Overview: In an up-and-down game, the Cavaliers managed to survive a 37-point outburst from rookie Marcus Thornton and hold on for a 105-95 win. LeBron James had 20 points and 13 assists, and Antawn Jamison added 18 points in his first start as a Cavalier.
Full disclosure: due to an unfortunate scheduling situation, I have Spanish class from 4:00-6:00 this semester. This means that I end up watching the first half of most Tuesday/Thursday games on archive. During class, I keep up with the game thanks to quarterly text updates on my phone, which say the score and leading scorer for each team. These were the two text updates I got during class on Tuesday (which I checked at appropriate stopping points during class):
End of 1st- CLE 28 NO 16
NO: D COLLISON – 4 pts, 2 reb, 2 ast
CLE: A PARKER – 6 pts, 2 reb, 0 ast
At this point, I was feeling pretty nice. The Cavs had gone back to dominating the first quarter, Jamison in the starting lineup worked like a charm, and the Cavs were spreading the ball around nicely on offense. Then, about a half an hour later:
End of 2nd – NO 56 CLE 53
NO: M THORNTON 23 pts, 2 reb, 1 ast
CLE: A PARKER – 10 pts, 2 reb, 1 ast
At this point, I may have started choking on my own tongue. It was not a fun final 20 minutes or so of class.
Pretty much every quarter was its own story in this game. Let’s take a look at what happened:
-In the first quarter, the offense looked beautiful with Jamison in there. Right out of the gate, Jamison slipped a pick and knocked down a jumper, then got Morris Peterson to close out on him and found a wide-open AP in the corner for three. Mo was setting up angles and finding guys inside for finishes. Jamison was going to work on the block and having success. The offense was clicking, and LeBron wasn’t even doing all that much.
The team even played well after Shaq went out, going on a 10-2 run to end the quarter. Help-and-recover D. Smart passing on offense. Almost everything was in the paint or a wide-open three for the Cavs in the first quarter. It looked like the mini-losing streak was about to become a distant memory.
-Then came the second quarter. And Marcus Thornton. Thornton is lightning-quick, and capable of stopping on a dime and nailing pull-up jumpers. When he’s hot like he was tonight, he’s the perfect player to exploit Shaq defensively. Against quick guards, Shaq is forced to concede the pull-up or risk a blow-by. Most guards can’t beat you with pull-up jumpers from the zone Shaq concedes, but Thornton sure seemed up to the challenge on Tuesday night. What made matters much, much worse was that the Hornets were consistently able to get Thornton the ball in the open floor, where he was all but unstoppable.
After Cavs misses or turnovers in the second quarter, Thornton went 7 for 7 from the field. After dead-ball situations (two Cavalier makes and one traveling violation), Thornton was 1-3 in the second quarter. Thornton added two more buckets after New Orleans offensive rebounds to cap off his monstrous quarter. After watching that quarter from Thornton, the smoke monster on LOST no longer seems difficult to stop.
The weird thing about the second quarter is that the Cavs weren’t doing all that much wrong. The Hornets went into a zone, and the Cavaliers did exactly what they should do, which is give the ball to LeBron in the high post and spread the floor with three-point shooters. The defense collapsed, LeBron found wide-open shooters, but the shots didn’t go in. With some of the best looks they’re going to get all year, the Cavs went 1-6 from beyond the arc in the second quarter, and three of those misses led to Marcus Thornton baskets on the other end.
-In the third quarter, LeBron and Shaq decided to have themselves some fun. They went at the basket aggressively, and every field goal in the quarter was scored or assisted by Shaq or LeBron. The Cavs also started making cuts at the rim against the zone rather than flaring out for three-pointers, and even got out on the break a couple of times themselves for easy layups.
The Cavs shut down Thornton in the third quarter by not giving the Hornets any opportunities to run. After Thornton came into the game in the third quarter, the Hornets only received the ball three times in a live-ball situation. The first time, LeBron stole Collison’s pass right back to end the possession. The two times the Hornets got defensive rebounds while Thornton was in, he scored on the ensuing possession. Those were his only two baskets of the quarter. Admittedly, one of those baskets was set up by a nice half-court play that freed Thornton up for a three off a double screen. But you’ve gotta admit that’s a pretty interesting stat all the same. You hear all the time about good defense leading to good offense. In the third quarter, good offense led to good defense for the Cavs.
-In the fourth, the Cavs continued to get good looks but miss them, missing two open threes and five shots at the rim in the first half of the quarter. Emeka Okafor did a good job of contesting everything at the basket for the Hornets, but those are still shots the Cavs should have converted.
Thornton had nine points in the final quarter. And yes, all of them came directly after Cavalier misses.
After an ugly stretch where the Cavs completely forgot how to attack the zone and allowed the Hornets to tie the game with 4:37 to play, the Cavs’ money players took over. Mo finally showed up to the party, getting just a little too much space from his favorite spot on the floor and draining a huge three to break the tie. On the next time down, Delonte came from behind to block Thornton’s jumper, trailed the break, and hit an absolutely massive three to put the Cavs up six.
After two missed free throws from Shaq and a lazy turnover by Mo, LeBron took the game over. The Cavs scored ten points on their final three possessions of the game, all of them set up or scored by LeBron. James found Jamison with a bullet of a mid-air pass after a post up, got an and-1 after catching the ball coming full speed from the weak side, hit a dagger three, and found Andy for a layup that put the icing on the cake. LeBron’s good.
-Antawn’s going to fit in just fine. I love the way he cuts off the ball, he’s a crafty finisher around the rim, he was making the correct pass, and he gives the Cavs another offensive look when they feed him in the post. Oddly, the thing I like least about his game is probably his outside shooting. I love that he stretches the floor, but don’t feel confident that he’s going to knock down the jumper when he gets it. His outside shooting numbers have never been that great, and he was only 2-8 on outside jumpers tonight. And all of his looks were pretty darn good. I like the idea of Antawn making jumpers much more than I like Antawn actually shooting jumpers. On the bright side, I really thought he was doing a good job showing and rotating back to his man on defense. I think he’ll be very solid as a system defender in time.
-Games against the Hornets and the Grizzlies always put me in a bad movie mood thanks to The Wicker Man, so I’m going to let an elected official sum up Mo’s performance from the field tonight:
Yeah, Mo’s had better shooting nights. The good news is that very few of his shots were forced. Also, Mo did do a good job setting up angles and penetrating the defense, which is something only LeBron’s been able to do for a while. The offense does run better when Mo’s in there. He just has to get his shot back. Playing Boobie probably would’ve been the better move for tonight’s game, but giving Mo a long leash was probably the right long-term move. Hopefully the one three Mo did hit will help him get his confidence back.
-Another great game for Shaq. He played extended minutes, and looked equally comfortable catching any pass around the basket area and finishing or destroying his man if they left him in single coverage. Shaq’s beasting.
-Five players played 30+ minutes tonight, and LeBron played 44 minutes. Think Mike Brown wanted this losing streak over?
-On a related note, Powe dressed tonight but the game ended up being too tight for Leon to make his Cavs debut. Looking forward to when it does happen.
Alright, that’s all for tonight. Until tomorrow, campers.