked into the 3-seed in the East. With their full roster, both of those games were winnable, but the Cavs decided to punt, resting James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love rather than going after the top seed.
This isn’t the first time the Cavs have coasted into the playoffs – the 2015 playoffs come to mind, when the Hawks earned the No. 1 seed over the Cavs, only to be swept in the ECF – but considering this time Cleveland appears to have genuine issues on the defensive end of the floor, will Cleveland’s decision to pass up the opportunity for home court through the conference finals come back to haunt them?