I was out-of-town this weekend and arrived home later than expected, plus I have a cold, so not much of a recap tonight. Not that this game deserves an opus. Cleveland, riding a seven-game losing streak towards the third-most lottery chances, faced one of their closest “competitors”. Kyrie Irving returned from injury to face 2012 first-pick Anthony Davis.
Starting sloppily, the teams combined for six turnovers in the first three minutes, until Kyrie started his Mr. Amazing routine: a between the legs pass to Tristan for a dunk, a pick-and-roll dime to Tyler, followed by another drive & dish that netted Thompson a slam. 12 to 8 Cleveland. Limiting his minutes, Kyrie headed to the bench early, and Ryan Anderson and Brian Roberts started scorching the Cavs; the duo combined for thirteen points in five minutes, pacing New Orleans to a 21 to 23 first-quarter lead. One Cleveland highlight featured a nasty backdoor pass from Walton to Livingston, allowing Shaun to ridiculously posterize a poor-Hornet with a filthy left-handed slam; the play deserved each of those adjectives.
Anderson scored another seven early in the second, building his fifteen first-half points with back-downs against Livingston and Speights. The Hornets lead 23 to 34 when Kyrie checked-in around the 8:30 mark. Irving proceeded to dominate: a tough and-one in the lane; a scintillating ball-handling display that ended with Lou Amundson on the ground and Kyrie at the hoop; two drive & kicks for easy teammate-jumpers; three drained hoists of his own; and two free throws. The deficit ceased to exist, as Cleveland went to the locker-room ahead 49 to 48. Recently, I read Jamal Crawford talking about Chris Paul’s complete control of the game; twenty-five year old Kyrie Irving can (needs to?) own that same mastery. In the first half, Kyrie’s plus-12, behind 14 points on 69% true shooting, with 5 assists and zero turnovers, ranks amongst Irving’s best offensive play to date. He found open teammates, complimenting it with his other-worldly scoring ability (or vice-versa). It was definitely great to see him on the court again.
Then, everything went to hell; shocking that a third quarter would start like that. New Orleans forged a 17-to-2 run: errant passes, offensive fouls, missed jumpers…the offense turned to garbage. And from that, resulted New Orleans alley-oops. Several of them; Cleveland routinely butchered transition defense, and Anthony Davis thanked them. Many of his thirteen third-quarter points arrived via soaring throw-downs as the Cavs whimpered helplessly. Kyrie’s second-quarter magic shifted down a few gears, including a horrible three-on-two break, where instead of hitting Ellington flying down the wing, he dribbled behind-the-back away from him, allowing the defense to catch up, before botching a bounce-pass to a trailing Tristan. Cleveland trailed 57 to 70 when Irving headed to the bench. The Herculoids offered highlights; Walton found Livingston and Speights for dunks, but every time the Cavs mounted a run, New Orleans found an open three or lay-up. Cleveland trails 73 to 84, as we’re off to the fourth.
Tonight, the back-ups could not package their special brew of lightning-in-a-bottle. Livingston and Walton provided turnovers, and the Cavs did not score for nearly five minutes. New Orleans stretched the lead to twenty…and that is how the game ended. Of his twelve points in five minutes of garbage time, Kyrie made one of the most absurdly awesome lay-ups ever…EVER!! Underhanded, with his arm fully-outstretched flying under the basket, switching hands after drawing contact, he spun the ball high off the glass, for a jaw-dropping and-one. Phenomenal, but unfortunately occurring while embroiled in a double-digit runaway loss.
Cleveland’s defense was generally horrible. New Orleans hit 54% of their field goals and 57% from deep. After forking-over twelve turnovers in the first half, the Hornets only lost-the-ball twice in the second, scoring 64 points and running the Cavs out of the gym. If you get a chance, check out their third & fourth quarter shot charts; only four of those 64 were not in the paint, from three, or at the free throw line. The entire second half, New Orleans got whatever shot they wanted. It was hideous.
With 22 wins and 50 losses, Cleveland continues to firmly entrench themselves into the third-best lottery chances.
A few bullets:
- Kyrie Irving…31 points and 6 assists in 29 minutes. Very glad to have him back. But his first half featured 5 assists and 0 turnovers, compared to one versus three in the second. Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon abused him a few times on defense also, both in isolation or the pick & roll.
- Tristan finished with 12 & 10 on 6 of 9 shooting. He finished a few rim-rattling dunks off of Kyrie dishes, but also finished put-backs and his running hook. On a couple of his early misses, I thought fouls may have been in order…but I am biased; Cleveland shot only 12 free throws, compared to New Orleans with 29.
- Walton and Livingston combined for 3 assists and 4 turnovers, a major contrast from their Herculoidian hey-day. Miles finished one of nine from the field, as only Speights played particularly well, draining several jumpers and finishing contested shots at the rim. Despite his 12 points & 4 rebounds on 67% true shooting, the second-unit allowed runs early in the second and fourth quarters.
- Daniel Gibson and Omri Casspi shot 0 for 5 and finished minus-26 in twenty-six combined minutes. I want to remember the good times (even though for Omri that may only mean the pre-season game against Orlando when he scored six in overtime).
- The Hornet point guards (Vasquez and Roberts) finished with 40 points, 12 assists, 4 turnovers, 5 steals and 83% True Shooting. Congratulations to Toledo-an Brian Roberts on a stellar “rookie” season, after graduating from Dayton in 2008. Whether open threes or lightly-contested forays to the hoop, Gee, Irving, Gibson, etc offered little resistance on the perimeter, while the bigs impeded little at the hoop.
- Outrebounded 45 to 31, Cleveland grabbed only 3 of 39 available offensive boards. As far as giving an inspiring effort, making hustle plays, etc, the Cavs offered very little tonight.