This game was a “must win” for both teams coming into tonight, if either wanted to stay competitive in the playoff race. Unfortunately, the Cavs dropped this one with a combination of bad pick-and-roll defense, a lack of rebounding, and lackluster shooting. Zydrunas Ilgauskus’ jersey was retired at halftime. A vast array of former teammates and coaches were on hand to help honor him (yes, including LeBron).
“Danny Ferry came to me and said, ‘You know, you’re the only person that bring this group together in one room. Nobody else could…”
Also on the bench were former general managers Ferry, Jim Paxson and Chris Grant, former coach Mike Fratello, former assistant coaches Hank Egan and Melvin Hunt and former players Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker, Delonte West and Ira Newble. (Knicks coach Mike Woodson, a former Cavs assistant to Randy Wittman, obviously, did not take part in the ceremony.) The current Cavs players, including Anderson Varejao, also came out of the locker room to watch the ceremony, and Varejao and Ilgauskas embraced as it ended.
Fittingly, the humble giant gave the best speech of the evening. After the speech, Z’s father kissed the floor, crossed himself, and waved to the crowd. It was the highlight of the night in a game that was utterly forgettable.
First Quarter: Spencer Hawes came out blazing, scoring 11 out of the pick and pop game and out of the post to start the quarter. Unfortunately, Tyson Chandler matched him with layups, and the Cavs defense pretty much gave the Knicks what they wanted. Even more unfortunately, the Cavs guards were quite content to launch contested two-point jump shots throughout the quarter, and play at the Knicks’ pace. Irving was 0-2, Waiters was 0-2, Deng was 0-1, and Gee was 0-1 on long twos. Only Hawes scored outside of the paint as the Cavs were completely undisciplined on offense. New York was the beneficiary of turnovers, missed shots, and offensive rebounds. Deng played decent defense on Anthony, holding Melo scoreless — scary, since the Knicks were still up 23-19.
Second Quarter: Defense flew out the window as Melo heated up, the pick-and-roll d broke down. The Knicks were 11-17 in the quarter, and if not for Spencer Hawes, this game might have been over in the first half. Spencer for Hire made two more triples, but Cleveland did a poor job of closing out shooters, and the Knicks did a good job of forcing Cleveland to collapse on dribble penetration. New York set up their bigs for layups, or kicked out for three pointers. Anderson Varejao made an appearance and looked mostly like his old self, but he couldn’t help Cleveland rebound either, and he couldn’t help Jack and Kyrie from playing defense like bullfighters waving a red flag.
This quarter would have a total loss if not for a sweet Gum Drop Bear reverse slam early on, and Kyrie single-handedly taking Cleveland on a 7-0 run to end the quarter, including a sweet and-1 with four seconds left, to cut it to 58-50, Knicks.
Third Quarter: After a very long halftime ceremony honoring Z, the third quarter started off slowly, with both teams cold. After a scoreless 2:30, Irving hit a three to break the seal, working with Hawes on the pick-and-pop two man game. Melo canned a J, but Tristan and jack got in the lane to fuel an 9-2 run, and cut the lead to 1. But asking Jarrett Jack to guard J.R. Smith is a fool’s errand. Smith hit a three like Jack wasn’t there, and then the Knicks started dominating the offensive boards, which led to an Amare putback, one of many.
From out of nowhere, Deng, who’d been cold all night, hit twin threes from the opposite wings. He even heat checked (a brick) after those two. But Jack fell over while trying to cover Smith, and J.R. splashed for three more from the left wing. The Cavs kept it close by getting inside. Irving scored on the C-cut off a nice feed from Deng, and Jack got into the middle for two teardrops at the end of the quarter. The Cavs were up 76-74, going into the fourth.
