Hello everyone! My name is Ryan Braun, and I will be your guest-correspondent for the ever illustrious Clipper-game 2010. A contest which ended a dangerously close – Cavs 102, Clips 101.
Right off the bat, I think I speak for everyone when I write I’m glad that Sundiata Gaines re-upped with the Jazz for 10 days, and thus was unavailable to re-manifest himself from complete obscurity to hoist another of the all-time downers in Cavalier regular season history. With no one of Gaines’s caliber available on the waiver wire, the Clippers had to resort to a relative neophyte of crunch-time basketball…Baron Davis. Who missed. That Baron Davis…he’s no Sundiata Gaines.
What a weird game. No Chris Kaman. No Al Thornton. No Cavalier urgency, focus, or general sense of purpose until 34 minutes had passed by. I was expecting to see either a flurry of activity courtesy of a Cleveland team out for vengeance (a la v. Portland), or a continued deterioration into offensive slop and periodic defensive malaise (a la v. the rest of the teams on this road trip). To be fair, we ended up with a little of both…but there was certainly more of the latter.
I was frustrated looking back on this game, and because of that, unsure of how to review it. I tend to go a little overboard sometimes on the heels of a loss…and while the Cavs did win…boy, was it a lukewarm victory. It was nothing of what I was looking to see coming on the back end of such a gut wrenching loss (save for B-Diddy’s shot not going in). And that frustrated me. To watch this game go by without a definitive moment, or a definitive realization about the team. To see the Cavs again leave their fate up to the Basketball Gods to decide whether they’d live or die at the end. I wanted to see a demolition. But perhaps that’s the lesson for tonight…a lesson for the fans…or at least for myself. If the past few days have made me take anything into account, it’s this…tonight’s game took place in the dog days of January, at the tail end of a long road trip, in the center of an 82 game season. And the Cavs won. Which is all we’ll remember about tonight come April. Better an uninspiring win, then a shock-inducing loss.
(Guest editor’s note: “uninspiring” meaning the Cavs made no substantial progress. It was fun as heck to watch LeBron throw down at least 5 monster slams!)
Tonight was the type of game that gives you a sense of lethargy as a viewer. There was no discernible rhythm or focus to it, and for that reason it becomes increasingly unsettling to watch. It takes a lot to shift the tone of a game like that, and it becomes harder and harder as the game goes along. The Cavs were barely able to do it.
The Clippers came out firing…a tactic which was greatly aided early on by the Cavs lackadaisical defense. Within two and a half minutes, the Cavs found themselves down 10-0. Perhaps it was too much to expect a monster effort on the tail end of the longest road trip of the season (the Cavs looked every part of ‘road weary’), but whatever was the cause, the boys in (throwback) blue seemed to me to be suffering less from a lack of effort and energy, as from a lack of focus. Regardless, whatever was ultimately the cause, the Cavs were getting fried via pick and roll, poor perimeter defense (I thought Mo’s troubles carried over to the defensive end tonight), and Rasual Butler going off on the most unexpected of Cavaliers. Rasual Butler’s performance, a good deal of it at the expense of LeBron James, was kind of a microcosm of the night. LBJ allowed him to get to the basket a few times early with minimal resistance, from which you could see his confidence start to build, and all of a sudden we find ourselves in a bizarro fourth quarter where a relative journeyman (albeit a solid shooter) is pulling up for contested, LBJ-heat check-range threes, and knocking them down. Rasual Butler went for 33 on 12-18 shooting. The Clippers as a team shot 59.7% from the field. And that was only because the Cavs eventually “cooled” them down. This was an atypical game to say the least.
A little side note: I’m at once horrified and comforted by this season-long sentiment of “we’ll turn it on when we need to.” You know who that sounds like to me? That sounds like Shaq. That sounds like the maddeningly frustrating 2000-01 Lakers who coasted through an entire regular season before cakewalking through the playoffs. I’m comforted because that attitude belies a confidence that the Cavaliers must have. They must feel that they are that good. I’m horrified because while they may in fact be that good, the league is not that bad as it was in 2000-01. Believe me, there is nothing I want more then to see the Cavaliers end this season at the top of the league, but it’s going to take their absolute A game to do it among this stack of contenders. If the Cavs enter the playoffs with the roster they currently sport, I’m confident that they possess the ability beat anybody (I didn’t feel that way last year). But they would need to be at their absolute peak. I don’t know if “turning it on when we need to” is conducive to that. Back to tonight…
Delonte West was huge in this game. And boy did the Cavs need it. Delonte (+14 on the night) brought all the usual “good Delonte” skills to the table, but tonight what was most notable to me was his presence on the court was actually steadying for the team. It was so necessary tonight because Mo wasn’t really providing that (…and more on that later). His physicality and toughness were enormous factors in finally (albeit barely) corralling the Clippers backcourt down the stretch. But perhaps most important was that offensively, he was calm and deliberate. Typical smooth Delonte, the importance of which was amplified because you just got the sense that the team was a little frazzled. Shots weren’t falling, and even though the Cavs defensive effort picked up, the Clippers were still hitting everything. Even LeBron seemed to be getting pretty frustrated. The Cavaliers were down by 13 points when Delonte West checked into the game with 2:58 left in the 3rd. They cut it to 5 by the end of the quarter. LeBron did a lot of the spiking (in a completely unnecessary volleyball reference, if you will), but I think it was Delonte’s presence that greatly contributed to the set-up. When Delonte is on his game, he plays with such a great confidence and composure (like no one can stop him from getting to his spots on the floor)…probably more so then anyone on the team save for LeBron. Tonight, in what was turning into a really crazy game, that was vital. It almost got away from the Cavs tonight, and Delonte West is a big reason why they were able to rein it in.
