(By the way, I’m angry at Vevo for blocking the music video to this song, which involves models playing musical chairs. I believe that models playing musical chairs can and should serve as a metaphor for any possible situation.)
Overview: The Pacers were never able to recover from a 36-18 first-quarter blitz by the Cavaliers, who cruised to a 94-73 victory. LeBron James was one rebound shy of a triple-double, and Shaquille O’Neal scored 22 points on 10 shots.
-Let’s start with that first quarter. What beautiful basketball. LeBron scored on the first possession of the game, and didn’t record his next field goal until the Cavs’ final possession of the first half. He had one of his best offensive quarters of the season anyways, picking the Pacers apart to the tune of nine assists in the first quarter alone.
It was an absolute passing clinic. LeBron’s assists accounted for 22 of the Cavs’ 36 points in the quarter. When you factor in LeBron’s scoring, he was responsible for 26 of the 36 points overall. He was making passes from everywhere. He set Shaq up with an interior pass for a dunk. He pushed in transition and found his three-point shooters trailing the break. He made some absolutely beautiful passes after drawing double-teams in the midpost. He made skip passes to shooters setting up behind back screens. He found JJ Hickson cutting through the lane.
Except for the two times LeBron set up Z with mid-range jumpers, all of his assists in the first quarter led to shots at the rim or three-pointers. It’s obvious to say, but I’ll say it anyways: LeBron completely dominated the game without needing to score. No Cavalier other than LeBron had more than one assist, and the Cavs still recorded five more assists than the Pacers on the night. Amazing. The first quarter was the one that decided the game, and it was all made possible by LeBron’s display of playmaking.
LeBron had a great game on the defensive end as well. He spent lots of time guarding Danny Granger on the ball, and Granger finished 6-23 from the field. In fact, the Pacer swingmen combined to shoot 18-56 from the field, and shot four combined free throws. LeBron was also an absolute monster on the weak side, recording two steals and four absolutely crushing blocks. Danny Granger, you are excluded from chicken cutlet night.
-The good news is that LeBron absolutely dominated the game while having one of his worst scoring nights of the season. The bad news is that LeBron had one of his worst scoring nights of the season. LeBron shot 6-18 from the field, and 2-11 from outside of the paint.
Some nights, asking LeBron to take on this many playmaking duties is going to hamper his ability to score effectively, and Friday was one of those nights. With the defense completely focused on LeBron, he wasn’t able to find the kind of space he wanted to get to the rim or set himself up with easy jumpers. Brandon Rush did a very good job of staying in front of him in the half-court, and was able to force LeBron into a lot of bad jumpers at the end of the shot clock. The offense definitely got stagnant in the third quarter, and LeBron went 2-9 from 19 feet or deeper during the period.
LeBron also missed seven free throws, which is the most free throws he’s missed since the Bradley Center Game last season. LeBron has now missed 19 free throws in his last four games. He missed 24 free throws in all of November, and 31 in all of December. One of the great things about LeBron’s improvement over the years is how much more comfortable I am with him on the line, so let’s hope he shakes this mini-slump from the line off quickly. Even in a blowout, missed free throws drive me absolutely insane, especially from LeBron. They make me physically ill. I mention this to try and jinx whatever bad mojo has been happening when LeBron’s been at the line the last few games.
But lest we lose focus, even though LeBron only had a TS of 42.3% in this game, it was a good an example as any of why LeBron’s the clear-cut favorite for MVP at this point in the year. His all-around game is just that good.
-Shaq was an absolute beast. He caught the ball at or inside the circle, and the Pacers had no answer for him. They fouled him, they tried to double-team him, they prayed. None of it worked. Shaq powered through double-teams, used the glass, pushed defenders out of his way, and put air under his hooks, and the ball kept going through. Shaq finished the night 8-10 from the floor, with only three of his baskets coming off of assists, and drew 10 fouls on the Pacers. On the defensive end, Shaq was able to hold Roy Hibbert to a 2-9 shooting performance before Hibbert fouled out. Absolute dominance on both ends from Shaq.
-Varejao and AP’s offensive games have both fallen off without a point guard to set them up with the shots they like. Varejao only took two shots in 23 minutes, and Parker finished 2-9 from the field.
-Jamario had a rough game, going 1-4 from the field. Jawad, on the other hand, made all three of his three-point attempts and only missed one field goal all night. Apparently it would upset the balance of the universe if both Jawad and Moon played well on the same night.
-Even though there was some garbage time involved, I feel it’s still worth mentioning that the Pacers scored nine points in the fourth quarter.
-The Pacers took 23 more shots than the Cavs in this game, but a lot of that was because of the free throw discrepancy. The Cavs shot 44 free throws. The Pacers shot five. Yipes.
Alright, that’s all for tonight. Have a great weekend, campers.