CLEVELAND — Strange things tend to happen in a Game 7. Some players elevate under the pressure of one game to define their season. Others crumble under the weight of knowing it all comes down to a 48-minute, win-or-go-home basketball game.
But sometimes, the strangest thing of all can be seeing a team do something that you’ve seen before. An issue for the Cleveland Cavaliers all season has been a lack of a rotation that felt cohesive, with LeBron James even saying after their Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers that the team’s turmoil and roster turnover prevented them from being prepared for the playoffs.
So with a Game 7 that could, quite literally, decide the franchise’s future if they lost, Tyronn Lue made a line-up change. With George Hill available but still nursing an injured back — he played 19 impressive minutes in the second half — Lue decided to go without a true point guard in his starting lineup. Jose Calderon was moved back to the bench and the Cavs rolled with as familiar a group as they can put together. This meant two things: LeBron would run the point (which he nominally does, because good things happen when LeBron has the basketball), and Tristan Thompson got inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in a month.
The group of James, Thompson, Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, and J.R. Smith rarely played with one another this season, taking the floor together for three minutes over two games during the regular season, per NBA.com. They also never took the floor together during the postseason, largely because Thompson barely played: He saw two minutes of action in Game 1, seven in Game 4, and 14 in Game 6.
But these are five players that are familiar with one another. Amid all the changes in Cleveland over the last few years, this lineup featured four guys who have been on the Cavs since at least the 2014-15 campaign and Korver, who joined the team at the trade deadline last season. The team’s most used lineup during the 2016-17 postseason was James, Love, Smith, Thompson, and Kyrie Irving. Its fifth most-used group saw Korver in for Thompson. In sixth? Irving, James, Korver, Love, and Thompson on the floor instead of Smith.