Mo’s Struggles. I wrote the following down at halftime, which is pertinent because Mo certainly looked to regain a little bit of his requisite swagger as the game progressed. He started working his way to good spots in transition in the third (pull-up jumpers from the foul line are a great way to spark yourself out of a slump), and by the end of the game he had found himself with a pretty effective 18 and 6 line.
But when Mo is struggling with his shot, it is vital that he doesn’t allow the rest of his game to fall off with it. To my eye, what is most notably missing when Mo’s not hitting is really, for lack of a better term, his stage presence. Mo’s role on this team, plain and simple, is that of the number two scorer. Mo Williams is LeBron James’ wingman, and really, he’s the only guy on the team capable of consistently filling that role. It’s already been pretty firmly established that the Cavaliers’ success almost directly corresponds to Mo’s shooting (I know John’s written some great stuff on that in the archives of this blog)…but that’s also why it’s so important that when he does go through a slump, he plays the rest of his game as though it’s Christmas Day and he’s in Los Angeles. The reason it was so important for Delonte to provide a strong backcourt presence tonight was that Mo wasn’t really able to. He was a little helter-skelter when the game got crazy (as was the whole team, but it’s Mo’s responsibility to help LeBron there), and he just wasn’t getting himself into good situations. He looked rushed, off his rhythm, and at times like he was pressing. Or then, in compensation for pressing, backing off too much. Just no feel for how to get himself going. Not too far off of 2009 Playoff Mo. He did this in Utah too, where I thought he basically fouled out of the game in frustration, not even considering the repercussions as they pertained to the sure to be upcoming free throw contest. Just not smart, big picture basketball. Not the type of basketball a premier point-guard plays. Which, on this team, I believe Mo is.
I remember the game here against the Clippers last year. Mo was 3-16 from the field, the Cavs were down two with 6 seconds left, and Mo stepped into a three with all the confidence in the world. Game over. Sam Cassell-level confidence (only Mo popped the jersey, rather then cradling his Cassells). I know he has it in him to be this player even when he’s off, and really, this recent 5 game slide has been the only time all season (the first few games exempted) that he has looked unsure of himself. I was looking at Mo’s stats for the past 5 games:
12.6 ppg, 35% fgs, and 26% on 3′s.
But you know what stands out most…
4.2 fouls vs. 2.8 over the course of the rest of the season.
Granted, we’ve had some tough matchups for him in the past 5 games, which could explain the extra fouls, but I would also submit that’s he’s been playing frustrated. He can’t afford to do that, and he doesn’t need to do that. Even if he’s missing, Mo Williams is a threat if he’s attacking in transition, and stepping into good shots.
Quick side-note number two: While we’re on the topic of good number two guys…if Philadelphia sends Andre Iguodala to Houston in exchange for cap relief, I’m going to flip. I very much wonder what kind of effect it would have on the team to replace Parker’s shooting with Iguodala’s, well, everything else…but that’s a gamble well worth Dalembert’s contract in my opinion. Heck, we might even see Sam on the court vs. a Gasol-type somewhere down the line.
Andy Varejao is playing his butt off. These past two games Andy has taken a beating battling other notorious energy men such as Paul Millsap and Craig Smith…and they’ve both given him trouble early. But Andy’s persistence over the course of both games won out. In regards to tonight’s matchup…flat out, Craig Smith is an ox.
The exact type of guy (thick, active, and powerful), who’s just made to give the relatively lanky Andy fits. But AV’s resiliency was on display tonight. Smith was killing us early, and for the Cavs’ sake, I was legitimately concerned to see him return in the fourth quarter after taking quite a spill (not dirty at all, but courtesy of an Andy block attempt) in the third quarter. But be it because of the fall, or because Andy just got a better feel for him, he was a complete non-factor in the fourth in spite of the fact that the Clips went to him in the post. Andy was able to hold his ground and force CS into some tough, contested shots. While cleaning the glass. If there was a big three for the Cavs tonight…it was Andy, Delonte, and LeBron.
