Overview: The Cavs stumbled after a 37-23 opening quarter, but were able to surge ahead in the fourth to put the Orlando Magic away. The final score was 115-106, with LeBron James taking over down the stretch. JJ Hickson and Anderson Varejao added a combined 36 points.
-This is becoming a refrain: that first quarter was gorgeous. I am a massive Stan Van Gundy apologist, but Mike Brown X-and-Oed the pants off of SVG in the first quarter.
Van Gundy started off the game by leaving JJ Hickson all alone from mid-range, and I gulped. Even though JJ almost literally never makes those jumpers, for some reason teams have played him straight-up to start games. JJ actually managed to hit his first mid-range jumper in who knows how long, but Van Gundy kept Rashard in the paint.
JJ missed his next jumper, and the Cavs needed to make an adjustment. They did, putting Hickson closer to the rim and having him cut from the weak-side. What resulted was one of the best quarters of JJ’s young career. Hickson made some Varejao-like cuts when LeBron penetrated and was rewarded with easy dunks. He was even doing the little things, getting a tip-in and making a hard run to the rim in transition to bring two Magic into the paint and set Boobie Gibson up with a wide-open three.Hick. So. Mania.
-If you’d have asked me the one Cavs rotation player I thought would probably fold in big games, I probably would’ve said Hickson, but the inverse has been true thus far. And Dwight, you are EXCLUDED from chicken cutlet night.
-The Cavs were clicking offensively early on, and they were doing it with early offense, smart cutting, and great floor spacing. Of the Cavs’ 37 points in the first quarter, only 10 came on jumpers outside of the paint. An absolutely amazing effort against Dwight Howard’s team.
One more factor in that first quarter: what Z does when he’s not hitting shots. Two of JJ’s dunks came because Howard was outside of the paint trying to keep Z from getting open jumpers, and Z made an absolutely beautiful touch pass to Andy at the end of the quarter. Z did look lost on defense at times, but the spacing he brings as a center isn’t easy to replace.
-Hickson had some real trouble with Rashard Lewis early, giving up 8 points to Rashard in a minute when he got too close to Rashard, sagged too far off of Rashard, and lost Rashard in transition. Unlike a lot of young players, JJ didn’t let that mess up his game, and Mike Brown made the right call to stay patient with that. JJ did his scoring after that happened, and Rashard finished the game only 6-14 from the floor.
The Cavs were also great at defending the Magic in post and pick-and-roll sets. They were physical with Howard all game long, bothering him at all times and putting him in foul trouble throughout the contest. They also shut down the screen-roll; Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter combined to shoot 9-30 for the game, and had seven assists against seven turnovers. In this game, the matchup nightmares the Magic’s screen-roll game gave the Cavs were nothing but an unpleasant memory.
-The Magic got hot in the second quarter and scored 40 points, but that was more good offense than bad defense. 24 of their 40 points were on deep jumpers or threes, and a lot of those shots were contested or off the dribble. Jason Williams in particular gave the Magic a spark, hitting two threes and setting another one up in the span of less than a minute. The Magic can shoot, and they’re not afraid to do it.
-Anderson Varejao had a great game. He didn’t get the space he normally enjoys around the basket, but showed great touch from nearly every angle. He made an impossible spinning reverse after cutting under the rim, was making hooks from everywhere, and showed that his developing skills can come in handy against elite defenses. He even showed some range, hitting a tough fadeaway and an uncontested J from the top of the circle.
-DELONTE’S BACK! This is why you have to love Delonte. He would’ve had another week to rest his hand if he’d sat this one out, but he knew the Cavs might need him and wanted to play. He was huge down the stretch, making some obvious plays (a huge three to put the Cavs up seven with three minutes to play) and some subtle ones (breaking up a Magic fast-break that would’ve put Orlando up four with six minutes to play.) His final line was 10 points and six assists, with all of his big plays coming when the Cavs needed them.
-LeBron James was also present. He played Dwight Howard like a violin for much of the game, drawing the rotation and then finding a big for a slam or a guard for an open three. He finished with 13 assists, none prettier than when he lobbed the ball gracefully over Howard to set Shaq up with an easy slam in the fourth. He also did a good job mixing up his offensive attack, switching between attacking the rim, pulling up for the jumper, or going to work in the mid-post.
Post Move Watch: LeBron’s move on Mickael Pietrus, where he faced him up on the left block, made a move like he was going to a righty hook, and snuck in a lefty layup was gorgeous. Also, he was able to use the midpost to set himself up with an easy 14-foot jumper in the fourth. Oh, and LeBron scored or assisted on 19 straight Cavs points in the fourth quarter. And went 4-5 from outside the paint in the final six minutes of the game to get the Cavs the win. LeBron’s confidence level on that step-back three and turnaround over Pietrus was off the charts. It looks like he’s experimenting out there. LeBron James is more messianic than most people.
-Anthony Parker looks a lot more confident in his role when Delonte’s on a platoon with him. AP’s shot wasn’t on, but he was able to play his game against the Magic. He moved the ball when a better shot was there, made good cuts to free other guys up, and played great defense, shutting down Vince Carter and getting three steals.
His one shot also came at the right time; Parker drilled a contested three for the second basket of what became a 15-4 run that stole the third quarter for the Cavs. The Cavs had looked extremely stagnant offensively the entire quarter, but threes can be a panacea.
-Only six turnovers tonight for the Cavs. Yes.
-Shaq was relegated to doing the dirty work tonight, but he did it well. His minutes were limited due to foul trouble, but he made the Magic feel his presence on both ends every second he played.
Bullets of Randomness:
-Shaq was talking after the game, saying some not-so-lovely things about Dwight Howard. It seems a bit like Shaq is dumping his baggage with the Magic on the Cavs, but maybe the Cavs want that type of edge. I’m not big on stirring up animosity where there may not need to be, but that’s Shaq’s prerogative. This will end up on a Magic bulletin board, and the Cavs still haven’t beaten the Magic in the games that matter. Maybe it’s all part of Shaq’s plan.
-Apparently the TNT guys were saying the Cavs are very close to a deal, and the names they gave were Troy Murphy and Rip Hamilton. I’ll be on it when some sources with closer ties to the Cavs say it’s for real. My opinion would be that I wouldn’t want to risk this chemistry for Hamilton or Murphy right now.
-Only caveat about the win streak is that the Cavs have had a very fortunate schedule. The Magic were on a back-to-back tonight, and their fourth game in five days. It looked like it took its toll on them late in the game. Remember this when Mo comes back, the streak eventually ends, and the inevitable “maybe the Cavs are better without him!” chatter starts.
-White Chocolate looked great out there. Not many backup points with his combination of confidence and heady play. Stan Van Gundy has a way with flashy point guards whose best years are behind them.
Alright guys, not a bad way to go into the All-Star break. I’ll be active writing-wise over the festivities, so keep an eye out. And if a trade does go down, I’ll be on it. Until later, folks.