Overview: Despite showing inconsistent effort throughout the game, the Cavaliers were able to hold on late against the Pacers, 99-94. LeBron James came a rebound and an assist away from triple-doubles on consecutive nights, and Antawn Jamison added 17 points for the Cavaliers. With the win, the Cavaliers clinched the Central Division title.
-The Pacers kept pace with the Cavs by using a three-pronged attack of Roy Hibbert, contested jumpers, and exploiting the Cavs’ second unit. In the first quarter, the Pacers made 10 of their 17 shots from outside of the paint, including three of their four three-point attempts.
Some of the jumpers were on good looks because the Cavs fell asleep on Murphy on the perimeter, a few were shots by Earl Watson, Brandon Rush, and Dahntay Jones that the Cavs were happy to live with, and a few were Roy Hibbert draining hooks from the 10-12 foot range.
Hibbert was doing the most damage, which is understandable. When a strong 7-2 center with good footwork and touch with either hand goes up against a team missing its centers, there are going to be problems. He wasn’t getting layups against Varejao, which is about all that Varejao could have been asked to do. The Cavs brought a few doubles at Hibbert eventually, but they didn’t change up their entire gameplan and give the Pacers a chance to get hot from outside.
-In the second quarter, the Pacers went cold from outside, but were able to get in the paint against the Cavs’ second unit. The Pacers scored 10 points in the five minutes LeBron sat, with all of their points coming on dunks, layups, or free throws. The second unit is the squad that really feels the loss of Shaq; without him, they don’t have anybody who can defend the rim or get shots at the basket, and the bench has become much more of a weakness since Shaq got hurt.
LeBron actually compounded the problem by recording three turnovers and missing a shot on the Cavs’ first four possessions after he came in. When the dust settled, the Cavs were down 37-42, and Mike Brown decided it was time to have a chat. The Cavs settled down on both ends after that, and held a slim lead going into the half.
-In the third quarter, the Cavaliers absolutely dominated. They locked down the Pacers on defense, started moving the ball, and then LeBron got hot from the outside. LeBron hit four long jumpers in the third, and after his fourth the Cavs were up 76-61 and the game looked pretty much over. Unfortunately for the Cavs, they knew that all too well. LeBron and the Cavs started to play a little too loose, and the Pacers were able to catch the Cavs’ second unit napping at the beginning of the fourth.
-The Pacers went on a 12-4 run during the four minutes LeBron sat, which was enough to cut the Cavalier lead to 10. The Pacers kept draining deep jumpers and getting to the line, and the Cavs couldn’t get any of the open threes that fell against Detroit to go. With 4:13 to go, the Pacers had cut the lead to one.
-That’s around when LeBron decided that he’d had enough of this. LeBron found Andy for a layup, finished an alley-oop from Andy, and took the ball to the rack to put the Cavs back up eight. Then he took a horrible jumper, missed it, and promptly stole the ball back, went coast-to-coast, and found Jamison for a layup. After A.J. Price hit a three to cut the lead to four, LeBron hit a fadeaway in the lane to put the game away for the Cavs. In three minutes, the game had gone from scary to in the bag, all thanks to LeBron. Only Cavs fans understand that this statement is almost as much of an insult as a compliment, but LeBron is just too good sometimes.
-Riddle me this: LeBron almost never turned it over that much while he was running the point full-time, but with Mo finally back on his game he’s turned the ball over 10 times in his last two games.
-Brandon Rush blocked LeBron’s layup in the fourth to slay the decoy pick-and-roll. Congratulations to that young man. He defeated the Kracken. (By the way, would it be most helpful for me to refer to that play as the “Decoy Pick-and-Roll,” “My Favorite Play Ever,” or “The Kracken,” from now on? I just kind of like picturing the team going over to the bench and Mike Brown saying “Release the Kracken!” during a time-out. I’ll stop talking now.)
-Antawn Jamison’s trigger on mid-range jumpers is still too quick. The Cavs’ offense is capable of finding a better look than a 19-foot jumper with 15 seconds on the shot clock. If it’s wide-open, take it to keep the defense honest — this is how Big Z makes his living. But Jamison’s too eager to let that thing fly right now. Worst of all, I fear he’s become a bad influence on JJ, who’s off the mid-range jumper wagon right now.
-To be perfectly clear: STOP SHOOTING MID-RANGE JUMPERS, JJ. If you need one of Jerry Lucas’ memory books to remember this, that can be arranged.
-Anderson Varejao creates angles on the pick-and-roll so beautifully. I feel like we must remind ourselves of this every few days.
-I’ve noticed this for a while but can never remember to put it in a recap: Does Anthony Parker ever drive to his left? Ever?
-Jawad Williams makes the dreaded pretty mistakes. He handles the ball well, his stroke is very nice, he’s got good footwork. The issue is that he often uses those skills to set himself with contested jumpers off the dribble early in the clock, which looks nice on the micro level but is horrible on the macro level.
Worst of all, Jawad seems to be keeping Jamario out of the rotation. Jamario makes hideous mistakes, but he also brings a lot of very good things to the table when he plays, and he doesn’t need the ball to do it.
Bullets of Randomness:
-In day two of the “See? Trading for me wouldn’t have been so bad!” tour, Troy Murphy went 4-7 from deep, had 15 rebounds, and somehow made five assists. I still think the Cavs are worlds better off with Jamison — I don’t trust a 7-footer who can have a good game and shoot 2-7 from two-point range.
-A.J. Price does not lack for confidence. He’ll be a solid scoring guard if he gets a little bit more discipline — how does he take three more shots than Roy Hibbert in this game?
-From what I saw tonight, I don’t see how Mike Dunleavy’s career can be salvaged.