Overview: The Cavaliers beat the Lakers 93-87 to sweep the season series. The Cavs outscored the Lakers 26-22 in the final quarter, and Pau Gasol missed game-tying free throws with 24 seconds remaining in the game.
This one feels pretty good. Let’s Memento this game and start with the stretch run:
-Bad omens aplenty early in the fourth quarter, but the Cavs were able to make enough outside shots to overcome the Lakers’ initial burst.
-Delonte hits his first field goal of the game, an absolutely beautiful catch-and-shoot three off an Anderson Varejo feed to put the Cavs up three. 29% three-point shooter Lamar Odom hits a contested three off the bounce to tie the game back up.
-The Cavs get a tip-in from Varejao and a layup from Shaq. Up four, the Cavs again look ready to pull away. But 34% three-point shooter Shannon Brown hits a contested 26-footer to cut the lead to one.
-LeBron checks into the game. He’s shot 3-13 on jumpers up to this point, but promptly splashes a 21-footer to put the Cavs up three. Jordan Farmar hits a contested three off the dribble to answer.
-LeBron his first three of the night on his seventh attempt. Kobe gets forced into taking an impossible fadeaway, and LeBron hits another 20-footer to put the Cavs up five. Artest misses a three, LeBron tries an inexplicable hero three after running down the clock. Then the Cavs play a perfect defensive possession, forcing Kobe into a 27-foot heave at the end of the shot clock.
-LeBron sets Z up with a perfect three-point look from his favorite spot, but it rims out. Fortunately, Varejao draws the loose-ball foul, LeBron hits one more jumper, and the Cavs are up seven with just under three minutes to play. One more stop, and it’s time to breathe.
-Kobe misses a 16-footer, but Artest gets the offensive rebound and drains an unassisted 26-footer. Uh-oh.
-LeBron again runs down the clock and bricks a hero three, and Kobe comes back down and hits two free throws. Gulp.
-LeBron throws the ball away, his first bad pass in crunch-time all season. Kobe ties the game on a beautiful 19-foot fadeaway. I think I’ve seen this movie before, and I didn’t like it. Remember, the Lakers literally have not lost a close game all year, and the Gaines game was a week ago. Varejao has a rare miss under the basket, and it’s Laker ball.
-Then, something wonderful happened. Not only did the Cavs come up with big plays, but they got lucky. Gasol gets a feed under the basket, keeps his hands up like he’s supposed to, and goes to lay it in…but from out of nowhere, there’s LeBron to block it. Gasol gets it back, but can’t get the finish over Varejao.
-LeBron pulls down the rebound, goes up the floor, acts like he’s about to get the Cavs into their offense, and then woosh. In the blink of an eye, LeBron spotted the tiniest of openings, hit his afterburners, and absolutely flew through the Lakers defense for a lefty layup.
It was one of those plays that only LeBron makes. In game-deciding possessions, we’re used to seeing everything grind to a halt. We’re used to seeing the best guy stare down his man, know that the guy guarding him knows what he’s about to do, rise up for the jumper, and making it anyways. It’s not supposed to be about talent in those situations. It’s supposed to be about determination, grit, concentration, magic, and getting that one extra inch.
On plays like that, LeBron cares not for your one extra inch. He thinks you can take your one extra inch and shove it. Instead of draining the most difficult possible shot, he did something so difficult that it’s not supposed to be possible. It’s one of those plays that makes you hang your jaw in awe while somehow thinking that he made it too easy to be impressive, like he used a cheat code or something. Occasionally, LeBron’s capacity for amazing outstrips our capacity to comprehend it, and that semi-transition layup was one of those times. Pardon me for gushing there.
-Cavs up two. 26 seconds to play. Gasol gets it under the hoop, and draws a foul. And the Cavs get, of all things, lucky again. Gasol misses both free throws.
-A week ago, the Cavs’ free-throw closer fouled out when the Cavs needed free throws, the Cavs need free throws to seal the game. In this game, the Cavs’ free-throw closer had been ruled unable to play hours before the Cavs needed free throws to seal the game.
-LeBron goes to the line. One free throw helps. Two wins the game. LeBron hits the first and misses the second. I’m seeing Kobe run up the court and drill a three, and a few more months of hearing how LeBron chokes. But the Cavs get lucky again. Varejao grabs the rebound, gets fouled, and ends the game. A team that’s had terrible luck down the stretch of games pulls out a close win over a team that’s been untouchable in tight games this year.
