After back to back Danny Green Dunks (The Cavs drafted Danny Green) the Cavs called timeout. Byron Scott inserted Wayne and Luke and the Cavs promptly cut the Spurs lead to 4 after 1 quarter. Wayne Ellington nailed two 3s and had a layup off a Luke Walton assist.
Cavs go straight back to the Wellington. Instead of Luke feeding the hot hand, this time it’s Boobie finding Ellington for a sweet J and another triple. Boobie played the role of point guard pretty well in this quarter. Couple of dimes to Ellington then to 3.J. Then Dion drained a 3, Luke Walton drew a charge, and Greg Popovich had had enough. He got himself tossed, probably half incensed with the charge call and half trying to motivate his team to play some defense – as Dion Waiters was getting into the paint at will. It seemed to work, as the Spurs outscored the Cavs 22-11 after the ejection. They clamped down on D and forced the Cavs into some tough contested shots at the rim. Cavs attacked the basket pretty well against the Spurs, and earned 22 free throws in the process. They went into the half down 5 in high-octane scoring fest. 66-61 Spurs at the half.
Apparently the message at half-time from both coaches was – score quicker! Both teams came out pushing the tempo. Alonzo Gee scored on 3 straight possessions. On the last one, he pump faked a Spur defender into the 4th row and stepped through to hit a baseline J. Then the Cavs went cold – 2 minute dry spell and the Spurs pushed their lead to 8 before Mo Speights hit 2 free throws after grabbing an offensive board on a sweet Dion Waiters drive that just wouldn’t go down. Spurs announcers made mention of Tim Duncan abusing Tristan Thompson. Tristan seemed flustered all game – his free throws were flat, his touch around the rim abandoned him, and he had a tough assignment against the Spurs bigs. He was very active, in a chicken minus head sort of way. He threw himself into the action and rewarded the Cavs with some steals and crucial offensive rebounds. The pace of the game seemed to get quicker and quicker. After TT forced Splitter to jump pass before falling out of bounds, Gee picked off the pass and found Dr. Livingston for a fast break layup. Livingston runs and finishes so well on the break. Another facet of the Cavs offense that was non-existent until after the new year. Out of the timeout, the Cavs played some stellar D forcing Duncan to unwillingly give it up and then blocking Leonard’s layup attempt. Unfortunately, Leonard found Nando de Colo for a 3 off a twice broken play. Duncan just continued to dominate the Cavs interior D with an assortment of shots from a variety of angles. After Duncan banked one in off one leg, TT came back and tried a hook shot over Duncan but air-balled it. But give the Cavs credit – despite the Spurs seemingly always ready to blow the game open, the Cavs very quietly just kept on scoring. Mo Speights continued to bail the Cavs out with his usual deep jumpers. He played with a chip on his shoulder all game. Alonzo Gee went coast to coast through the entire Spurs team for an and-1 and then Luke Walton entertained with an OLD SCHOOL give and go with Livingston for a layup. Luke Walton and Shaun Livingston out-Spurred the Spurs! If Greg Popovich continued to watch the game from the locker room I have a hunch he got on the phone with R.C. Buford and told him to make Livingston an offer this summer.
