Overview: In a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate, the Houston Rockets blitzed the Cavaliers behind James Harden’s performance. Harden had 37 points and 11 assists in just 29 minutes of playing time, and shot 9-15 from the field and 14-14 from the free throw line. Dion Waiters led the Cavs with 26 points on 11-20 shooting, Tyler Zeller scored a career-high 23 points, and Matthew Dellavedova had his second consecutive 10-assist game.
The bottom line on this one was that the Rockets absolutely played the game they wanted to play, and the Cavaliers got caught up in it. I thought the switch from Byron Scott to Mike Brown would bring in some change defensively, but that simply hasn’t been the case this season. The Cavs are tied for 18th in defensive efficiency this season, and they haven’t really been able to make their opponents feel their presence on defense at any point. The Rockets were running, gunning, and getting to the line, and the Cavs couldn’t do much to stop it.
The Rockets pushed at every opportunity, launched a 3 whenever they got a chance, and wore the Cavs down with a parade to the free throw line. The Rockets put up 118 points, and only 10 of them came on mid-range jumpers — the rest came in the paint, on 3s, or at the line. James Harden, of course, was the biggest issue for the Cavs. He really is something to watch when he has it going. He was pulling up for 3, he was slicing into the lane with that slinky dribble at will, he set up his teammates, and he found contact and didn’t miss when he went to the line. Of his 37 points, only 2 came on a mid-range jumper. He set the tone early, and the Cavs never really got back into the game after the Rockets opened things up with a 17-4 run.
The Cavs had a lot of players end up with nice box score lines because of the speed of the game and the fact that, for the second straight game, they were able to turn garbage time into really-dirty-thing time with a late run when the game was all but completely out of hand, but they really did get beat up by the Rockets. Still, the furious pace of the game did allow us to see some good stuff from a few Cavs.
As I mentioned, Tyler Zeller had a career-high 23, and I like how he’s been playing lately. He’s not settling, he’s looking surprisingly authoritative around the basket, and he’s showing that energy we’ve been waiting for. Hopefully he can build on this, and maybe develop that jumper a bit more, because I don’t think Hawes is much of a long-term answer at the pivot spot.
Waiters is proving that he is most certainly an above-average NBA rotation player — when he wants to get 20 or more, he gets it. It might take him a few more shots than would be ideal to get there, but there aren’t a ton of guards in the league who can do that, especially ones that usually come off of the bench. I feel like I’ve more or less said my piece on Waiters — I’d like to see him improve on a few things, namely his ability to finish at the basket, but the main problem is that he doesn’t have enough guys setting him up for open 3s, spacing the floor for him to go to the basket, or protecting him on defense. If the Cavs can get those things in place, he’ll be truly dangerous instead of a guy who can do a passable impression of a #1 option on offense — call it the Monta Ellis theory.
Seth Curry is here! Only 9 minutes, and his only contribution was hitting a 3, which is something we all knew that he can do. It’ll be interesting to see if he shows anything during his 10 days.
Dellavedova’s 3-point shooting and passing continue to look good, although his defense didn’t have much of an impact on Saturday.
That’s about all I have for this one. The Cavs got run out of their building, and the playoffs are all but a mathematical impossibility at this point; before this game, Hollinger’s Playoff Odds gave them a 0.6% chance of making it in, which is basically the odds of any team still left in the NCAA Tournament winning the whole thing. Not great. Until next time.