The Cavs traveled to the nation’s capital amid stories of a contentious players only meeting after Wednesday’s lackadaisical loss to Minnesota. Dion Waiters was excused from practice Thursday for being “sick” and then missed Friday’s game and this game. The suspicion by myself and others is that Dion was told to stay home. That was just one of the swarm of story lines swirling around this game.
1st Quarter: The Cavs started Bynum, Thompson, Clark, Miles, and Irving, and made a concerted effort to get the ball to Bynum in the post to start the game. Andrew was 2-8 for the game, but had more than a couple shots just rim out. His teammates still don’t seem to know how to play with a post. There wasn’t a lot of cutting and getting to open spots… Defensively, Cleveland was flying around, blocking a lot of shots, and getting steals, but also giving up threes and lay-ups in transition, leading to a the quarter ending 25-18, Washington.
2nd Quarter: The Cavs bench came out cold to start the quarter, and Mike Brown responded quickly by staggering his starters instead of platooning as had been the case in the last few games. The energy level seemed there, but the execution seemed stiff, with Kyrie doing a lot of dribbling. But Kyrie seemed like a waterbug on offense and defense, darting all over the floor, and he helped keep the Cavs in it when the Wizards stretched their lead to 15. Irving and 3.J. keyed a 10-1 run to get Cleveland back. Bradley Beal seemed like the Wizards best player, with polish beyond his years: smart no-look passes, smooth jumpers, and general headiness. Dellavedova came in to play guard, and Kyrie moved off the ball with impressive benefits. Delly set up Kyrie with three straight triples and K.I. finished with 17 points in the first half. 49-45, Washington.
3rd Quarter: Lots of activity on the defensive boards and in the transition D early for Cleveland. The sense of urgency — lacking the last several games — had thankfully returned. Kyrie continued to be red hot and, TT hit a couple jumpers, and we had an Earl Clark sighting. Clark had a nice tone-setting block, a solid jumper, and was apart of the general feistiness around the basket. Delly came in early, and Irving moved off the ball. Delly continued to set up Kyrie in transition and looked really solid with the ball in his hands: confident in his dribble, looking out for teammates, with effort and hustle on both sides of the ball. But his shooting still looks rough. I really would rather Karasev be playing here, but I can’t deny Matthew’s positive effects on the game.
The Cavs went cold again when Kyrie went to the bench, and Jarret Jack-up-15-footers came into the game. Washington stretched the lead back to nine, but Jarret hit a floater and falling-on-his-butt rainbow J to close out the quarter, cutting the lead to 69-64, Wizards.
4th Quarter: Earl Clark! Started the quarter with a straight on three, off a pick and pop from Delly. Delly has a real knack for playing the point, but not pounding the ball. He gets it into the flow of the offense early, and hits guys when they’re open, instead of at the last possible second. Earl — again! — for three off a possession where every Cavalier touched the ball. Cavs went small for much of this quarter with Clark at the small, Andy at the five, and Jack, Irving, and Delly. Kyrie was just absolutely pouring points in from the line, off the dribble — where he burned three Wizards on one possession, and from three. He’d notched 28 with five minutes left in the game. Cleveland retook the lead when Clark hit yet another three. This was easily his best quarter of the season. The lead bounced back and forth, and back and forth until it was 82-80, Washington with five minutes left.
Crunch Time: Nene became the primary scoring option for the Wiz, as he consistently beat Earl Clark, who headed to the bench after a bad traveling turnover. TT returned, and the three headed Kyrett Irvavedojack guard monster continued to push the pace and get Cleveland into their offense early. Washington stretched the lead to five, and the Delly went to the lane, faked a pass to the right corner, and dropped in an absolutely filthy and fearless teardrop over Nene. That shot looked like it was launched some time in 1954. Kyrie followed with a free throw line J off the pick to cut it to one with two minutes left. TT picked up a trash ball that bounced all over the court, and slammed over Nene to take the lead!
Have to give Kyrie credit. He worked on defense this game: chasing guards around screens, trying not to get beat off the dribble; but he bailed out John Wall when he fouled him badly on a 20 footer which to a lead for Washington. Then Kyrie turned the ball over off the dribble, and Beal grabbed it and raced ahead. Andy, TT, Jack, and Delly raced after the break. Beal somehow got all twisted at mid-court, lost the ball behind him, fell on his butt, and Delly picked it up in an amazing moment of fortuitous hustle. Kyrie picked drew a foul on Webster and regained the lead at the line.
