The Cavs played one of their best games of the season despite missing Anderson Varejao and C.J. Miles (or, #1 and #2 in terms of +/- this season). Pretty much everything that has plagued the Cavs was nonexistent tonight. They competed for 48 minutes, they were unselfish with the ball, they generated easy baskets at the rim, they spaced the floor effectively, they contained DeMarcus Cousins, Mike Brown trusted his lineups to play long spurts, Dion and TT finished at the rack, and Anthony Bennett looked, not “ok”, or “coming along”, but like a #1 draft pick, and an excellent fit on this team. [deep breath]
The Cavs were attacking in the 1st quarter, with Kyrie Irivng and Dion Waiters looking to feed Deng, Thompson and Zeller (filling in for recovering Varejao). The Cavs energy was high the entire quarter. Dion splashed two spotted up rhythm threes after checking in. Tyler Zeller drained a 17 footer (rejoice!) but had his work cut out for him defending DMC. Henry Sims canned a Udonis Haslem jumper, which was gravy. The Cavs hung 30 on the Kings in the 1st and led by seven going into the….
2nd Quarter: ANTHONY BENNETT EXPLOSION!
Bennett splashed a corner 3 in rhythm, then another from the top of the key. (I woke up my baby girl and damaged my knee on a coffee table. The coffee table is fine.) A few possessions later he received a touch pass from Delly at the foul line in transition. He immediately and instinctively spun away from a charge and drew a foul. Soon thereafter he received a foul-line pass from Delly and drew a foul going in for a layup. After that, he bullied his way into DMC and was rewarded with an and-1. Cousins hit the deck like 2012-2013 Tyler Zeller would. Moments later, Bennett bullied into Cousins again, and DeMarcus had no recourse but to flop. After earning a charge call, a visibly frustrated DMC snatched the ball right out of Bennett’s hand and barked something. The Cavs had the last laugh as Henry Sims poked away an entry pass and banged the ball off Cousins’ knee and out of bounds on the next possession. In all honesty, I thought the “Bennett is improving” talk was somewhat quaint the last few weeks (he upped his game from historically bad to rookie bad), but watching the catch and shoot threes, the sick spin move, and the toughness around the hoop, I’m prepared to say we are now witnessing the first signs of a player with some innate offensive talent to go along with an impressive basketball body. It’s a hugely welcome sign.
Waiters flashed the talents that make him so dangerous, as he drew a foul on a wicked spin move (Cavs and spin moves this game – I like it!).
Matthew SuperDOVA continued to prove how effective an NBA player can be without ever looking to score. He kept the Cavs offense moving, was a pestering perimeter defender, came up with two great transition passes to Bennett (free throws) and Waiters (layup) and stole a few rebounds away from bigger players. I really love that guy. He is the guard version of Varejao.
The Cavs defense in the 2nd quarter was smothering. Henry Sims made a handful of hustle plays and the Cavs neutralized DMC. Offensively, the Cavs were dealing with a lid on the rim a bit (lots of good shots were rattling out) but their execution was good enough to generate easy baskets and free throws. Of their 21 made baskets, 15 were assisted, and a handful of their free throws attempts were the result of effective passes. Anthony Bennett scored 11 points on five shots and could have had more if he hadn’t missed four free throws. Mike Brown showed a willingness to ride his bench for a long stretch, and they rewarded him with solid play.
The Cavs started off the half with a nice interior feed from Jack, leading to the defense collapsing and the Cavs having the wherewithal to kick out to a wide open Deng, who canned the straight-on three. TT “got a (big) bird” in DeMarcus Cousins who slid off TT’s hip and landed tail-bone first into the hardwood. TT really carried the Cavs in the quarter. In addition to filling up DMC’s rage level, he speared a few manly rebounds, dropped a jumper, and had a strong putback. At least for tonight, he seemed to have better awareness of defenders when he corraled offensive rebounds. He pump-faked them out of position before going back up. TT’s strong start to the third quarter pushed the Cavs lead to 18 before the Kings fought back with six straight points. Jarrett Jack continued to execute a nice floor game, pushing the ball in transition, finally taking a shot (a floater that rolled in), and demonstrating pretty pesky defense.
