I don’t know exactly what tact to take on this one. The Cavs lost a tough battle in the closing seconds; a game they lead the whole way; a game that is annually circled on the calendar. It is hard not to be deflated. On the other hand, in night three sans-Kyrie, in a third game in four days, on the second night of a road back-to-back, Cleveland almost knocked-off the defending champs. The rag-tag, starless Cavs, nearly sent Miami off their homecourt with their tails between their legs. It is hard not to be proud of an effort like that.
Onto a recap:
The first half was awesome. True-to-form, Cleveland’s starters came-out blazing, with Andy nabbing rebounds at a ridiculous pace, and Alonzo Gee taking pole-position in the battle for the night’s best small-forward. His nine first-quarter points came from a corner-three, a drive & bank-shot over LBJ and Battier, a pull-up fadeaway jumper, and a pump-fake drive for a nasty dunk. Everyone’s favorite annual stocking stuffer, “Sports Illustrated’s Best of Alonzo Gee”, added some potential footage early in this game. Cleveland leads 29 – 26 at the end of the first.
The second quarter saw the margin stretch to a dream-like 59 to 48. Omri Casspi drained three triples in the half, and also hit Tristan for a fast-break dime. The bench has not been disastrous lately and a large reason is Casspi. When he came to Cleveland, his dossier included: being tall, running the court effectively, and hitting threes. Finally, signs of success at the latter two activities. Over the last five games, he is averaging 8 points per night on 75% true shooting. Otherwise in the first half, Pargo continued his amazing run, finishing with 10 points and 5 assists, while Varejao tallied ten rebounds. The Cavs’s ten first-half threes, combined with only four turnovers culminated in the double-digit halftime margin.
Things began worse in the third frame; the strong, early ball protection eroded, with six turnovers in the first six minutes of quarter three. Pargo’s chariot briefly transitioned to a pumpkin: throwing away a pass, traveling, and being stripped from behind. A 13-to-1 Heat run drew the game nearly even, but Cleveland escaped fourteen Lebron points to still lead 79 to 77.
Heading into the fourth, I assumed there existed a near-zero chance for a Cleveland win. The Cavs’ closer sat in a suit with a hurt finger; Miami trotted out the reigning-MVP, at home, against a young and tired team. But Cleveland hung tight. CJ Miles played his best quarter in the wine-and-gold; knocking down a three, driving for a tough lay-up, and threading a beauty of a behind-the-back fast-break pass. Perhaps he was drugged during the season’s first ten games, but he seems to have turned a corner in the last week. The quarter wore on; every time the Heat drew near, one of Cleveland’s Finest came through with a big play…Varejao with a tip-in…Waiters with drive & finish…Gibson with a four-point-play. Boobie’s three with two minutes remaining left Cleveland up 108 to 101. Then, the probably-inevitable happened. Lebron drove for an easy finish; Ray Allen beat Waiters with a shot-fake and gained an and-one…Cleveland’s offense bogged down, with no one prepared to be The Man. Then, hearts sank in the Hetrick household; Ray Allen open from deep…108 to 109 Miami lead, their first since early in the first quarter. Instead of Dion, guarded by LBJ down the stretch, Cleveland auditions Jeremy Pargo for the role of crunch-time hero. Despite a valiant effort, Dwyane Wade blocks the pull-up from seven feet, and Cleveland limps off, a 108 to 110 loser.
Without a doubt, a disappointing outcome, but ultimately something our young squad should be proud of. Facing the defending champs, on the second night of a road back-to-back, they took the fight to twelve rounds. If some combination of Pargo, Miles, Casspi, and Zeller continues contributing after Kyrie’s return; this team can still be as good as any of us expected.
A few extra bullets:
Prior to Wednesday, what I knew about Jeremy Pargo amounted to: he played four non-spectacular years at Gonzaga followed by two seasons in Europe; last year in his first NBA season, while struggling to crack Memphis’s rotation, he finished with a 4.4 PER; Memphis literally gave Cleveland a draft pick to take his $1 million contract off their books; and he turns 27 in March.
So, I painted a picture of fairly low expectations for Monsieur Pargo. After three games as starter, that assumption is changing though. He looks fast, yet under control. He seems to generally understand when to shoot versus the time to pass. He tries on defense. There was even one Kyrie-esque pick-and-roll with Andy. During the Lester Hudson explosion of 2012; I always thought it was mirage. With Pargo, other than the 45% three-point shooting, I think he’s the real deal to play back-up. He finished with 16 points and 7 assists. As a starter in three games, it’s 20 points and 4 assists per night. Also, those three opponents are: 2012’s second-best defense, 2012’s eight-best defense, and the reigning-NBA-champs.
For me, this may have been Dion’s least impressive game. Not numerically, as those were fine, with 16 points on 51% true shooting and two assists against only one turnover. Also, he offered-up some fine clutch offensive plays down the stretch. But I thought he looked tired; more passive on offense than usual, and out-of-sorts on defense. For one night, this is excusable. I have already touched on the compression & strength of the recent schedule. Add in that Dion lead the team in minutes and shots each of the games without Kyrie, and it makes sense for him to be exhausted. He is a rookie that played twenty-five minutes per slow-paced NCAA game last year.
His defense was pretty bad tonight though. Bad switches, flat-footed on the defensive boards, routinely losing his man away from the ball…not good. Coach Scott benched him one-minute into the third quarter, after Dwyane Wade opened with four points in the first two possessions. Unfortunately, fault for two critical late possessions also rests with Dion. Ray Allen beat him baseline in isolation for an and-one, then somehow found himself completely wide-open with 18 seconds to go for the winning three. Waiters let himself get stranded near the baseline, and Ray Allen, greatest shooter of all-time, does not need the benefit of that sort of defensive lapse at the end of a close game.
In the comments section of yesterday’s game, we briefly discussed the critical eye that Cavs:the Blog can turn towards Dion. At least speaking for myself, that is because hope & expectations for him are very high. I like the skills that Dion shows, on offense and defense, but as is the case with all twenty-year olds, he can improve…alot. While he is young, constructive critique seems warranted (same case for Kyrie’s defense every night).
Cleveland only gets one night off before another back-to-back in two cities, but even when completely spent, I am sure Dion will be learning immensely from these early experiences.
I will note that over the last three games, the starting PG or SG have started the second and fourth quarter. I just want to point out that there is zero reason this can’t happen once Kyrie returns.
The Heat broadcast crew noted that Anderson Varejao tallied five of the NBA’s fifteen highest rebounding games of the early season. Tonight did not quite reach those levels, but add another 15 boards, 10 points, 4 assists and 4 steals to his ledger.
On offense, Tristan Thompson played the perfect game. Not trying to do too much, when ‘garbage’ buckets came his way, he secured the ball and finished. Thirteen points on 6 of 7 shooting for TT. If this type of low usage, gimme-finisher is all he ever becomes on offense, I would be perfectly happy with that. Do this every night Tristan, and otherwise master defense and rebounding.