On a slight less enthusiastic note, J.J. Hickson is currently a placeholder. And the funny thing is…I don’t think he’s playing that poorly. He’s just not making any type of a substantial impact, either positively or negatively. Gone are the days where LeBron was able to consistently force feed him at the rim, but in the instances J.J. does get the ball down low, he still seems to be able to make a simple, yet quick and decisive move, then finish. Granted, I can think of this occurring only two times in the past couple of games, but that ability hasn’t gone away. On top of that, he continually shows a really nice looking form on his mid-range jumper (Shawn Kemp-esque)…the only problem there being he never actually hits that shot. I don’t know what’s going to happen at the trade deadline, but provided it doesn’t cost us a big time talent, I hope he stays. I don’t know the solution here, but I do suspect this…we’re not at a crossroads with J.J. as much as we’re at a plateau.
LeBron James. When I was doing my other blog more consistently, I always came to LeBron toward the end of my recaps…which always led me to something of a guilty recognition that we now accept this guy as a constant and don’t consistently acknowledge how freaking good he is. Yes, he’s holding the ball way too long, way too often, and it’s been bogging down the offense. Especially lately. But our offense, our team, works because of the singular ability of this guy. That hit me especially over the course of this road trip because whenever the offense did grind down (often), he was able to bail us out through video-game-esque play.
LBJ’s road trip stats:
36.2 ppg, 7.4 reb, 7.2 asst, 56% fgs, 46% 3pt.
Again, not the best team-offense in the world (and LBJ did commit 4.2 turnovers per game on the trip)…but he is the best player in the world, and he’s on our team. That’s a good foundation to work from.
Tonight, LeBron really stepped up when he was needed most in the aforementioned “game-changing run” at the end of the third. 2:58 left in the third quarter, Cavs down thirteen…LeBron assists on an Andy dunk, a Z jumper, and a Parker 3, while adding a three point play on his own…thus, directly contributing to all 10 points of a Cavs 10-2 run to close the period. That was the start of the Cavs real push to come back. He also finished it. LBJ scored 13 points in the fourth and was instrumental (along with Delonte and Andy), in reinvigorating the Cavalier defense for the stretch run.
A Shout-out to Mike Brown…from the “Ryan’s stretching it now” file: Want some optimistic conjecture? I’m only about 35% certain this was actually a call…but hey, let’s give Mike Brown a quick shout out. On the last play of the game, down one point with six second left, the Clippers ran a pick and roll with Baron Davis and Craig Smith, with LeBron defending Baron, and Andy defending Craig. And the Cavs had one foul to give. B-Diddy came off the screen (the Cavs switched it), took a few dribbles vs. AV, then succumbed to launching a long, highly contested jumper in lieu of attacking Andy. I know Baron tends to skew outside, and I know he hit a semi-similar jumper to beat the Celtics a week ago, but this was a far tougher shot then that one was. He also had Andy one on one, and a number of blazingly hot shooters waiting around the perimeter if help had come. I think Mike Dunleavy told Baron to expect the Cavs to use their foul to give, and I suspect it might’ve thrown Baron off when Andy didn’t. Which potentially was Mike Brown’s call. Which would’ve been a good one. Would’ve been pretty advanced game-time strategy, really. Let’s just say he made that call, and it was perfectly executed.
(Guest editor’s note 2: I just re-watched the play. I’ve sadly now come to believe that I exaggerated the amount of time Baron had the ball, and thus, the above almost assuredly isn’t what happened. But I’m leaving it in there because I’ve never seen a ‘foul to give fake-out’ and I’d like to put the idea out there.)
I’ll say this. Two year ago, the Cavs would’ve lost this game by twenty. This team has radically transformed over that time. They are elite, and I think so many of the things I pick at with them are only issues in light of the fact that they are an elite team. The Cavs have now completed their longest road trip of the season (and arguably the most arduous schedule of any team in the league thus far), and in spite of that, sit atop the Eastern Conference, and only two games in the loss column back of the league leading Lakers. The Cavs will play 11 of their next 13 games in Cleveland, where they will get a shot at those very Lakers next week. I make a rule never to look ahead (because whenever I have thus far this season, the Cavs have lost), but in this case I feel like I can make an exception (also, I’ve acknowledged it in blog format…thereby nullifying the curse). Tonight, the Cavs improved to 2-0 against Los Angeles-area professional basketball teams on the year. By this time next week, let’s hope they’ve taken a commanding 3-0 lead.
Before the Lakers come to town, the Toronto Raptors will visit the Q on Tuesday night. We owe them one.
One For The Road
From tonight’s Utah game. Just in case this makes anyone feel better…
|Sundiata Gaines, G||1||0-1||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||-2||0|
Well, I think that’s about it for my guest-recap…I hope you all have had a wonderful Saturday night. A huge thank you and happy birthday to John, and thank you everyone for reading! Goodnight!