The Cavaliers escaped with a win over the Memphis Grizzlies over 53 minutes of ugly, ugly basketball, with both teams shooting under 40% from the floor and generally not moving the ball at all. Kyrie Irving finished with a game-high 28 points, including a game-tying layup with 19 seconds left in regulation, and Dion Waiters punctuated the game with a vicious crossover and one-handed dunk to put the Cavaliers up six points with 41 seconds left in overtime.
DELLAVEDOVA. Yes, he scored five points to Kyrie’s 28. However, I’m having trouble escaping the fact that I enjoyed the Dellavedova-led unit that started the fourth quarter for the Cavaliers than the Irving-led unit that ended it, even with Kyrie scoring the last four points to send the game into OT.
At the beginning of the year, we were seeing Irving at his worst. He was choking the offense, he was forcing shots, he was missing open shots, and his defense was, as usual, a negative. Now he seems to have settled back into his groove, as we all sort of knew he would, we have to face the reality that Kyrie Irving at his normal level might not be all that the commercials and All-Star votes would suggest that it is. Even tonight, when Irving was making his shots, he wasn’t getting the Cavaliers into any sort of an offense and making things easier for his teammates. Some of that blame falls on Mike Brown’s shoulders, but the defense is not feeling Kyrie on possessions that don’t end with him shooting. And his defense is a real problem. Nick Calathes should not be getting 17 points and six assists on 7-9 shooting. Some of those baskets came without Irving on him — they were the easy ones. When Calathes scored when Irving was guarding him, it seemed like Kyrie’s mission was to stare at the back of his jersey after he made his move and learn to spell “Calathes” from memory.
Enter Matthew Dellavedova. When Dellavedova and Miles came in to start the 4th quarter, the Cavaliers had a different kind of energy on both ends of the floor, with Dellavedova swarming on defense and getting to loose balls and Miles running all around the court to set up his jumper on offense. If it wasn’t for the star power involved, that should have been the unit to finish the game. Of course, Kyrie came back in for Delladova, and a 74-67 lead turned into a 74-78 deficit. Kyrie made up for it with the two big shots, not to mention his piping-hot shooting to start the game and give the Cavs an early lead, but lord if I didn’t wish he had a bit more Dellavedova in him.
To love Dion Waiters is to learn to hate yourself and everything you believe in. The box-score line says that Waiters shot 7-21. The box score line is correct. That is not a good box-score line. However, watching the game, the glimmers of true offensive hope seemed to come from Dion Waiters. For all of Kyrie’s offensive talent, he’s more of an isolation player that will kill you with his jump shot more than he’ll craft an efficient offense out of thin air. Deng is an isolation player. Obviously, nobody on the frontline is creating any offense. Then there’s Waiters, who can seemingly get into the paint at will and get defenses — entire defenses — on their heels, but simply isn’t being put in the position to do so in the current offensive system. The best plays of the night came on three Waiters dribble-drives to the basket (two led to wide-open Irving threes, and the third led to that massive slam), and my modest proposal is that when he’s in the game, he should get the early touch and the screen or isolation to work with, with Irving off the ball to spot up or go on a secondary action, rather than have Waiters stand around and feel that he has to force shots.
Quiet game for Deng, who’s still recovering from the flu, and he’s kinda hard to notice even when he is filling up the box score. I’d like to see him in motion a little bit more instead of having all his catches be at the three-point line, but look what the players who had a full training camp are doing on offense.
Not a good night for Thompson and Varejao offensively, but they played Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to what was essentially a stalemate, so you’ll take that every single time. The Grizzlies really had nowhere to get points from when the Cavs closed off the paint on them, so kudos to the frontline for that.
Good Anthony Bennett: His lone basket came when he drove, got shut down, but beat his man back off the floor with a quick second jump and softly put the ball back in. I’m not looking for 20-point games out of Bennett, or even 10-point games. I just want spurts of promise, and I got one tonight. There was also the sequence where Bennett had an open three, hesitated, decided to swing the ball, and threw it directly to a rotating Courtney Lee, but hey. Baby steps.
Alright, that’s all I have for tonight. Until next time, campers.