Early in the third quarter of this game, I was ready to write a recap about the folly of drafting an overweight, tweener power forward over a guard who’s a stat geek poster boy for offensive and defensive efficiency. I was ready to declare the Magic a prime candidate to deny the Cavs a playoff spot. Then Kyrie Irving woke up and joined Dion Waiters in the “oh yeah, I’m the best player in this arena” club.
Cleveland overcame a 16 point deficit, including a first quarter where they gave up 37. The Cavs were keyed by a dominating run of 23-9 over the final 7:20 of the third quarter. Led by some defensive intensity from the starting unit, TT, Dion, and Kyrie scored 23 points in just under six minutes by forcing turnovers, getting on the offensive boards, and beating a path to the free throw line. Sergey Karasev tied the game at 11:07 in the fourth with a silky 23 footer, and then Anthony Bennett exploded for 14 points in the final six minutes, hitting his last six shots to close out the game and totally destroy my thesis.
Let’s talk player grades.
Dion Waiters: Dion was razor focused from the starting tip, and the only player that kept the Cavs in it during the first half. He finished the game with 21 points, three dimes, two boards, two steals, five snarls, and only one turnover off of 8-13 shooting and 4-5 from the line, in an all-star like 25 minutes. He cut hard and caught the ball for crisp finishes in traffic, he hit jumpers within the flow of the offense, and converted on a nasty alley-oop flush from K.I. Dion moved off the ball fantastically and drove and found open players with regularity. Grade: Flawless Victory.
Kyrie Irving: Yawned his way through the first half, and looked tired until the 7:20 mark in the third. Early on, Jameer Nelson and Victor Oladipo lit him up from the outside, when Kyrie and the rest of the Cavs defended the penetration and the three point line poorly. Of course Kyrie’s sleep walking is better than most players waking moments, and he was scoring, but just not doing much else. Then after deflecting the ball from Oladipo and diving out of bounds to save it in the third, Kyrie and the rest of the team hit the “on” switch, started playing sharp defense, and turned the game around. Irving finished 5-16, 6-6 from the line, with 17 points and 5 assists. Grade: Super Star (power up).
Tristan Thompson: Beat a path to the free throw line where he went 6-10. His right handed free throw stroke looked better as the game went on. He scored around the basket, in transition, and on a nice play that was was half way between a pick and roll and a pick and pop: a pick and eight foot push shoot. TT’s definitely no longer afraid to get fouled. He posted a solid 14 points and eight boards in 26 minutes. Grade: Maxima.
Anderson Varejao: Andy did Andy things like getting four offensive boards, two steals, and deflections that keyed the Cavs run in the third. Oddly, the Cavs ran no pick and roll with him, and Dion didn’t seem to know what to do when Wild Thing set a screen. Still, A.V. looks just fine, and that’s all I need to know. Grade: Blanka.
C.J. Miles/Jarret Jack: Both had mixed bags on offense. Jack was just OK, Miles had a couple timely threes. Both were routinely abused on defense. Grade: Bad Defense = Rage Quit!
Sergey Karasev: Really like his maturity. Watched him on defense and he looked good, at least from an understanding a rotation standpoint. Saw him double team and then perfectly rotate back to his man. Saw him hustle back in transition and get a block on Vujevic. He never looked lost. Also, had some nice passes. And oh, he might have the most picture perfect left handed jumper I’ve ever seen. Seven points, three dimes, two steals, a block, a game high +9 plus/minus, and only one turnover in 14 minutes? Yes please. Grade: Strider.
Kenny Kadji/Henry Sims: Kadji was bad: 0-3 from the floor and only 1 rebound in 9 minutes. He looked like he was pressing. Much like Manny Harris for the Magic, he may have no shot to make the Cavs because of contracts, which could be causing him to try too much. Sims had a nice plays around the basket and let the game come to him a little more, but again, one board in 16 minutes is not acceptable from a big man. Grade: Ryan Hollins at a video game release party.
Carick Felix: Despite poor shooting, he had the absolute hustle play of the game when he chased a loose ball all the way down to the opposite baseline and threw it back to Jarrett Jack late in the fourth quarter. His defense seemed solid, and he definitely has an NBA body. Looking forward to watching him in Canton. Grade: 1Up
Victor Oladipo: I was ready to hard core troll you guys and Chris Grant with some Bennett over Oladipo hate. Oladipo looked awesome early, with a tip slam, a nice step in three, and eight boards. But Orlando is making a giant mistake trying to make him a point guard. He looks stiff at times, he has very little wiggle — most everything is straight line drives — and he doesn’t seem want the ball in his hands to set up offense. Victor seems to want to pass it and move. His four turnovers and only three assists are a sign of things to come. He’s playing out of position. That being said, the book on him was make him drive left. Well, he scored off a couple beautiful floaters driving to his left. He got beat by Kyrie quite a few times, but had a couple decent plays at the end of the game on defense. He’ll be just fine. He plays big, and his 18 points and eight boards show that he’d have solved the Cavs small forward problem this season. Grade: Sonic Jump.
Anthony Bennett: For three quarters, he looked earthbound, frequently getting out-jumped on rebounds, committing multiple fouls, and setting bad picks. He looked like a chucker: a player who would keep throwing up bricks no matter how many times he missed. Austin Carr was talking about how he needed to take the three point shot out of his game. Then, early in the fourth he looked gassed — barely even trying for rebounds. Mike Brown stuck with him, I’m assuming just to try to get him in game shape. Out of a timeout Bennett, took Nicholson into the post and threw up some slop off the backboard that went in. Then Karasev set him up for a three, that Bennett hit as I yelled “no!” Next, A.B. caught a pass on the left baseline and hit a no-hesitation turnaround on Nicholson. Nicholson tried to get it back by backing down Bennett on the other end. ‘Tony held his ground and drew an elbow for an offensive foul. The next four Bennett jumpers were perfect, and the Cavs won the game. So yeah, maybe drafting a barrel chested, 6’8″ forward with a 7’3″ wingspan, a guard’s handle, a lighting first step, and a jumper that he can shoot from anywhere was a good idea. Grade: LeeRoy Jenkins!