Kyrie Irving loves playing against the Knicks. Tonight was no exception. Irving showed why he was a 2012 all-star with a 37 point, 11 assist, 1 turnover virtuoso performance. It helped him a little that the Knicks have the worst back-court in the NBA, and that Mike Woodson’s just trying to get fired at this point. But, this is the Kyrie Irving we’ve been waiting for: the guy that played like one of the greatest 20 rookies of all time and looked like a wunderkind as a pre-all-star break sophomore. This was a fun win.
This game really wasn’t as close as the score. The Cavs raced out to an 18 point lead in the first 11 minutes, keyed by very aggressive play by Kyrie, solid defense, good ball movement, and an extended stretch where Knicks starters were checking the fantasy football waiver wire while playing. Ray Felton was looking at his phone for the first five minutes! Anyway, Dion Waiters came in off the bench in the late first, scored two quick baskets, and then caught the turnover virus: coughing the ball up 4 times in the next ten minutes, including a doomed trip along the baseline and a pass to no one that got Dion yanked.. Dion went to the bench with the Cavs up 40-32, and then the rest of the Cavs caught the turnover bug and went ice cold, going scoreless over the next five minutes. Fortunately KI closed the quarter well, scoring or assisting on 8 straight points, to end it up 45-48.
Bynum struggled, air-balling his first shot, and then charging on his second post up. Fortunately, Alonzo Gee had one of his best quarters of the year. His critical steal led to a fast break and an oop slam for him from Kyrie. Then, T.T. absolutely split the game in two with a one handed tip slam off a 3 point miss from Miles. The Cavs started finding their rhythm after Tristan got the crowd off their feet, and Irving just poured it in: jumpers, drives, ridiculous layups in transition, and that three stroke that’s been absent all year. When he missed, Gee was there to put it back. Alonzo’s energy in the quarter really helped the Cavs take off. On defense, Irving was still making some questionable decisions, and Pablo Prigioni put him pick and roll blender to get four straight assists, but Pablo was helpless to try to guard KI. Kyrie smoked him with drives, soul-destroying crossover sequences, and silky pick and roll assists to TT. (FYI, Switch Maple Smooth has dubbed his little push shot “The Mountie”). Irving’s brilliance allowed the Cavs to end the quarter up 81-65.
Every team needs unselfish passers. Watching Andy and Delly run the two man game is heartwarming like a 30 for 30 commercial… “What if I told you that the Cavs best rookie was an undrafted Australian? That Anderson Varejao is the best bench big in the NBA?” We need a name for the Andy/Delly movie… maybe, “Coifs of Glory.”
Jarrett Jack kept filling it up with points from the corner, the elbow, and (gasp) at the basket. He’s heating up as he’s apt to do in December. Jack finished with 17 points in 24 minutes off .91 TS%.
Kyrie returned at 7:26 in the fourth, with Cleveland nursing a comfortable 18 point lead. He proceeded to put on a show by scoring 10 more points in the next 5 minutes,. The “heat checks” would not miss. The Cavs traded baskets with the Knicks who were unabashedly chucking threes as fast as they could. Up 16 points with 98 seconds left, Mike Brown decided that the lead was safe and sent in the scrubs. He must not be convinced, like I am, that the world will end not with a bang, but with the whimper of an Anthony Bennett garbage time bucket. Fortunately, it did not.
I don’t want to tell teams how to beat the Cavs. I’m a little worried that Lawrence Frank might read this in his free time, and put it in one of his daily reports, but Mike Woodson ran about the worst defensive scheme that could be run against Kyrie Irving. He really might be trying to get fired. Why in God’s name would you leave Prigioni and Ray Felton on Kyrie when you have Iman Shumpert guarding Alonzo Gee? I guess the defensive concept of “put your best perimeter defender on Kyrie” isn’t a strategic revelation. This was the easiest D Irving will face all year.
Anderson Varejao could easily be averaging 16 points and 14 boards for most teams in the league if he played 36 minutes a night. Hell, he’d get that on the Lakers with his current minute count. He won’t get a sixth man of the year nod because the Cavs don’t let him score enough, but the guy is so ridiculously efficient that he ought to be acknowledged. 9 points, 3-4 from the floor 3-3 at the line, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and no turnovers. When Andy touches the ball, good things happen.
Alonzo Gee: energy, hustle, defense, dunks in transition, offensive rebounds, corner threes. That’s it. That’s the list. That’s all you need to do. Get a video of your third quarter and just watch it on your phone.
It was awesome to see the Cavs dominate the Knicks while Bynum had a bad game. Not that I want him to have a bad game, but it’s good to know that not everyone has to be on for Cleveland to win. Tristan had a good game, despite the lowish point and rebound count of 12 and nine. The defense got a bit sloppy at times, but he was solid when it mattered, and his tip slam broke the whole thing open. Also, C.J. looks like he’s finally recovering from that hammy. The 2-5 from three and 4-8 from the field was a welcome sign. He had a couple nice dimes too.
Nights like these are why Dion is better off the bench: if he doesn’t have it, you can just sit him.
The refs were obviously effected by this cold weather. I counted five blown loose ball possession calls.
The Knicks straight up suck. It’s Melo and a bunch of awful players. The Nuggets own the Knicks’ pick in 2014 and it’s unprotected. Atlanta has the right to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2014 — also unprotected. Adam Silver may soon enact the “Dolan/King” rule to save teams from their own idiocy. Ted Stepian’s infamy may finally be surpassed.
Three weeks ago, the Cavs would have struggled to beat this team. After losing the lead by playing down to their level, they would not have stepped on the Knicks’ necks to take the game over again. The Cavs are heating up.