Cavs came out in the 4th quarter, and went…BACK TO THE WELLINGTON – simple 2-man game with Luke Walton. The Spurs answered right back. The Spurs prefer to break down the D with interior passing and perimeter guys coming off curls. On defense they run everyone off the 3 point line, and the Cavs exploited it by putting the ball on the floor after a pump fake. Mo Speights really lit up the Spurs in this half. He bailed out the Cavs on a broken possession by bullying his way to the elbow, clearing his defender with the ball, and calmly dropping in the jumper. After the Cavs forced a steal on an out of control Ginobili euro-step, Boobie Gibson found himself alone on an island for 3 – but he either didn’t want to shoot it or didn’t have the handle. So he pump-faked the trailing defender, drove into the lane, and just when I thought he blew it, he found Speights with a behind the back pass and Speights dropped it in to tie the game at 98. Then Boobie hit an off-balance deep jumper as he was getting undercut by Stephen Jackson. Dangerous play, and ironic in light of Boobie’s comments about Dahntay Jones. When was the last time Boobie Gibson had a 3-point-play the hard way? Well, not today either, as he missed the free throw, but Ellington made up for it by hitting the technical free throw. (Stephen Jackson did not like the call). The Cavs took their first lead since the middle of the 2nd quarter. After Tim Duncan reminded everyone why his nickname is “The Big Fundamental”, Wayne Ellington drove from the top of the key, picked up his dribble around the foul line, and took two huge steps before laying in a crazy scoop. This guy can do everything! Of course the Spurs answered with a Kawhi Leonard 3: 105-103 Spurs and normally Uncle Drew time. But Uncle Drew was nowhere to be found. The Spurs tightened up the D and forced the Cavs into 3 straight bad jumpers, before Livingston and Ellington were able to stop the bleeding. Things started to unravel at the other end, too. After a few Tim Duncan buckets and assists, Boris Diaw took off from the 3 point line and threw down a 2 handed dunk. Boris Diaw. But just when it looked like the Cavs were going to fall, Shaun Livingston caught a pass under the hoop, made a nice spin to give himself an angle, and popped one in. And then, the Cavs played awesome D to get the ball back. The next possession featured a Walton backdoor feed to Livingston who threaded a behind the back pass (!) to Tristan who was fouled but there was no call. Maybe the difference maker right there. The Cavs fouled Tim Duncan at the other end and he drained both free throws. Spurs +6 with under 40 seconds. Livingston hit an impossible shot and then Walton was called for a blocking foul on Ginobili right after he crossed the timeline. It worked out though, as Ginobili only made 1 of 2. Dion came down and tried to be the hero – he ignored his teammates and drove the left side, before getting swatted by Duncan. Thirty points (on 13-19 shooting), 12 rebounds, 4 assists, and the 5th block for Duncan. After Livingston blew by his defender and dropped in a layup, the Cavs tried to trap in the backcourt and the Spurs cut right through it and Leonard got an uncontested dunk. The was the game – 119-113.
The Cavs played some pretty high level basketball for most of this game: lots of tight cuts, backdoor passes, enjoyable unselfish basketball, and active, if-not-quite-effective, defense. I really enjoyed watching this game. [It’s funny, the Spurs are by far my second favorite team in the NBA, and yet, I absolutely despise them when they go against the Cavs.] It’s hard to complain too much about the effort. After all, the Spurs are fighting for a number 1 seed and are almost unbeatable at home. And as much as it pains me to say, it might be better for the Cavs to lose close games. There are now 7 teams with 22 or 23 wins. Even if this draft is weak at the top, that is a cluster worth being at the bottom of. I really only have one problem with this game, and it’s a concern I’ve been voicing for some time now. The Cavs’ bench is the main reason for their success – and that bench is gone in its entirety after next season. In tonight’s game, the Cavs’ bench outscored the Spurs’ (rather formidable) bench: 53-40. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Mo Speights kept the offense afloat by himself for a few stretches of the 2nd half. He finished 7-13 for the game and had 4 blocks and 4 offensive rebounds. Wayne Ellington had an incredible game, finishing 8-13 for 21 points and +11 in a (not nearly enough) 23 minutes. And, in what is becoming more the norm than the exception, Luke Walton finished the game +19 in 22 minutes. PLUS NINETEEN in TWENTY TWO MINUTES. Plus nineteen in a game the Cavs lost. He had 6 assists, 3 steals, only 2 turnovers, and he actually played pretty good D against the Spurs’ big men. (Even when he went up against Duncan). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how effective Boobie Gibson was tonight. He only took two shots but had 5 assists and a steal in 15 minutes (+7). You could see he wasn’t quite used to playing with the Herculoids, as there was some mis-communication a few times, but he was pretty effective dishing to his teammates.
There’s no sense getting overly down on the Cavs’ starters. Thompson and Zeller were abused repeatedly but Gee had a really nice game, Waiters was pretty effective at least in the 1st half, and Shaun Livingston impressed all night – especially at the end when it looked like the Cavs would fold. He had 16 points and 5 assists. The problem is that the Cavalier starters just bled points. Here’s the box score – check out those negative double-digit differentials. It’s easy to look at this game and say, “the Cavs are really looking solid these days”. And maybe that’s true – or maybe the Herculoids are somehow the epitome of guys being better than the sum of their parts and the starters (the core that all our hopes and dreams hinge on) are struggling to put it together.