Midway through the quarter the Kings started ramping up their defense and the Cavs started getting bogged down with two-man games and over-dribbling. On the other end, the Kings worked themselves into the bonus early. Thankfully they didn’t cash in very much at the line. Despite the loose ball fouls, TT continued flying all over the place, harassing the glass and baiting the Kings into watching DMC try to back him down (which stalled the offense more than it created easy opportunities). The Cavs answered the King’s energy with some lock down defense of their own – twice forcing the Kings into stepping out of bounds. They really looked like 5 players on a string for much of the quarter. Bennett knocked down a 17 footer in rhythm and the Cavs even tried to find him leaking out in transition. A beautiful highlight came at the very end of the quarter. After a Henry Sims offensive rebounds, the Cavs dribbled the clock down as Delly and Waiters had a brief conference near the half-court circle. After lulling the Kings into a misdirection, SuperDOVA found FREON backdoor. Waiters jumped, went under the hoop, brought the ball down, and spun in a reverse layup. Beautiful. The Cavs played the Kings to a stalemate in the quarter and entered the fourth up 12.
The start of the quarter featured a handful of high draft picks: Bennett, Waiters, Ben McLemore, and Derrick Williams. Dion added another highlight play with an attacking drive, spin, and lay-in. Bennett dunked off a nice feed from Luol Deng, as the Cavs big-men continued to slash through the middle of the paint as the ball-handlers rewarded their efforts. Isaiah Thomas led the Kings attack with some nice passes leading to a Ben McLemore three and a Carl Landry dunk. Bennett had an(other) impressive sequence where he tipped a missed shot off the backboard to himself, gathered, and went up strong, drawing a shooting foul. He did this admist three Kings. The crowd loved it. Off a Kings miss Waiters flew into the paint and drew a foul. His two free throws inflated the Cavs cushion back up to double digits. For an encore, Dion called for the ball off a steal and streaked up the court. While the Kings were in a chaotic state trying to switch from transition defense to man defense, Dion whistled a no-look left-handed pass to Henry Sims under the hoop. Sims got himself a bird and drew a shooting foul. You could feel the momentum starting to shift, and then, after another Cavalier steal, Kyrie Irving splashed a spot-three. The Kings called timeout, suddenly down 14.
But the Kings kept grinding and to their credit they never settled for jumpers. They worked their way into the bonus again halfway through the quarter. Fortunately, the Cavs offense kept finding easy baskets. Alonzo Gee recognized the Kings weren’t paying him any respect and drove in for an uncontested layup. Later, Waiters drove baseline and found a cutting Henry Sims with a sweet lefty pass leading to an uncontested flush. Moments later, Bennett splashed ANOTHER three – bringing the Q crowd to its feet for a roaring ovation (presumably over Bennett’s coming out party and not the chalupas his trey had bestowed on them). After a Rudy Gay layup, Dion exploded past his defender and popped a layup in the cylinder. No one can stay in front of Dion. DMC tapped it off the rim but the Cavs were awarded the goaltending points. The dagger in this game was Bennett’s three, but in case there was any doubt, Luol Deng canned his fourth triple as Bennett pinned down Luol’s defender, putting the game firmly out of reach. On to the bullet points.
-Zeller’s left hand is suddenly a weapon offensively – he drove left and slid across the baseline from the left side multiple times, finishing with the left each time.
-Jarrett Jack threaded a sick transition pass to Luol Deng in the 2nd quarter. Went between two defenders and spun right into Deng’s gut. He had a pretty nice game, despite the lack of points.
-Henry Sims continues to impress me when he gets on the court. He rebounds well, hustles, and even has a decent touch with the ball. In the fourth quarter he routinely made the correct back door cuts and filled into the open spaces to earn dunks, pop-shots, and free throws. Easy buckets are the key to winning in the NBA. It’s nice to see that Henry Sims seems to have a high basketball IQ to go along with a hustle gene. I give the Cavs (including Grant) credit for keeping Delly and Sims – both have been good pickups.
-For most of the game, the Cavs guards abandoned the overdribbling in favor of swinging the ball and running defenders around curls.
-Jack and Delly did a really nice job distributing interior passes that led to easy buckets or a collapsing defense (which led to wide open outsider shooters like Luol Deng and Anthony Bennett – who made the defenses pay).
-Mike Brown was less substitution happy tonight. He rode lineups longer that you would expect, which could be a decent strategy with this team still learning how to play with each other.
