He agreed today. It’s a one-year deal. Scoop via Windhorst. This is something we’ve assumed would happen over the weekend, but it sure is nice that it’s official. For my analysis, which was done earlier, scroll down or listen to today’s NBA Today podcast. I was up all night last night and wrote 12,000 words. I am going to sleep. Happy.
I’m on ESPN’s NBA Today Podcast this morning, so feel free to check that out. I’m talking about Heat-Cavs and Joe Smith stuff, and come in at about the 8:30 mark. If you want to hear your fearless leader totally basketball geek out and say an astounding amount of words without taking a breath, give it a listen. I’m on SLAM today too, so check that out. If you’ll excuse me, I’m taking a well-deserved day off today. Thank you.
In an absolute throwdown between two of the league’s best players, LeBron and Dwyane Wade fired 40-point games at one another, but the Cavs were able to prevail by overcoming a double-digit lead with a 31-18 fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers are trying to kill me. I’ve become convinced of this. I don’t know how I’ve avoided going into cardiac arrest after back-to-back games like this. This one was actually more stressful to me than the last one because we were playing good basketball the whole way through and it had so much more of an epic feel to it than yesterday’s ugly one we somehow escaped.
Where do I even start with this one? Let’s start with LeBron. This might have been my favorite LeBron game of the year. With real stakes on the line playing a real team, LeBron scored a pretty 42 with a True Shooting of 80%. And the perimeter game! Absolutely thrilling. I’d much rather see that than what he showed against Milwakee. There was absolutely zero heat-checking involved in the making of those threes. The breakdown:
2 in the open court on broken plays in the up-and-down playground basketball stretch of the first quarter.
2 on a move where he got space on the perimeter, took one hard dribble forward and went straight up into a shot with his momentum taking him towards the basket.
1 on a pick-and-pop with Mo Williams during crunch-time
1 on a back-tap that came right to him after he ran the same play with Williams but Williams elected to shoot. Also during crunch-time.
The new stroke he’s been trying to get himself into seemed in full effect tonight-he didn’t fade, he kept the elbow in and the wrist extended, and he kept his lower body quiet. The ultimate goal is to have perimeter moves from 15-18 or behind a pick-and-roll that can get clean, repeatable looks from high-efficiency spots on the perimeter. If that isn’t there, working off the ball and being patient for perimeter looks like LeBron was tonight is infinitely preferable to indiscriminately jacking up bombs off the bounce to show everyone you can. With the two midrange jumpers LeBron added tonight, he went 8-14 (11-14 effectively) on non-layups tonight, which is pretty darn impressive.
This is what a sound perimeter game looks like: all the shots were with his feet set, he didn’t force anything, and he did it for a legitimate reason, given that Moon and co. were doing a great job using their length and athleticism to frustrate LeBron on Pick-and-Roll situations. (LeBron was a human 5-10 from the immediate basket area tonight, with only four free throws going to the hoop and six turnovers.) And the 6 free throws he got by drawing fouls on three-pointers were just savvy and fun to watch.
As far as playmaking goes, Miami did a great job controlling his catches for the most part and disrupting his driving and passing lanes with good, aggressive soft traps, and Z, his safety valve, went 2-8 from midrange while his roll guys found a rotating man at the basket time after time.
And let’s talk about the dunk to seal the game. Je-sus. What happened as Miami’s pick-roll defense, which had been great, broke down was as follows:
Mario Chalmers goes under the screen and puts himself in no-man’s land, not showing and hovering directly behind the screener. (Notice how even as LeBron was 6-7 from deep at that point, the Heat were not about to play him for the outside shot.) LeBron capitalizes on the rookie’s mistake and gets directly to the help man, Jermaine O’Neal, with room to make a move. His move is to lull O’Neal to the outside with a hesitation dribble and then just GO. I mean, he was slowing down and then he was just gone, staying above the rim while flying at full speed away from O’Neal before slamming it on his head while flying the opposite direction. There’s only one man who can do that, folks.
Oh, and for the second straight game LeBron showed a willingness to catch the defense napping and utilize back-door cuts to get buckets. Really great game from LeBron. And we’ll get to defense later.
Fortunately for LeBron, Mo Williams and Delonte West were more than willing and able to pick up the playmaking slack tonight.
In fact, they each get their own paragraph. Mo was an absolute monster tonight. He was hitting mid-range jumpers right as we needed them, hit two clutch threes as the defense overplayed LeBron late in the fourth quarter. Without him, we do not win this game. And he was the guy making plays for most of the night as LeBron was having trouble initiating offense when he started the play with the ball.
