The game clock wasn’t functioning for the first four seconds of this afternoon’s game. The refs quickly stopped the game and basically started over from scratch, running the elapsed time off the clock. Maybe, in the alternate universe where that Kings possession continues uninterrupted, the Cavs play coherent basketball and push hard for longer than a quarter and change. Maybe the stoppage dammed their energy and they were unable to get it flowing again. Maybe the team was swapped out for very convincing lookalikes in the first quarter when my TV died for five minutes, because Cleveland was run out of the worst gym in the NBA by one of the worst teams in the NBA.
It wasn’t a blowout from the jump. Luol Deng scored a quick five points, and Irving and Varejao took advantage of his spacing capabilities and moved the ball around more than Cavs fans have been used to. This lasted the duration that the starters played, and the bench pressed on in this vein. Dion Waiters found Tyler Zeller for three nice dunks, two of which came off fast breaks. However, the defense struggled mightily with the Kings physical advantages. Isaiah Thomas was too fast for Kyrie, DeMarcus Cousins was too big for everyone, and Rudy Gay was too athletic for Deng. The Kings and Cavs are oddly symmetrical; point guards that bookended the 2011 draft, streak shooters at the two, athletic small forwards who attain a facsimile of completeness, solid if situationally underachieving power forwards and versatile, skilled centers.
Anyway, after C.J. Miles hit a halfcourt shot through a double team to end the first quarter, the Cavs facade started to chip off. Jimmer Fredette shook Jarrett Jack off of him for two threes that gave the Kings a seven point lead, the first real run of the game. The Cavs kept it fairly close, but the Kings athleticism was too much to contain. Led by Cousins, Thomas, Gay, Derrick Williams and Ben McLemore, the Kings blocked shots, clogged lanes, ran, rebounded and dunked their way to a 59-50 halftime lead. Kyrie Irving was 1-7 with two points, and the offense was mostly high post stuff and long, contested twos. He ended the half with two missed free throws, a callback to one of the meetings between Sacramento and Cleveland last year, when he iced the game with two made free throws at the end. Parallel timelines, I’m telling you.
The second half Cavs came out and played like Mike Brown had finished telling them “You get basketball points by SCORING, not PASSING!” and dribbled around and shot aimlessly for a while. Kyrie made a quick steal and then an assist to put the game within 12 with seven minutes left in the third, at which point I wrote ‘Momentum shift???’ in my notes. There was one of those, but it was a pure unraveling on the Cavs’ part. They managed three points for the rest of the quarter, while the Kings scored 19. Sacramento worked through DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay on offense, who overpowered their defenders routinely. The Kings clearly smelled blood and kept their starters in while the Cavs turned towards their bench. The Cavs were powerless on defense and sludgy on offense. The Kings ranked 28th in the league in defensive rating before this game, but flummoxed Cleveland with their activity and work rate. Of course, the Cavs flummoxed themselves with an array of straight-faced contested jumpers and lazy passes. You could tell the team had visibly given up as Isaiah Thomas drove into the lane and finished over three half-jumping Cavs defenders to dot a 14-0 burst.
The Kings started the fourth quarter with a quick salvo that signaled the immediate onset of garbage time. They scored 15 points in less than three minutes with all threes or and-ones and the Cavs were cooked. Both benches were emptied, and Anthony Bennett looked about the same as he has all year. Travis Outlaw even got to spike one of Big Daddy Canada’s tries. The crowd got free tacos and Cavs fans got free DVR space.
– The Cavs let Sacramento shoot 51.3% and 50% from three. The Kings are nominally one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA.
– The Kings broadcast team continually focused on the Isaiah Thomas – Kyrie Irving matchup, which has some intrigue after the widespread offseason discussion about their relative skill levels. If you hadn’t watched either before, or known about Kyrie’s all-star nod, you would definitely have agreed with them. Thomas was smooth and lethal from everywhere on the court and Kyrie didn’t do anything except show up.
– Sleep Train Arena does a ‘Bongo Cam’ (like a kiss cam but with invisible bongos. I’m sure they aren’t the only arena), which provided the only humor of the day after watching the Cavs sputter and sleep their way through the game.
– Tristan Thompson struggled when matched up against stronger players, especially when he tried to do his signature ‘drive to the right and half hook’ move. DeMarcus Cousins, who has 40 pounds on TT, easily pushed him away as he moved laterally, which turned six-footers into nine-footers.
– Austin Carr always insists the Cavs should run more, an assertion which is somewhat off the mark, since running is only effective if you have guards who finish well at the rim, which the Cavs don’t. However, the bench unit maybe should explore this tactic. They looked at their best when they were on the break, and that unit doesn’t have anyone who likes to pass besides a hobbled Jarrett Jack. The ball would at least stick less if the team tried to press rather than rely on substandard creators.
– It seemed like nice timing for Luol Deng to start his Cavs tenure by visiting the worst two teams in the west, but then today happened.
– DeMarcus Cousins looks like a legit all-star, and Rudy Gay is finally showing he can play efficiently. The Kings are a fun team.