It was a win not just for Cavs fans, but for people that believe a coin that comes up heads four straight times has a 50-50 chance of coming up heads the next time it’s flipped. For one night, at least, the basketball universe is ruled by cold, unyielding, arbitrary randomness, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
Onto the rest:
Really nice game from LeBron in this one. He’s had trouble getting to the rim against the Lakers in the recent past, and it’s hampered him. In this one, LeBron went to the rim with confidence from different angles, made all six of his shots at the basket, got to the line, and went 10-13 from the stripe once he got there. He’s been tentative about taking the ball right at the Laker bigs in the past and forced into some slop shots around the basket, but didn’t miss a layup or take a shot from the <10 foot range tonight.
And when he got trapped, the Cavs did a great job giving LeBron angles. Of LeBron’s nine assists on Thursday, seven led to layups or dunks and two led to three-pointers.
As for the jumpers, they didn’t work until they did. It’s never fun to look at a box score and see that a player who can get to the basket at will went 1-9 from outside of the arc. But I actually didn’t mind the threes so much. Artest was going under screens and giving LeBron space. He went straight up and down on most of the threes, and showed good balance. And a lot of them just rimmed out. Two or three more of those go in, and it’s not such a bad performance from deep. Other than the hero shots at the end of the game, I was fine with the threes, because they’re such a better statistical play than deep twos.
That said, LeBron hitting six of his 10 deep twos was very nice. Especially with three of them coming in the fourth quarter and all of them coming off the dribble.
-I don’t think the Cavs could’ve done a much better job defending Kobe than they did. The finger will be a story, and I obviously can’t say how much it did or didn’t impact Kobe’s shot. But Kobe actually shot tremendously well, given the shots he was forced to take. (Of course, that could be due to the back injury.) Kobe shot 57.1% from 10-15 feet, 42% from 16-23, and 2-6 from three. Those are good percentages for someone with six healthy fingers. The key was that Kobe only got one shot at the rim, which he missed, and only got five points from the line. He wasn’t able to get his teammates involved, either, with four assists against three turnovers.
With Kobe, the best thing you can hope to do is make him a volume shooter from the outside, and the Cavs were able to do that. Sometimes, Kobe will hit everything he looks at and go for 55 even if he’s played perfectly, because he’s Kobe. But the Cavs played the percentages beautifully, and got away with it on Thursday.
-Hicksomania! A day after I got done absolutely burying the guy, he goes ahead and has his best game in a Cavs uniform. 4-6 from the field with some nice finishes at the rim, 3-4 from the line, and an insane 14 rebounds. And wouldn’t you know that he tied for the game high with a +6. Wonderful game for JJ. I hope the Wizards brass was watching.
-Delonte’s first start this season was a mixed bag. Offensively, he didn’t do much at all, and had a hard time establishing anything. In Delonte’s defense, he was being guarded by Kobe, as the Lakers were able to hide Fisher on Anthony Parker. On the bright side, Delonte played wonderful defense and made some absolutely crucial defensive plays late in the fourth, despite the fact he played 43 minutes. The man does not sweat. It’s as simple as that. And his three in the fourth quarter was huge. Hopefully the finger injury he suffered isn’t serious.
-Big Z only made one shot, but one of them was a big three from the short-corner. If he wants to stay on the court, he should go to that much more regularly. I think the sample size is just big enough to say that shot is a legitimate weapon for Z and not just a gimmick play.
-Boobie came on, immediately drained one hand-in-the face three to make a statement, and didn’t take another shot.
-Haven’t even gotten to Shaq yet. He was amazing. The Cavs outscored the Lakers 42-26 in the paint, and the Big Fella was the biggest reason why. Great defense on the Laker bigs, and he was able to score inside to keep the offense from going stagnant.
-Let’s not talk about Ultimate Jawad. This is a happy recap.
-I definitely thought the Lakers should’ve gone to Pau more, especially against Hickson. His field goal % doesn’t look good, and he sure did choke down the stretch, but he should be a nightly focus of the Laker offense. He’s too good to be allowed to disappear.
Alright, guys. That’s all for tonight. A game to feel good about, and peace. Maybe it’ll last for the rest of the regular season, maybe it’ll never end, maybe it’ll end by the next game. But tonight, it’s a good time to be a Cavs fan. Until next time, everyone.