After an afternoon wondering whether a stomach bug claimed Kyrie’s evening, it served as a pleasant surprise for him to trot-out with the starters. The next seven minutes were less pleasant, as the offense looked stagnant, with neither Irving or Waiters looking to attack. While the Cavs plumeted to a thirteen to six deficit, Gee and Zeller combined to use eight of the team’s first fourteen possessions, while the young starters tallied one assist; this is probably not the recipe for winning basketball. The subs checked in, and the offense stabilized; Walton found a cutting Kyrie for his fourth dunk of the season, as the squads played evenly for several minutes. Then, with time expiring, Gee nailed a sixty-footer; 19 to 23 Cavs at the end of the quarter…easy stuff. Tristan performed solidly, with a couple of buckets and two nice passes, and I really liked the Kyrie back-door cut; Dion needs to take some pointers. Memphis piled-up ten assists though, as scoring was a little too easy.
The second quarter opened with the Cavs announcers discussing Greg Oden’s attendance at the game. Was he there visiting high school teammate Mike Conley…or were the Cavs’ brass wining & dining him? I think we know the answer to that question. The bench unit repeated a fairly regular routine of sweet ball and player movement resulting in easy buckets: a driving Livingston floater, a Miles and-one off the give & go with Luke, Walton from deep thanks to an Ellington dime, and finally the deadly Livingston fadeaway. Memphis kept answering though, and the score sat at 33 to 38 when the first-unit started checking in. Inspired by their bench brethren, the starters gained a lead and pushed to a 51 to 48 half-time margin. Overall, the first half effort was very well rounded, with nine Cavaliers scoring, and seven players dishing an assist. A-Gee lead the way with 10 points, while Tristan posted 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Dion Waiters had neither a point or an assist.
Then, everything unravelled. The offense atrophied, the defense wilted, and the Grizzlies sprinted out on a 14-to-2 run. Dribble penetration by Conley could not be contained and Marc Gasol unleashed a torrent of uncontested jump shots. Memphis registered nine assists, with Conley distributing six. Combining only one turnover and 64% field goal shooting pushed the Grizz to a 32-point quarter, and an eleven point lead heading to the fourth. The offensive display was pretty miserable, and we shall never speak of it again.
But then, it was time for the Herculoids, right? Well, um, only sort of. The first two possessions of the quarter were a perfect microcosm of what this group brings to the table. First, Walton tossed a sweet bounce-pass to a cutting Livingston on the baseline, who continued towards the basket, before kicking out to Miles for a wide open-three. Next time down, Ellington and Walton ran the pick & roll, with Walton catching a pass in the paint, before quick-touching it to Speights for a lay-up. One minute, two offensive sets, three players per play, at least four passes, all five guys involved, and a Memphis lead cut to six. The Cavs never managed to get closer though. Kyrie checked in and drove for a layup, briefly carving the deficit to four, but Cleveland couldn’t find enough stops or buckets from there out. Memphis cruised 15 to 8 over the final five minutes, eventually closing out their double-digit victory.
Tough loss, with all five starters finishing MINUS, and all five subs ending PLUS. Memphis has the NBA’s second-best defense though, and is on a roll, winning 11 of 12, with the only loss coming at Miami. It’s time to dust off the passports and head to Canada. We’ll be back on Sunday, hopefully covering a bounce-back game against the Raptors.
Onto a few bullets:
- Earlier today, Tom ascribed much of the team’s recent success to the bench. I claimed that a bit of an over-simplification, but tonight it was definitely true. The starting unit couldn’t generate anything, allowing Memphis runs at the start of the game and third quarter. The athleticism and individual skill level of the young guys exceeds their veteran cohorts, but hopefully while watching the bench, they perform ample note-taking about how to run a fluid NBA offense. This definitely applies to…
- Dion Waiters didn’t see the court in the fourth quarter, and that was deserved. In a two minute span during the third, he shot four free throws and threaded a nifty assist to Tristan. In his other eighteen minutes? Three field goal attempts with zero assists, with two of the shots being jumpers and the other an isolation drive to close the first half. He wasn’t bad so much as he was invisible; not sure what was up with that. Was he intimidated by Tony Allen? Is he sick? Does he need to figure out additional means to generate offense when paired against a vicious on-ball defender? Is it hopeless to think he will ever be able to play effectively with Kyrie (this last one is tongue-in-cheek)?
- The starters combined for 9 assists and 10 turnovers. The bench…10 assists and 5 turnovers. Kyrie flexed his muscles with 24 points on 55% true shooting, but unfortunately it was paired with three dimes and four give-aways.
- Not many members of the Wine & Gold played outstanding games. CJ Miles played impressively, with 13 points and 3 steals, including two and-ones, and a SUPER-MEGA Drive & Dunk. Tristan finished with an efficient, yet bare-minimum double-double; 10 points and 10 rebounds. His interior passing is much improved this season, and in addition to his two assists, nice interior passing earned a few trips to the free throw line for teammates.
- Alonzo Gee had some nice moments, but was trying (or forced) to create waaay too much offense, finishing with 12 points on 13 field goal attempts and a couple of fumbled possessions.
- Mo Speights dropped 9 points on his former teammates, but struggled to 1 of 5 shooting and grabbed only one rebound in 24 minutes. Wayne Ellington hit some big shots, scoring 7 points on three of five from the field.
- Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur sat with injuries, which opened up some playing-time in the Grizzly front-court. Who took advantage? Jon Leuer had 4 points and 3 rebounds on 2 for 2 shooting in 12 minutes. That would have been his best game as a Cavalier, right? Revenge is a dish best served cold, like the ice-water in Leuer’s veins.
- Mike Conley and Marc Gasol combined for 39 points, 16 assists, and 4 turnovers on 69% true shooting. They had their way with the Cavs defense all evening.