Fourth Quarter: The Dion Waiters show started the quarter. First Dion hit a no-no-no-YES! Jumper from 21, and then he put this filthy move on about four Knicks for a layup. But Dion forgot to read his scouting report on Prigioni, who countered with a three that he needed no space to get off, and then J.R. Smith just launched from 29 feet over Jarrett Jack who did not expect to have to guard J.R out there. Stoudemire scored on a putback again, and then the Cavs went cold. Cleveland scored three points in the next four minutes: a Waiters free-throw, and a 15-footer from Gee. Hawes and Irving piled up misses, and the Knicks rained threes: Prigioni (cover him, already) and Anthony this time.
Now when I say the Cavs went cold, what I really mean is, holy crap, Iman Shumpert must have pictures of someone from tonight’s officiating crew, because he fouled Spencer Hawes on two plays in this stretch where he came through Spencer’s arm for the foul, and no call was made (here and here). It was pretty ridiculous. Meanwhile, the Knicks were falling over from loose ball fouls, and the refs were sending New York to the line.The frustration was clear in the Smith living room and on the players’ faces.
Irving cut the lead to seven by throwing his body into someone and finally getting a call, with 3:38 left. But Cleveland couldn’t get stops. Two straight abuses of Kyrie by Ray Felton in the pick-and-roll led to a Chandler dunk and a Felton teardrop to seal the deal — stretching the lead to 11 with two minutes left. Some garbage time buckets, including another Smith three-pointer mercifully ended this game.
- Tristan Thompson kind of disappeared in this one, especially on the boards. Four boards and 3-8 shooting, is not going to win against the Knicks, especially when TT spent much of the night going against Amare and his knee full of deer antler spray. Amare played a fantastic game with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks. Tristan had his weak shizz rejected on multiple occasions, and was a major factor in this loss, as was the Knicks 49-37 rebounding advantage.
- Kyrie has gotten great at sensing when defenders are off balance, or are in poor defensive position, and throwing himself into them to get to the line. He did it throughout the evening.
- Pablo Prigioni’s 11 points really hurt. He was the lone bench player to really impact the game, and most of this was on Dion, who just didn’t close out a guy who’s known as a three point shooter.
- Dion Waiters took a lot of stupid jump shots in this one, too. His -9 was a team low.
- Hawes kept Cleveland in this one with his offense, and frankly, he should have gotten more shots. Kyrie was 11-25, and if five more of those had gone to Hawes, it would have been smart. Hawes seems to not be as effective shooting, late, but he got jobbed by the officials. As good as he is on offense, he does not have the range, defensively, to play against a long, athletic big like Chandler, especially when he’s trying to cover up Kyrie’s mistakes. He’s just not a good enough defensive disruptor to be able to protect Kyrie and Jack and defend his own man.
- Andy looked solid in nine minutes: four points and three boards. The hug Wild Thing had with Z at halftime was pretty dang cool. I read that those two like to go fishing out of Sandusky. I’d pay a hefty sum to get on that boat. Get healthy, Andy, and lead this team to the playoffs. (I can hope, can’t I?)
- Brown’s substitutions were goofy in this one. The Knicks are playing their starters heavy minutes, right now, and instead of letting the bench try to push them, Brown played the starters heavy to compete with the Knicks. This was an odd decision considering the Cavs were on the back end of a back-to-back.
- Luol Deng’s long twos are killing the Cavs. Luawful was 3-12 tonight, with those twin threes being his saving grace.
- Irving wasted a lot of possessions tonight with long twos early in the shot clock, and contested threes. Kyrie finished with 30 on 25 shots. I realize his need to keep the Cavs in it, but those shots are not the way to do it.
Cleveland needed the last two games badly, as their schedule turns brutal this week. Sadly, the only team they can seem to beat right now is their bloggers. A loss couldn’t ruin the evening for me though. I’m glad the Cavs took time to honor how special Z’s career was, and it was great to take a walk down amnesia lane. I never thought I’d see Ferry, Parker, Delonte, LeBron, Boobie, and Andy all together in Ira’s Newblehood again. It made me feel bittersweet for what we had, and what we lost.