And Delonte-LOVE DELONTE. He couldn’t contain Wade (who can this week?), but he was in there jumping on every single loose ball and scrapping for five gritty steals, didn’t hold the ball and had six assists against six shot attempts, and knocked down 2-3 shots from deep to keep the defense stretched. In a crazy game like this one, you need scrappers to win, and Delonte was everywhere tonight.
Andy didn’t rebound much tonight, but he was doing great stuff in every other area, getting to the right spots on offense and defense and generally making many more good things happen than bad ones.
Z was also great at being around the basket and getting tips, although he seemed a bit more fatigued than everyone else by the four games in five nights and the all-night stay in an Atlanta airport last night, having trouble controlling his tips and missing his mindrange shots.
And finally, let’s take our hats off to Mike Brown. With the Cavs down 11 in the fourth quarter, he made a key adjustment and switched to a Kamikaze trap defensive scheme on Wade, double-trapping him hard with LeBron at the top of the floor whether or not he was using a screen. After that, Wade stopped absolutely torching the Cavs and was rendered essentially ineffective as the Cavs were able to get out on the break. This worked because it exploited Wade’s tendency to make the home-run play and get turnovers and the youth and inexperience of his supporting cast-the Heat didn’t have enough savvy guys or shooters to make the Cavs pay for double-trapping, and rookie Mario Chalmers couldn’t be relied on to get Wade the ball in places where he couldn’t be doubled as easily. Also, it fully utilized LeBron’s insane athleticism, length, and energy at the defensive end to absolutely wreak havoc when he plays that free safety-type position. Not sure how many other players that scheme pays off with.
The fatigue of the team also showed when THE CAVALIERS COULD NOT GET A REBOUND IN THE FOURTH QUARTER, and for the game uncharacteristically gave up a huge offensive rebound rate, allowing 15 Heat offensive boards to 28 Cavs defensive boards. Of course, this could have been because they are trying to kill me.
Other evidence: Boobie Gibson playing and only doing horrible things while Tarence Kinsey was DNPd. We need a Superfund for Boobie at this point. It’s tough to watch. Wally was also completely inept. In fact, our bench went for a combined 9 points tonight. (That was better than the Heat’s 8 bench points, all of them coming from Beasley.)
JJ played well, and had a great game except for getting stuffed on dunks twice after making a great roll to the basket and making the correct play, only to lose a tangle with Beasley and have Wade make a ridiculous stuff on him. That was insane.
Bullets Of Randomness:
Wow, Wade is ridiculous. He has been a house of fire this week, and that didn’t change tonight. You forget just how ridiculous his combination of explosion and COD is when he’s driving to the basket-he was absolutely in the paint at will. And he’s a much better passer than he gets credit for-he finds guys on the moves for easy layups and dunks when he’s in that lane. He’s not the best playmaker from the top down, but he doesn’t pad his assist totals either. He’s a great passer. And he was EVERYWHERE defensively. Until we went for broke with the traps, we had absolutely no answer for Wade. Although hearing the Heat broadcasters stump about why anyone who actually knows basketball knows he’s MVP for 48 minutes wore thin fairly fast. Do they not think people can figure out that they’re local broacasters?
I also really like Moon’s game-I’d rather have him than Marion at this point in their contracts/careers. Great trade, Toronto.
I don’t really love JON’s game anymore-it’s all mid-range jumpers now. When you have to be feeling it to get 16 points on 13 shots, you need to have a better plan.
Chalmers’ half-court shot because he thought a timeout was called that led to a Cavs three-pointer to start a run was one of the most bizarre and fantastic plays I’ve ever seen. I love it.
Okay, we’ve gone to 1500. Have a good one, all.
Thing of the Game:
“Hold On” by KT Tunstall, from the KFOG archives. KFOG is awesome. I could say that this is because we somehow held on to wins on back-to-back nights, but mostly this relaxes me.
Overview: In an ugly game, the Cavs were able to escape from Atlanta with a one-point win on LeBron James’ free throw with 1.6 seconds to go, holding off a second-half surge from a young and scrappy Hawks team.
