Man, another one of these games. Kyrie was sick, but played anyways. After tonight’s final quarter, we are all probably a little ill.
The first quarter displayed the perfect glimpse-of-the-future that we all hope for. Tristan made possibly the two smoothest plays I have witnessed from him; a drive right from thirty feet, finished with a beautiful lefty lay-up, and then his Kyrie impersonation: he received the ball at half-court, dribbled between his legs twice, started right, spun left, and finished with the left hand. It was pretty. In February, I expect to see him takedown rebounds, go coast-to-coast, and thread behind-the-back passes to streaking trailers. One great sequence included two of our favorite defensive foils: Tyler blocked a Nugget transition attempt, but Denver recovered. Of course, Kyrie poked the ball away for a steal, initiated the break and hit a trailing-Tristan for a two-handed SLAM! Later, Dion canned a three, drove and finished, and completed a fast-break and-one off a Thompson steal!! Tristan scored ten!!! Kyrie had eight points, five assists, and two steals!!!! Zeller blocked two shots and also broke up an alley-oop!!!!! The Nuggets made eight field goals while turning it over nine times!!!!!!
The Cavs led 30 – 23. As far as the youngsters all putting it together at one time, this quarter may have exceeded all others this season. It was fun.
The second quarter was an extension of the first, albeit slightly less superb. Waiters scored six points early in the second, and the back-ups maintained the lead. Kyrie entered at the midway point and made things happen, including a sweet little righty drive with a lefty floater finish. The half ended with the Cavs up 56 – 45; Kyrie finished with 12 points, 7 assists, and 0 turnovers; Dion scored 14 on 6 of 9 shooting; Tristan netted 10 on 5 of 8; the team notched nine steals for the half.
The third quarter started reasonably well, before a typical pattern emerged. Tristan hit a righty push-shot and slammed home a follow-up; the Cavs lead 62 – 50. Then, the third quarter blues emerged. Denver started running and beating the Cavs before the defense was set; as Cleveland’s twelve-point lead unravelled, Denver had twelve possessions following a Cavalier miss or turnover – they scored eighteen points. Ty Lawson found Kosta Koufas for two bunnies, Danilo Gallinari was left alone for an open trey and later beat Dion for an and-one; suddenly the lead dropped to one. In a pivotal momentum preserver, on consecutive possessions, Kyrie drilled a three, then tipped a pass to force a turnover, before finding twine on a pull-up…lead regained. Javale McGee missed a few dunks, and Cleveland headed to the fourth with a 76 to 72 lead.
The Cavs started the fourth quarter struggling, so much so that Kyrie actually checked back in with nine minutes remaining. Dani must have been very happy; Kyrie immediately responded by scoring seven points in 1.5 minutes, including a looooong three. Cleveland lead 85 to 80 with seven minutes left. They were outscored 18 to 6 the rest of the way. Gee missed two critical free throws, and twice Tyler ended up guarding Ty Lawson on the perimeter, which ended badly. A-Gee and TT miscommunicated a defensive assignment, leaving Gallinari wide-open for a back-breaking three that gave Denver a 94 to 89 lead with thirty seconds left.
To me, the big story of the final stanza was the team’s continued reliance on the one-man game. Kyrie took and missed four shots in the last several minutes. None was an assisted look. Others were also guilty. A small red-flag went up for me in the first half, when I noticed that Cleveland had 9 assists on 24 made field goals. The second half featured 3 assists on 13 baskets. Not good, and the team needs to institute something that vaguely resembles an offense.
A few bullets:
- Cleveland took the wrong end of the officiating tonight. The Nuggets shot twice as many free throws. Tristan picked up three fouls in the first two minutes of the second half.
- There were a few nice individual efforts. Kyrie finished with 28 points, 7 assists, and 5 steals. His defense has looked appreciably better. Notice that all his assists came in the first half though. Dion was aggressive and scored 18 points on 59% true shooting. Tristan finished with 16 & 7, but despite twelve field goal attempts in the paint, he never shot a free throw.
- Tyler Zeller drew two charges, keeping himself firmly entrenched in the NBA’s top-ten for that stat.
- Alonzo Gee’s defense early against Danilo Gallinari was pretty bad. He also finished with only 2 points and 2 rebounds.
- Three weeks ago on Saturday, I asked for four wins by the end of this weekend. The Cavs obliged, thanks in part to their double-digit wins over Milwaukee and Atlanta.
- Dion has a tendency to start aggressive and if it goes well, then he seems to think “I’ve earned some jumpers”. Tonight, three of his five first quarter shots were at the rim. Zero of his eight field goal attempts after that were (he did get fouled once in the paint and made both freebies). He needs to keep attacking, dribble a little less, and shoot fewer long twos.
- Cleveland was horribly outrebounded: 56 to 35.
- Denver assisted on 24 of their 36 field goals.
- Luke Walton played 23 minutes.