Today’s matinee loomed large for the Cavs’ fleeting playoff hopes, entering three games behind Atlanta and trailing New York by 1.5, with none of the teams having more than ten games left to play. Normally, playing the Pacers, sans Kyrie, would look like another nail in the coffin of this season. In a brutal March that features 18 games though, Indiana has won only 8 of 16. Their offense is completely dysfunctional and their defense declined from “historic” to “very good”. Playing at the Q, it seemed the Cavs had a chance.
The game started beautifully, with Tristan nailing a hook shot and Dion splashing home two jumpers as part of an eight to nothing opening. The teams traded baskets, and when Dion nabbed a steal for a breakaway dunk, Cleveland led 14 to 7 midway through the quarter. In transition, Luol Deng tossed a sweet alley-oop to Tristan (Man, I wish the Cavs had more ‘oopers), then Andy & Delly entered. Those two tallied seven points over the final minutes of the quarter as the Cavs went to the first break leading 25 to 20.
The second quarter began with more Wine & Gold highlights. Dion got out in semi-transition and initiated early offense for an easy score, while Andy pitched in another four points. Eventually the shots quit falling though, as a 31 to 22 lead dissipated to one-point game, at 35 – 34. At that point, Luol Deng had enough; he wasn’t going to let his streak of four straight years in the playoffs go down without a fight. He quickly canned two jumpers, including an and-one, then grabbed a defensive rebound, took it the length of the court, and dished to Delly for a three. A little later, he threaded a bounce pass to Andy for a pick & roll score and found Tristan to draw a Pacer foul, as the Cavs secured their first double-digit margin, 45 to 34. Cleveland eventually pushed it to 13, heading to the half with the score 49 to 36. Dion had 10 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Deng posted eight points, three boards and three assists as part of a +15 showing. Jarrett Jack, Andy and Delly all played well, too, combining for 21 points.
As it pertained to the games outcome, the primary scare came early in the third quarter. Dion and Tristan both started the quarter 0 for 3, the team couldn’t rebound, and when Deng threw away a crappy pass, the Pacers narrowed the lead to six at 53 to 47. Fortunately, Indiana is a glorious disaster on offense right now. They scored 11 points over the quarter’s last seven-and-half minutes. Jarrett Jack drove & kicked to Hawes for a corner three. Zeller backed down David West for a nice post score. Then, Delly then took over, scoring on a transition run-out, drive & kicking for a Jack 3, then finding Tristan for another rim-rattling alley-oop! Indiana turned the ball over five times in six minutes as Cleveland surged to a 73 to 58 lead.
And the fourth quarter was one of those rare Cavs wins when there was no crunch time. The game was never really in doubt, as the Cavs took care of business and the Pacers imploded. Delly kept dominating, like only he and Chris Paul can, finding Dion for assists on back-to-back jumpers as the lead extended to 17. Then, the Pacers really started losing their composure. David West threw a shoulder into Delly, leading Spencer Hawes to have some words with Mr. West. The Pacer power forward shoved a hand into Hawes’ grill, leading Dion to start jawing at West, and the official to call a flagrant foul on Indiana. Delly hit both free throws, Dion hit a jumper, the Cavs were up 21, and then…a sweet, slow cruise to victory. Indiana never got within twelve, as the Cavs won 90 to 76.
This was a big win tonight, putting the team at 30 for the season. They have won 14 of their last 26. Jarrett Jack looks resuscitated. Dion continues to prove his place on a competitive team. Playoffs or not, it is great to watch entertaining games in late March, with a team obviously full of pride and competitive spirit. Now, get Kyrie back, win six more games and beat the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs!
Hey, a guy can dream.
A few bullets:
- Andy left the game with two minutes remaining in the first half. It was initially reported as a shoulder strain. The Cavs play one game before Friday, when they face a potentially big game against Atlanta. If Andy misses any time, hopefully he is back by then. Kyrie, too.
- For the playoffs to be a reality, every game is pretty much a “must win”. The Cavs get two days off before heading to Orlando. That should be a winnable game, but I would feel 97% better if Varejao suited up, even for 20 minutes. The Cavs don’t play a team with a record better than five hundred for the next six games. Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Boston combine for a 0.344 winning rate. That is bad. The schedule is leisurely, too, with seven games in 17 days; both second nights of a back-to-back are at home, facing a team that is also on a second night of back-to-back.
- The season’s final game is against Brooklyn. Cavs fans need to root for Chicago between now and then. Hopefully, the final game is meaningless to the Nets and they rest everyone. Or better yet, forfeit (As I write this, the Nets have pretty well beat Minnesota while the Bulls lead by one in Boston at halftime.
- Why did Jarrett Jack wait until Kyrie got hurt to finally look like the player that the Cavs guaranteed $20 million? If he played remotely like he has in the last eight games for the full season, Cleveland would be looking pretty secure for the playoffs. Jack finished with 11 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds. In his last thirteen games, he is averaging 13.4 points on 56.5% true shooting with 5.2 assists and 2.2 turnovers.
- Luol Deng is finally finding his niche as a Cav, too. 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal tonight, including a pivotal stretch in the second quarter after the Pacers cut their deficit to one point.
- I really don’t want Delly and Andy to ever be separated again. Dellavedova finished with 11 points on 71% true shooting, with six assists as part of a +24 effort. His energy infects the game, generally resulting in good things. He is sneaking his way into the gotbuckets.com All-Rookie First Team. I know of no higher honor for an undrafted player.
- Tristan finished with 12 points and 16 rebounds. Sounds fine to me.
- Dion tallied 19 points. It took him 20 shots to do it, but he scored seven points in a two minute stretch of the fourth quarter, helping blow the game open.