Okay, I can breathe now. I’m not sure where to start with on this one, so I’ll just start with LeBron. The defense was definitely there all night for the Cavaliers, with a lot of activity and stuffing of driving lanes, and the Hawks were never really able to get a clean offense going. Joe Johnson had a nice night creating his own shot, but other than that the combination of the Cavs’ defense and Mike Bibby being rendered ineffective by the flu was too much for the Hawks to overcome. They registered 11 assists as a team, and most of the time their best offensive option was having Flip Murray try to freestyle. There’s always a better play than an ISO for Flip Murray.
In the first half, the Cavs were able to establish an offensive balance due to LeBron being able to make plays, with four assists in the first quarter, and Zydrunas and Mo Williams hitting absolutely everything they looked at. Everything was a quality shot and nothing was forced, with everyone staying in the offense and getting baskets.
After that, things broke down for the Cavs. A lot of that had to do with the Hawks being so long and active defensively and keeping everyone off-kilter, and some of that had to do with the Cavs having trouble keeping everyone honest on LeBron’s drive game. LeBron was 3-11 on shots from the perimeter. A lot of those were good looks-no two shots looked alike tonight, and he seems to be having a rough period in terms of changing his shot, although two or three of his shots were late-in-the shot clock forces.
The other major culprit was Delonte West, who had one of my least favorite offensive games as a Cavalier-where he’s normally taking the ball from side to side, never dribbling in a circle, and getting the ball where it needs to be for forward progress, tonight he spent a lot of time pounding the ball, keeping it on one side of the floor, and trying to force shots and dribble into coverage. For a ballhandler as weak as Delonte, that’s a recipe for major trouble. The line shows it, with Delonte going 5-16 from the field and finishing with two assists against 5 turnovers. (It should be noted that Delonte was FANTASTIC defensively on three-time All-Star Joe Johnson, and actually finished with the highest +/- of the game because his effort on a player who has been to the all-star game three times.)
Another reason things went badly on the offensive end-the three guys out there as spot-up shooters went 0-8 from downtown.
The good news is that big Z’s spot-up jumper was money all night, and that Mo Williams was absolutely on fire. He finished with 20 points on 15 shots, but honestly that’s a product of great defense by the Hawks. Every time Mo was able to catch and shoot without a hand in his face, it was in. The Hawks did a great job knowing the book on his pull-up moves and changing the release on his deep twos more than I’ve seen any other team able to do.
Andy’s tough roll to get the and-1 off the LeBron dish is the Andy of two years ago, and the guy we’re going to need if we’re going to keep up our play with Ben out. That was absolutely huge.
You can’t sum up this game much better than the final two possessions from the Cavs, which consisted of LeBron getting stuffed on a drive and air-balling a lefty scoop shot and promptly coming up with his own rebound and hitting Mo Williams for a game-tying three. Just like we drew it up.
And then you had something do what only LeBron can do-with everyone knowing he was driving on the final play of the game, LeBron, without so much as a screen, just fired right through everyone and flew to the rim to get contact, only to terrify Cavs fans everywhere by MISSING THE FIRST FREE THROW before rattling the second one home. Only LeBron.
And boy, that last shot from Thrice an All-Star and yet still underrated Joe Johnson was a good look when LeBron got caught on the screen. However, even a player with his credentials, which include three appearances in the all-star game, wasn’t able to deal with a flying LeBron (how does he keep from fouling there?) and knock down the shot that would have been nearly as impressive as his three consecutive all-star appearances.
JJ was a factor on every rebound and loose ball, which is what he’ll need if he wants to stay in this rotation when/if Joe Smith signs with us after being bought out today. Mike Brown should be very happy with JJ tonight.
Bullets of Randomness:
Mike Woodson, you gotta find more court time for Josh Smith. He’s one of the only guys in the league who can come from the weak side and stop LeBron at the rim, and you didn’t think it would be a good idea to have him in at crunch-time. I realize that Joe Johnson has been to the all-star game three more times despite nobody knowing who he is, but you’ve gotta run some motion sets that get him moving backdoor or off curls and let him work in motion instead of playing for scraps. If that happened, maybe he wouldn’t fall in love with his jumper, which is truly God-awful. You know he has weaknesses. Use his strengths.
Okay, I kinda miss Flip Murray.
Zaza is a warrior.
Horford’s on a plateau. (We’re nearing 1,000 words)
God, I wish anyone would say something nice about Joe Johnson instead of confusing him with fast food workers. Did you know he’s been to the All-Star game three times?
Thing of the Game:
“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” I can’t seem to remember how many times Joe Johnson has been to the All-Star Game.