It was 90-90, 24 seconds left after a Nene free throw. Kyrie tried to beat Nene and Wall dribbling to his right off the pick and roll, and Nene knocked it away. Andy had a wide open look at the free throw line there, but one knock on Kyrie is that he never passes in last possession situations, which makes double teaming him a much easier proposition.
Thankfully, Washington had “taken a step” after they stole the ball with one second left. Washington was forced to try a full court pass play after the time out, instead of getting it at mid court. (Did anyone else know about this rule, cause I sure didn’t). A harmless Nene fadeaway from 25 fell short and the quarter closed 90-90.
Oooooovertime: Gortat tipped one in right away to take the lead, and Kyrie beat Wall and drew a foul on Nene driving from at an absolutely perfect angle to tie it at the line. After trading empty possessions, Andy found Kyrie in the corner who pump faked and pulled up for the lead! Then off a Beal miss, where K.I. left his man to close out, Irving pushed the ball up the left side. Delly set an unbelievably heady open court screen on Wall, and Kyrie pulled up from the wing for three. Great shot, and a great screen to push the lead to five with three minutes left.
Nene beat Andy on a left elbow post up to cut it to three. Next possession: TT got two straight offensive rebounds off Kyrie misses, Jack almost lost the ball and then he drained a left elbow pull-up! After a Washington miss, K.I. started another possession in the left corner, Andy got it up top, fed Kyrie with a bounce pass of the cut, then Kyrie hit a pull-up two to push the lead to a commanding seven with 1:30 left. After trading a series of misses and a couple meaningless baskets, the game ended 103-96, Cavs.
Thoughts: Cleveland finally made some adjustments on offense, moving K.I. off the ball and getting him on the move: setting him up as a scoring guard to devastating effect: 41 points, off 14-28 shooting, 9-9 from the line, and 4-7 from three with four boards, five assists, and two steals (and six turnovers). Much of the action late came with Jack and Andy running high pick and roll, and Kyrie cutting or shooting from the left corner. Kyrie’s defense was very engaged in the last quarter and overtime, and though he was beat a couple time,s he also helped out, forced tough shots, and most importantly competed.
TT had some huge plays to bail out possessions with jumpers and also had several key offensive rebounds late, and he finished with 15 and 12. The Cavs ran a ton of offense through Andy, getting him the ball in the high post off the pick and pop, and Andy delivered 6 dimes. Earl Clark looked much better at the power forward in the fourth quarter than he has at the small forward. Perhaps he should stay there.
I can’t decide what it says about Chris Grant that the Cavs’ best rookie so far is an undrafted free agent who only got a look because he played at St. Mary’s with Mike Brown’s son, but Delly played like a 10 year vet. He had definite chemistry with Irving, and shared Irving’s game leading +16 plus/minus score. He had only two points but added six boards two steals, and two assists. The score keepers definitely short changed him in the dimes department. He also helped cool off Bradley Beal in the second half. If Matt can get a consistent shot and scoring moves, he could stick in the NBA.
I don’t know what M.B. has against Miles but 16 minutes seemed like a low number. Jack and Delly got Miles’ minutes, and perhaps that was by design to get Irving going. The Cavs made nice adjustments, finally, to make the offense effective
Before the game, Mike Brown addressed the rumors that Dion’s absence was anything other than what the team has said it was.
“He’s been to the doctor twice,” Brown said. “Somebody says they’re sick, they go to the doctor, the doctor takes care of it and we move on.”
Well, that was unconvincing… But the Cavs played with energy and purpose. It doesn’t matter that they seem completely dysfunctional as an organization. It doesn’t matter that Dion and not Corey Brewer might have broken Kyrie’s nose and given him a black eye. It doesn’t matter that Cleveland had over 20 turnovers (again). It doesn’t matter that Jarrett Jack ticked off the Wiz by scoring a garbage time bucket with a 7 point lead and no shot clock. It doesn’t matter that the Cavs shouldn’t be too excited about beating the second worst team in the East (and thus avoiding that fate themselves). It doesn’t matter that Anthony Bennett racked up another DNP:CD. All that matters, for now, is that the Cavs finally won a game on the road, that they snapped a three game losing skid, and that superstar Kyrie Irving — the masked avenger — is back.
— Update —
This Jason Lloyd piece covers a lot of the Dion mystery, including the news that Dion has been demoted to the second team and about a billion other Cavs related bits… Strange days, indeed.