Overview: The Cavs started their third point guard in as many games, missed 20 free throws, and turned the ball over 17 times against the Thunder. Despite all that, they were able to pull out a 100-99 win, with Daniel Gibson hitting the go-ahead three with eight seconds left. LeBron had a final line of 37/9/12, and had a block on Kevin Durant and hit the game-sealing free throws in the final two seconds.
Definitely a strange game. The things that worked worked extremely well, and the things that went wrong went powerful wrong. Let’s start with the bad.
-The offense did not look in sync at all. Now, the Cavs were starting their third point guard in three games, and the Thunder are a very good defensive team. But Boobie had zero assists in 34 minutes, which is unacceptable. In fact, the entire Cavalier backcourt accounted for three assists, and two of those were from Danny Green.
The plan was to give the ball to LeBron and let him go to work. Not a bad idea without any other playmakers to speak of, but the Cavs were lucky to get away with it. LeBron was swarmed every time he got into the paint, turned the ball over six times, and only made one shot at the rim all game. One. Not sure when the last time that happened was.
-20 missed free throws. I mean, what is there to say? If the Cavs had lost this one, it would’ve been absolutely inexcusable. Nine of the 20 misses were courtesy of Shaq, which is somewhat acceptable. You’d like to see him shoot better than 40% from the line, but it’s not like this was an unprecedented occurrence.
LeBron accounted for six free throw misses. It was one of those games where LeBron didn’t look very comfortable at the line early on, and never really got into a free-throw groove. This has become much frequent in the last two seasons. It used to be an open question whether or not LeBron would have his free throw stroke working on a given night, but he’s become much more consistent from the stripe. In fact, LeBron’s six free throw misses tonight ties his season high, which he set against Toronto in the Cavs’ second game of the year. Even still, it was not fun to watch LeBron shoot free throws in this one.
Outside of Shaq and LeBron, the Cavs shot 1-6 from the line. Hickson split a pair, Z missed two, and Varejao biffed his free throws down the stretch. Zero free throw attempts by the Cavalier backcourt. Hurry back, Delonte.
-17 turnovers against 19 assists. Again, this was a product of the Cavs having zero offensive rhythm, but it still needs to improve. Credit the Cavs’ transition defense, I suppose, because the Cavs only gave up 17 points on their 17 turnovers. Meanwhile, they scored 13 points on the Thunder’s nine turnovers, so they somehow only gave up four net points on turnovers.
-Andy. Yikes. The lack of spacing and flow really killed Varejao’s ability to find room for his cuts and be effective. He also looked lost defensively, and had real trouble staying with the Thunder bigs on the perimeter. And those two missed free throws were bad. A game-low -16 for Andy in only 19 minutes.
-Defense in the third quarter. From 10:30 to 2:04, the Thunder scored on every single one of their possessions. They missed one shot, but got the offensive rebound and scored. Everything went wrong for the Cavs during this stretch. The Thunder were able to slice into the heart of the Cavs’ D and get layups. When the Cavs crowded the paint, they stepped out and knocked in an easy midrange jumper.
And the run wasn’t just the Thunder getting hot. In the course of the entire run, only one of the Thunder’s baskets was an unassisted jump shot. And that shot was a 14-footer by Kevin Durant, which isn’t exactly a low-percentage proposition. Everything broke down during that stretch. Basketball is a game of runs, but 30 straight points?
Somehow, despite all of that, the Cavs pulled out a win. How did they do it? See below.
Shaq. Whoa. Offensively, this might have been Shaq’s best game as a Cavalier. He was getting whatever he wanted in the paint all game long. The Thunder didn’t have enough size to discourage him on the offensive end, or enough frontcourt quickness to burn him on the defensive end.
Early on, Shaq was getting deep position time and time again. When he got it, he bullied his way through any resistance and got the easy basket. The only hope the Thunder had was to foul, and they weren’t even able to do that with regularity.
In the third, the only reason the Cavs were able to stay in the game during OKC’s 30-point run is because of how effective they were running the offense through Shaq. The Cavs scored 17 points of their own during the Thunder’s insane stretch, with 12 of those points either scored or assisted by Shaq. They set Shaq up on the left block, gave him the ball, and re-posted him when he tossed it back out. When the Thunder swarmed Shaq, the Cavs ran Hickson on a cut through the middle and Boobie off a scissor cut to the corner, and Shaq found them for buckets on both occasions. I just learned from a Daily Thunder commenter that Krstic had his lowest single-game defensive score of the season against the Cavs, and that comes as no surprise to anyone who saw the game.
Defensively, Shaq was effective. Krstic was able to step out on Shaq and hit a few mid-range jumpers during the 30-point run, but Shaq didn’t get baited into leaving the paint.