Very Quickly: In Brian Windhorst’s (excellent) beat blog, he made it clear that Joe Smith could be close to obtaining a buyout with the Thunder and re-joining the Cavaliers. Windhorst’s quote:
“ATLANTA — Joe Smith could be just days away from providing the Cavaliers with a needed talent injection.Multiple league sources said on Saturday that Smith and the Oklahoma City Thunder are making progress in buyout talks and there is a favorable chance the sides will come to an agreement by Sunday’s midnight waiver deadline. It has also become clear that the Cavs would be Smith’s top choice if all the terms can be agreed on.
If all the hurdles can be cleared, Smith would be put on waivers on Monday and become an outright free agent by Wednesday morning.”
About an hour ago, a source with the Cavaliers who posts on RealCavsFans.com and has given only accurate information in the past posted the following:
“From what I just gathered from a phone call I just had with a person who should be pretty up to date on where things stand right now ….it looks like all system’s are pretty much go for Joe Smith to be ready to join the Cavs around Wednesday of this coming week.
Pretty much all hurdles have been crossed and financial aspacts agreed upon. Not sure when the announcement should be coming down the chute, but, what I was told is that it looked like all the figures jived, and we’re set to acquire Joe Smith.
I asked if any other news besides that could be forthcoming, hinting about any other players, and he didn’t have anything to add to just Joe Smith. I guess we have had other coversations going on, but, as of 15 minutes ago, everything was centered on Joe Smith being the guy that joins the Cavs..
So, that’s what I’ve got …nothing on Rasheed mentioned, but, I didn’t even bring up his name, left that for him to offer, and he did not offer anything but the name Joe Smith, and it looks great …all system’s go for him to join us.
Oh WAIT, he did offer up that Fegan and Ferry’s relationship is 200% better than it was last year at this time …good news for people that want to see AV remain a Cav …
THAT WHAT I GOT … Looks like Joe’s our guy, folks.”
I feel less reporter-y and cool to give this story from a source that is freely available to be seen on his own website rather than make a number of mysterious phone calls to employees like I was one of the good guys on the last season of The Wire, but it’s a huge piece of info and that’s how I’ve managed to find it. Some very fast analysis because I haven’t eaten anything yet today:
-This is absolutely fantastic from a Cavalier standpoint. Joe would immediately step in as the Cavs’ most versatile big, stretching the floor on offense, being athletic enough to dive, catch, and finish inside, and quick enough with his feet and smart enough with his positioning to flash out on offense. I’ve said this before, but he brings a ton of stuff to the table without taking anything off, which is so rare in a big man.
-Chemistry: definitely not an issue, as by all accounts Joe is a great guy and has already made a run with this team before.
-Does this give Ferry more leverage in the upcoming Anderson Varejao negociations this off-season? I’d say Ferry definitely thinks he does, but I worry he’ll overplay his hand and try to skin Dan Fegan’s sheep twice with this. I’ll worry about that when it happens.
-It’s kind of a bummer this couldn’t have gotten worked out sooner to familiarize Joe with the team, but it’s clear that Presti thought he was going to be able to get something back for Joe at the deadline, but like everyone else with assets got nailed by the economy collapses’ effect on trading. Actually, if Joe was here the whole time JJ wouldn’t have made any progress. So scratch that.
-A quick warning to say that Joe isn’t playing as well with OKC this year as he did for us last year, while he played strong basketball in Chicago before coming here the first time. Hopefully this will be the Joe we remember.
-Windhorst did allude to a-this is a quote-”Suprise” name who could be becoming available after a buyout. I personally am going to just wait and see what happens in the next week, but if you want to speculate be my guest. I’m the type who enjoys Lost on a week-by-week basis instead of posting on quantum physics message boards to figure things out. Is there a better actor on TV than Michael Emerson as Benjamin Linus? These are the things I can talk about forever. I’m digressing.
-My more mysterious and journalist-y sources say that had the Suns known Amare was injured, they would’ve pulled the trigger on the Shaq deal. Mull on that if you care to. What are the odds it would’ve taken us this long to get a true Shaq-Kobe fireworks display?
-I’m not sure if I feel 100% pure knowing how badly we’ve ransacked the now-Thunder and Bucks to get our current rotation- this deal means we turned Damon Jones into Mo Williams. Danny Ferry, I will never say anything bad about you. I do this as much out of fear as reverence.
Nate Smith is an Associate Editor. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and moved to NE Ohio in 2000. He adopted the Cavs in 2003 and graduated from Kent State in 2009 with a BA in English. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @oldseaminer on Twitter.
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