Coming home after a long road trip, Cleveland ended the night on the losing end of a hard-fought battle. Tyler Zeller returned to the lineup, wearing a fancy mask to protect his broken cheek. He played horribly in the first half, but drew two charges and swatted a three-point attempt into the stands in the second half. Glad to have you back, T-Zell.
The game initially reinforced a common theme; Cleveland started off scorching, with Alonzo Gee and Daniel Gibson pitching in a half-dozen each towards an early 24 to 16 lead. Alas, with two-minutes remaining in the first quarter, Kyrie checked out, Jeremy Pargo subbed-in, and the lead rapidly tumbled to nil.
Cleveland treaded water early in the second, thanks to Boobie’s shooting and Tristan starting the quarter. Dion re-entered with nine minutes to go, and scored eight points in 86 seconds during one stretch. Gee splashed home a pull-up off a behind-the-back dribble, and Andy connected with TT for a sweet alley-oop. Kyrie drove for a couple of easy finishes, and I reveled in how fun this team can be; the good moments are both higher quality and more prevalent than recent seasons. Still though, I feel this team’s parts are greater than the whole. Prior to this season, Kyrie and Tristan played around 500 minutes together; Andy and Kyrie, only 23 games. Varejao and Tristan shared the court for 47 minutes last year, and Dion Waiters is a rookie. Other than the Kyrie to Varejao pick-and-roll, the team barely runs an offense, making it amazing that heading into last night, Cleveland’s starters owned the best plus/minus in the league. I can not wait for two years from now, when this group forms a well-oiled machine.
Cleveland leads 52 – 51 at the half.
Kyrie came out hot to start the third, drilling several jumpers and extending the margin to three. Then, in a teeth-gritting moment, Kyrie left with a sore wrist at the seven-minute mark. A bright side emerged though, as the Dion & Boobie back-court finally got some run. And it was good, including a 7 – 0 run; when Dion hit the pine, the Cavs lead by two. A Pargo-lead squad allowed a small Mavs run to end the quarter, with Dallas heading to the fourth up 73 to 75.
But then, behold!! Kyrie is back on the court! At one point, his seven points in 80 seconds tie the game 89 – 89. Alas, it was all down hill from there. The Mavericks hit a few jumpers, managed to frequently find themselves with mismatches in the post, and eventually brought home the 103 – 95 win.
I am not too upset about this loss. There were no mind-numbing 32 to 6 runs, and ultimately, the veteran Mavericks just made more plays at the end.
To close out tonight’s recap, I will briefly address the regularized-adjusted-plus-minus (RAPM) data available at http://stats-for-the-nba.appspot.com. Their player values quite capably reflect many of the early season Cavs narratives. A reputable website, the stat is referenced throughout the “2012 – 2013 Pro Basketball Prospectus”.
I’ll note the regularized adjusted plus minus trends through the first eight games, and how those held up tonight. (As always when I do a recap like this, tonight’s action is in italics.)
- Through eight games, Anderson Varejao performed as the NBA’s 20th best player. No doubt about it, he produces like an all-star. Based on RAPM, the East’s front-court as of right now should be Tyson Chandler, Kevin Garnett, Josh Smith, Joakim Noah, and Andy.
Rough night for Varejao as he couldn’t get his tip-ins or floaters to fall, finishing 2 of 11 from the field for four points. His four offensive rebounds lead the game, but on defense, Chris Kaman poses as the species of big, reasonably skilled big man that troubles the Cavs Center. Kaman netted a few buckets from the post and scored 15 points on 12 shots.
- A transcendent offensive force, Kyrie ranks tenth most effective at point-producing in the league. Truly amazing stuff from a 20-year old. On the flip side, he resides as the 25th worst defensive player. Add it all up, and this leaves him 72nd. While I dispute that, keep working at that defense, Kyrie. Someday in the future, as a top-five offensive guy and an above average defensive player, First-Team-All-NBA awaits.
Kyrie scored 26 tonight; from pull-ups, set-shots, and an array of drives. Finishes that should be rare, now seem completely routine. His place as a top-five NBA scorer remains secure, however zero assists is a career first (see parts are greater than the whole discussion. This group is still learing to play with each other.) His defense was fine tonight. As a team, the Cavs forced 20 turnovers and allowed only eight offensive-boards.
- Dion Waiters sits atop the rookie-heap. Granted, he is only the 214th best player, but no other newbie performed better. Regarding the extremely low across-the-board rankings, I will simply say that RAPM hates the way rookies play defense.
An up-and-down effort from Dion; he scored sixteen points thanks to an aggressive mentality that resulted in eight free throw attempts, but he only converted 4 of his 16 shots from the field. Two of Cleveland’s strongest stretches involved Dion at the controls; the aforementioned stints next to Pargo and Gibson, respectively.
I do wish to see him learn to play more within the offense and stop the ball less. Also, despite the three assists tonight, more passing would be nice. Many times in the paint, he tries a challenging shot of his own, whereas ideally, he starts setting his bigs up for easy flushes. His 2.2 dimes per night pale compared to his college distribution; tallying 2.5 assists in less minutes at the slower-pace of college games. As he figures out his teammates and NBA-offense, this is an area his game will continue to grow.
Overall though, he continues to look solid, aggressively attacking the paint and typically looking strong & engaged at the defensive end.
- Alonzo Gee and Tristan Thompson rate nearly identically, at 114th and 125th, respectively. Both offer above average defense, with slightly deficient offense.
Midway through the third quarter, Tristan notched his double-double. He sat much of the fourth quarter, and finished with 10 & 12. A really nice defensive hedge forced an over-and-back by Darren Collison; hopefully many of Andy’s tricks rub-off on Thompson.
Gee did what he does. 15 points on 41% true shooting, with 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Really, a mixed bag, but he looked solid. Solid ball-handling resulted in zero turnovers, whether flashing a lefty-drive for an and-one, a behind-the-back dribble into a drained pull-up, or dishing a fast-break-dime to Tristan; Gee provided a series of commendable plays.
- The Bench is awful. Actually, the three worst players in the NBA sit on Cleveland’s bench. Luke Walton, Donald Sloan, and Jeremy Pargo round out the RAPM dregs-of-the-NBA. RAPM does not like Sloan’s offense and finds his defense nauseating, yet he serves as one of six Cavaliers to play every game. Despite NBA-cellar status, Walton re-entered the team’s rotation last game. Please make it stop.
Slightly improved tonight; Daniel Gibson continues to shoot lights out, Omri Casspi drained a three, and we saw a little of Dion with the second unit.
The rotations were more staggered tonight, but part of that was due to Kyrie sitting the last seven minutes of the third. My inclination is still that Sloan and Pargo need perma-glued to the bench; the Cavs were a team-worst minus-11 during Pargo’s ten minutes. (And I suppose it’s worth noting that Pargo played, not Sloan…I did trot out Slargo during the pre-season though)
Also, what is the deal with CJ Miles? He has completely disappeared from the line-up to ‘clear his head’ (Coach Scott’s words). I hope he works things out soon, and returns to his destiny of ‘serviceable back-up on middling teams’. The Waiters – Gibson – Miles backcourt exists to wreak havoc on NBA benches across the nation.
That’s it for tonight. Until next time…