The Thunder only shot 47% at the rim on Saturday, and Shaq was the biggest reason why. Durant, who’s actually been a LeBron-level finisher this season, was only 3-8 on shots at the rim. Jeff Green missed all five of his shots at the rim. Krstic was only 2-4 at the rim. Oddly, the only Thunder player who had success in the immediate basket area was Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has struggled to finish in traffic throughout his brief NBA career, but made all five of his layups against the Cavs.
Overall, Shaq finished with a game-high +16, and looked completely dominant when he was in the game. Shaq missed five of his six free throws in the final quarter, but the good far outweighed the bad from Shaq in this one.
-LeBron picked the right time to find his outside shot, didn’t he? After going 1-16 from three in his last two games, LeBron set a season high by hitting six of his 10 threes. (Of course LeBron would set his season high for threes in a game on the same night he tied his season high for missed free throws in a game. I try not to think about these things.)
On a night where LeBron only made one layup or dunk, LeBron scored 22 points on 15 shots from outside of 15 feet. What’s even more impressive than how well LeBron shot the ball is what type of shots he was making. Only one of LeBron’s 16-23 foot shots came off a pass, and none of LeBron’s six threes were assisted. That’s almost unheard of from any player not named Steve Nash.
LeBron had no conscience from beyond the arc. He was draining contested pull-up threes, off-balance threes, clean threes when the defense went under the screen, threes from everywhere. It almost looked like LeBron was making a case for why he’s so determined to add the three to his game. A three-point stroke won’t be as consistent as a post-up game or a set of moves from 10-15 feet, and we saw how ineffective threes can be in the last two games.
But every now and then, LeBron can use his three-ball to go Deus ex Machina on some helpless team. Even when the offense broke down and LeBron wasn’t able to get where he wanted to go on the court, he was able to bury a few ridiculous shots, and it got the Cavs a win in a game they probably had no business winning. LeBron’s threes allowed him to score six points in 33 seconds to close out the first half and give the Cavs a 13-point cushion, which they’d end up needing. And in the fourth, with the Cavs down five and the game slipping away, LeBron bombed in threes on consecutive possessions to keep the Cavs in it. No other shot can change fortunes that quickly.
And a great block on Durant on the Thunder’s last possession, along with some gut-wrenching free throws to seal the game. (By the way, there was some body contact from Parker on that play. In my opinion, that’s honestly a 50-50 call, if that. I’ve seen it made before, but it would’ve been a bailout foul. Whatever you think, LeBron doesn’t have a whistle. He played his hardest, and it worked.)
-Boobie Gibson. Yes, he looked horrible running the offense. However, there was a time not that long ago when Boobie was considered indispensable to this team. This is why. Down the stretch, Boobie is the prototypical late-game sniper to put alongside of LeBron. He’s quick enough to get to a spot beyond the arc when the play breaks down and he can’t just camp out in the corner. He knows where LeBron will see him and be able to get him the ball. He’s a knock-down shooter when his feet are set. LeBron knows where he’ll be and trusts Boobie when he’s open. And he’s absolutely fearless when it comes to taking big shots.
In the fourth quarter, LeBron and Boobie accounted for all but two of the Cavs’ points, and all of their field goals. With the Cavs down three with six minutes to play, LeBron was swarmed at the top of the arc, but Boobie got free off a back-screen and drilled the three. He made a floater to tie it two possessions later.
And on the Cavs’ last possession, with the game on the line, LeBron went out in transition, saw the Thunder were packing the lane to protect against his drive, looked up, and there Boobie was, ready to hit the big shot. LeBron trusted that Boobie would knock it down. And knock it down he did. Mo Williams has made Gibson obsolete in late-game situations to a degree, but against the Thunder Boobie showed why he’ll always have a place in the hearts of Cavs fans everywhere.
-Ultimate Jawad with one of his best games. He looks more comfortable as a swingman than as a stretch four, and was banging in threes and making great cuts on his way to 12 points on 7 shots. Although Mike Brown continues to throw Jawad to the wolves on the defensive end. Jawad is a quality defender, but he doesn’t have much chance against the likes of Durant, and gave some cheap fouls.
-I really like Danny Green. He’s got NBA range, and he loves doing the little things. He looks like the kid in the pickup game who rounds out the rotation for the varsity and everyone kinda thinks they could take on-on-one. But when the game starts, he’s making backdoor cuts, setting up dribble handoffs, and getting everyone else good shots. I’m not sure if there will be room in the rotation for him this year, but he’s looked like he can play in the NBA in his limited minutes.
-Finally, JJ Hickson. The man looks born again. Nine rebounds. 4-6 from the floor. Grabbing loose balls and making tough finishes at the rim. Playing great defense down the stretch. Only one turnover all game. If JJ can keep this up, it’ll take a ton of pressure off of Ferry at the trade deadline.
Alright, that’s all for now. These last couple of recaps have been massive, I know, but these have been crazy games. Congrats for reading through them. See you after the weekend.