Wow that was unnecessarily tense. The Cavaliers lulled everyone all to sleep, before graciously allowing the Wolves a chance to steal this one right at the end. It was a very gentlemanly move, but it was far too kind for the world of NBA basketball. Perhaps the Wolves realized Cleveland was being too generous, as Kevin Love missed a potential game-winning three pointer right at the buzzer, allowing the Cavs to exhale and move to .500. The loss was the first of the season for Minnesota, meaning the Cavs are transitively the NBA champions of the first week or something. Good work team.
The Cavs laid the foundation for the game-long lead towards the end of the first quarter, where Andrew Bynum scored six of his 10 to close out the frame. The Cavs mostly-stellar bench extended the lead to 15 and it held up for a while. Rotations were tight and consistent, as they’ve been all season. Andrew Bynum and Jarrett Jack were the first dudes off the bench, followed by C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee, and Anthony Bennett. This second unit worked well to expand and solidify the lead against Minnesota’s lackluster bench. Miles torched starters and reserves alike for 19 points, including a big late three to stem the tide of the fervent Minnesota run.
Late-game Derrick Williams shenanigans aside, the Wolves’ bench was a non-factor. On the second night of a back-to-back, their starters played the entire third quarter and most of the fourth as well. It was pretty entertaining to watch Gorgui Dieng’s cameo against Andrew Bynum. He fared about as well as you’d expect, with three fouls in three minutes. The Cavs finished the half with a smaller version of the starting lineup, as Mike Brown swapped Earl Clark (who made three quick buckets then did nothing else, finishing with only 11 minutes) for Jarrett Jack. This lineup moved the ball well, utilizing the distribution skills of their three excellent passers (Jack, Irving, and Varejao).
The foundation for the Cavs success was defense. They held Minnesota to 36.2% shooting for the game and nobody truly looked dangerous except for Kevin Martin, who had all five of the Wolves’ threes. Kevin Love had a good statistical game, but he was pressured often and did not find himself with much room to work. Individual execution wasn’t as sharp as it maybe should be, but this team isn’t exactly stocked with a lot of defensive talent. The scheme worked and the trend of shading over to offer weak side help proved very effective. Andrew Bynum protected the rim and finished with a game-high three rejections, a nice treat for block-starved Cavs fans.
This defensive aggression paired well with an excellent night on the glass. The team grabbed almost twice as many rebounds as the Wolves in the first half, but the overall stellar night was smudged by the debacle of the last five minutes. For most of the night, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson seemed to smother the ball on every miss and rapidly find a point guard to initiate a medium-sized break. Towards the end however, Love and Pekovic grabbed many Wolves misses and made the Cavs pay.
Kyrie Irving endured nine turnovers tonight and did not seem his omnipotent self yet again. This feels like an adjustment period for Irving, as he is learning to play with eight new teammates. There were two crucial botched fast breaks in the last three minutes, each a three-on-one Cavs advantage. Both ended with Wolves points on the other end. If the Cavs convert those easy buckets, the game ends on a less frightening note. With the Cavs holding on to a one point lead with 30 seconds left, Irving called for a clearout and shook J.J. Barea off of him, but missed the 12-footer. Barea almost lost his dribble and was forced to eject to Love on the perimeter. The bearded all-star missed and the Cavs left with a win and a serious teaching moment for Mike Brown.
A few notes:
- Dion Waiters made me grab my computer like in frustration like an angry parent grabs the face of their misbehaving child in movies. He had a few nice drives, but also a couple of gratingly poor fadeaways.
- Tristan Thompson plays well next to both centers. His mobility pairs nicely with Varejao’s and the two of them can both go inside-outside to give the offense a few different looks. When he shares the floor with Bynum, he slides into a more traditional power forward role.
- Derrick Williams moves his feet really close together and splays his knees when he shoots jumpers. It looks like he’s trying to make himself appear to jump higher.
- Andrew Bynum grabbed an eight foot-high rebound with one hand extremely casually in the second quarter. He is quite tall, that fellow.
- Bennett has now gone four games without a field goal. He is 0-15 for the season/his career. I barely remember him touching the ball, except once when he was posting up, lost the ball and ended up hoisting a 28-foot airball as the shot clock expired.