-Tristan Thompson showed excellent patience/awareness tonight upon reining in offensive boards. He carried the Cavs in the 3rd which, imo, is critical to the future. He can’t disappear for entire games. He has to make an impact and tonight he certainly imparted his will on the Kings.
-The Cavs, without Varejao, really frustrated DMC. Nothing came easy for the large and talented big man, and Cousins was visibly peeved all game.
-Matthew SuperDOVA had a solid game even if his threes didn’t fall tonight. Five assists in 17 minutes with zero turnovers to go along with great defense is all you can ask for out of your backup (and undrafted) point guard.
-I’ve hardly mentioned Kyrie Irving or Luol Deng. I thought both played very nice games, especially Deng. Kyrie has come under fire this season and often times the implied criticism is that he’s selfish. I don’t think that’s true at all even if it may appear that way during some of his overdribbling escapades. Tonight he was very content to let the rest of the team go to work. He didn’t force much and was happy to defer to Waiters (who was really feeling it offensively) and the rest of the team. He had six assists to only one turnover, had a few steals that lead to transition opportunities, and he spent a considerable amount of time playing floor spacer – which the Cavs really needed without Miles. He made 3 of 6 from downtown and showed good patience all night. He led the team with a +/- of +14.
-Luol Deng led the Cavs in scoring and I hardly noticed him. Maybe it’s because he was so smooth and played the way we’ve seen him play for years. Drilling four out of five three-pointers may have been a bit uncharacteristic but his floor game was great. He made some really big shots during the course of the game when it felt like the Kings were starting to gain some momentum. His defense was back too – he pushed Rudy Gay out of rhythm shots and Gay was only able to convert 4 of 12 shots.
-Dion Waiters had a hell of a game. He was electric for just about every moment he was on the court. In the 1st half he came in and splashed two threes right away (and they were good shots). In the second half he wowed the Cavalier faithful with a number of highlights including some nifty spin moves, that backdoor reverse layup, at least three left-handed whip passes off the bounce that led to easy buckets. And of course he’s still proving to be a much-improved jump shooter. He finished with a team-high eight assists, 20 points, and despite his aggressive attacking and play-making, he only coughed it up once.
I need to complain about something:
-I’m still not sure why Jack’s so hesitant to shoot in certain situations. Like, it’s fine to not want to hoist up mildly contested twos, but when there are less than five seconds on the clock and the defender is out of position because he chased you off the three point line – your patented two-dribble jumper might be the best shot. Kicking it out to someone that isn’t prepared for the moment is never a better solution.
In the present, this game was everything you could possibly hope for at this moment. The Cavs, battling the following issues: effort, chemistry, health, and maybe even talent – knocked each one of them out of the park. They played hard the entire game, they had thirty (30!) assists on 41 made baskets, they trusted each other and the coaches trusted them, and no player logged more than 33 minutes. We know Kyrie Irving is great, but we’ve all had serious concerns about the other three top-five picks – and all of them had excellent games.
If we travel into the future and look back at this game we may only remember one thing – this was the game where Anthony Bennett arrived fashionably late to the party. I’ve watched all these games this season, even the ones where Twitter erupts in fake euphoria because Bennett didn’t get his uncontested dunks blocked by the bottom of the rim and we have to find something (anything) positive to keep us going. I’ve never seen a player struggle as much as he has this season. Tonight, we don’t need to blow smoke up his rear or talk about him like he’s our cute little care bear that needs our unconditional support lest his confidence be forever crushed. He played like a BEAST tonight. Everything that a draftExpress YouTube video could possibly convey about Bennett was realized tonight. He was big and fast. He was strong around the rim – going right at DMC and sending him to the deck multiple times. He was fluid – he put the ball on the floor in traffic in the paint and drew fouls, he was raising up in one motion when he popped out for a jumper. He was instinctive – flashing a fancy spin move and some great counters in the post. He was fundamental – he was setting picks that didn’t whiff. He was scoring from everywhere – stroked 3 of 3 from 3 (is three of three from 3 easier on the eyes?) and his balance was pure – his butt wasn’t sticking out and he wasn’t falling forward the way Big Baby Davis shoots. He was athletic – he finished dunks and with his length bounced balls off the top of the backboard to himself. He smiled. The crowd gave him a standing O, not a Bronx cheer. Twitter ran out of ways to express its excitement in 140 characters. (this is my favorite) It was a great night for him and a great night to be a Cavs fan.