The Hawks are a good team. With a healthy Al Horford, a Spursian offense, and one of the best starting 5s in the East, this figured to be a tough challenge for the Cavaliers, who miraculously survived a much-less-talented Celtics squad last night. The Cavs made their first six threes but could seemingly do nothing to stop the Hawks’ dribble penetration. With three minutes left in the quarter the Cavs led just 24-21, despite converting 6/6 from downtown. LeBron was involved in everything. Then Coach Blatt sat LeBron down and I thought “this is gonna get ugly”. It did. For the Hawks. The Cavs went on a 41-8 run, threw a lead anvil on the gas pedal, and started setting all-time records.
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Recap: Cleveland 122, Boston 121 (or “Once We Start Playing Defense, We’re Really Going to be Something.”)Saturday, November 15th, 2014
The title quote was by David Blatt after an amazing comeback win by the Cavs last night. Let’s get to it.
First Quarter: This one started out with Love on the left block on offense, and then devolved to a frenetically paced post-pattern drill, highlighted by numerous Kevin Love touchdown passes, including one over two Celtics that would have mad Brian Hoyer proud. LeBron caught it and two step flushed. A full court alley-oop dunk is coming before the end of the season. Unfortunately, Cleveland was giving up more than they got and by halfway through the quarter the Cavs were down by 17-11. A David Blatt timeout ensued.
That whole meme about LeBron’s lack of “explosiveness” seemed like a story from eons ago, as James looked like he was shot out of a canon every time he took off down the floor, and his pace matched the game’s. At one point in the first, a Celtics-Cavs-Celtics field goal sandwich took about 10 seconds as Brandon Bass scored, LeBron beat the camera down the floor to find TT for a layup, and then Rondo returned the favor to Kelly Olynyk. This whiplash inducing sequence prompted Austin Carr to prophetically comment that at this pace the game was going to be in the 120s.
After a lackluster two and a half quarters, the Cavs really poured it on the New Orleans Pelicans in the final 16 and a half minutes, outscoring them 49-33 and earning a quality win against an upstart young team. LeBron James had a monster game, tallying his first triple double of the season and 38th of his career: 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. Kyrie Irving was his full blown offensive-wunderkind self, scoring 32 points despite playing the role of distributor for most of the 1st half. At times he was completely unstoppable. Kevin Love came alive in the 4th quarter, draining four 3-pointers, and finishing with 22 points on 13 shots. The Cavs survived a 32-point scare from Ryan Anderson (cloaked in NBA JAM Flames), who drained eight 3s.
The Cavs won. There will be no three game losing streak and no mass media panic about the state of the team. The King looked exactly like the best player in the game does. He did whatever he wanted the whole night. During the first quarter, he wanted to get guys easy shots, so he passed to get six assists. During the second quarter, he wanted to score a little bit. He played some iso ball, missed shots, and finally scored four in a row. During the third quarter, he wanted to keep the Cavs momentum going, so he made two layups. One of them utilized a spin move, which mesmerized the Nuggets so much they relaxed defensively. In the fourth quarter, Kevin Love was tired, so whenever it was possible LeBron switched onto Love’s man and defended anyone posting up. He then sealed the game with two layups at the end to make sure the Nuggets couldn’t win. The King finished the game with 22 points, 11 assists, and seven rebounds. He made sure the Cavs didn’t trail at all after going up by two points in the beginning of the first quarter. (more…)
Tonight was rough for anyone who has watched the Cavs the past two years. There were lots of sequences where one player just dribbled the ball for fifteen seconds while every other guy watched him thinking, “dang, he goes between the legs really smoothly.” There were lots of pick and rolls where the Wine & Gold trapped, made the second rotation to stop the roll man, and then forgot that usually there is an open shooter in the corner if his defender is in the paint. There were a few times when the Cavs said to themselves, “hey, Derrick Favors won’t rebound his team’s shot if we stand here with our arms down.”
The Cavs trailed almost the entire game. They were behind 13 at the half and down as much as 16 in the third before bringing it to within one before the fourth quarter. With 6:22 left in the fourth, the Cavs tied it. They then battled back and forth with the Jazz until LeBron James forced the refs to call a foul when he was shooting a three pointer with three seconds left in the game. The L-Train barreled into the sanctity of the game of basketball by using a pump fake before leaning into a mid-air Derrick Favors, but he still made all three shots to tie the game. The Jazz then called a timeout and Gordon Hayward screamed to the world “BALL DON’T LIE” as he sank the game winner with no time on the clock.
The Cavaliers traveled to Rip City for the first of a three game West Coast trip. Facing a Portland Trail Blazer team that relies heavily on their dominant starting lineup, the Cavs hoped to build on their overtime win against the Bulls. Instead, the Blazers offensive cohesion and strong play in the paint proved too much to handle. Early in the season, Cleveland will likely have trouble against teams with great continuity. After getting throttled by the Blazers at every position, the Cavaliers have nowhere to go but up.
The Cavs won! They survived NBA-JAM-FIRE Kirk Hinrich, and Tristan Thompson had a Dagger OBoard+Flush in the waning moments of OT. LeBron looked bad and still 100x better than last night. Derrick Rose sprained his ankle, stayed in the game, left later, and never came back.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the rebounding prowess of the Cavs. They finished with a 52-42 edge in rebounding, dominating a good frontcourt despite fighting through the second night of an exhausting back to back.
The words from “The Letter” came back to haunt LeBron James and the Cavaliers in this game: a game that no one in Northeast Ohio thought the Cavs could lose. LeBron looked nervous. David Blatt looked overwhelmed. And the Cavs looked like they’d bought stock in the seriously ill-conceived “big three” narrative. Honestly, there could have been about a dozen more subtitles to this recap. Examples include: “Andrew Wiggins would have blocked that shot,” “LeBron has terrible games too,” “Defense matters,” “That crowd sucked,” “Go back to Hollywood, Biebs,” or “Oh that’s right, Carmelo Anthony’s pretty good.” Ultimately though, the Knicks just played with more energy, intelligence, and focus. The energy that had infused the entirety of the city of Cleveland throughout the day seemed to drain the Cavs instead of fuel them.
Cleveland closed its 2014 preseason with an incredibly physical game with the Memphis Grit and Grind. If you like to watch amazingly large athletes slam into each other in the paint, circle December 21st and March 26th on your calender. Though only preseason, it was clear that any meeting between these two frontcourts will be an all-out sumo match. The Memphis style of play gave the Cavaliers a chance to see how Blatt’s adapting system functions in a slowly paced game. Shawn Marion started in place of a resting LeBron James. Anderson Varejao was in the circle for tip-off. Though competitive throughout, the game was clearly an evaluative exercise for both franchises. Starters saw limited minutes in the second half.
Tonight’s preseason game between the Cavs and Bulls was the first in a series that should lead to an intense rivalry come playoff time. Both teams came into the game looking at it as dress rehearsal for the regular season, especially the Cavs who will probably be resting LeBron James during their final preseason game against Memphis. This game oscillated between stellar ball movement, great individual play, and transition basketball for the entire 48 minutes. Derrick Rose seemed like he’s back, but Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao didn’t let that stop them from having great games as well.