Overview - At halftime, I thought I’d be going with the tagline “Bogut: Australian for ‘it could’ve been worse.” But thankfully, Mo “Thanksgiving” Williams (think that’ll stick?) stepped up and saved the day. Also showing up for work was Byron Scott. His halftime speech must’ve involved threatening to withhold the turkey at his house tomorrow, because after an uninspired first half left his team in a 44-34 hole, the Cavs came out with worlds more energy in the second. And with the Cavaliers’ increased activity came defense, then tempo, and then, eventually, some decent looks at the basket. All of which got the Cavs back into the game, and gave Mo a chance to perform his heroics. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Thanksgiving is all about.*
Mo “Mr. Thanksgiving (‘s eve)” Williams - If the Cavs’ season was a turkey, Mo Williams just pardoned it. Considering the alternative to winning this game was to run the upcoming Orlando, Boston, Miami gauntlet in the midst of a four game losing streak. 21 second half points and game-winning, buzzer-beating heroics for Mo tonight. Not too shabby. I think it’s pretty apparent at this point that Mo Williams has to be the offensive catalyst of this team. Has to be. That doesn’t mean he has to come up with 25 & 5’s every night, but it does mean he has to be similarly aggressive. Too many times this season he’s looked tentative and unsure of himself. I’ll admit, coming in and out of the lineup with injuries probably isn’t the easiest way to acclimate oneself to a new offense, but Mo has to set the tone. Just look at his contrasting halves of this game:
4 PTS (2-7 FG, 0-1 3PT, 0-0 FT), 2 REB, 3 AST, 1 TO.
21 PTS (9-15 FG, 2-5 3PT, 1-1 FT), 2 REB, 2 AST, 2 TO.
And, for comparison’s sake, the Cavs as a whole:
34 PTS (15-41 FG, 0-5 3 PT, 4-9 FT), 24 REB, 9 AST, 6 TO.
49 PTS (17-35 FG, 6-16 3 PT, 9-10 FT), 16 REB, 11 AST, 6 TO.
Even when LeBron was here, the Cavs went as Mo went. Now, with a significantly smaller margin for error, that will be even more the case. The Cavs found some nice rhythm (relatively) in the second half by placing Mo in high screen and rolls with Andy, and it worked well to give the offense a focal point from which they could play off of. Mo’s not going to drop in 21 per half on a routine basis, but he can always be that aggressive, and when he is the Cavs have a far better shot at playing off him, and subsequently a far better shot at creating the tempo at which they can run/create early offense. He has to take it upon himself to set the tone offensively. He did tonight, and it was fun to watch when it happened.
Defense, energy, and the ability to clone Andy Varejao - This is the most important thing for the Cavs to take with them moving forward. That they need to play insanely hard, all the time. What worries me is that this isn’t some sort of grand revelation…we all knew this going in. So if it’s not happening consistently now, is it really going to happen consistently later? On the plus side, when the second half started the Cavs did bring the energy, and along with it some inspired defensive play. The Cavs held the Bucks to 41% shooting in the first half, but watching the game, I got the impression that it had more to do with the Bucks and their 30th ranked offense then it did to do with the Cavalier defense. In the second half, I changed my opinion. Mo handled Jennings beautifully (albeit on an off night), Boobie played inspired D against the much larger Salmons, and Andy was everywhere as per usual. There were a few really, gritty defensive possessions in the last few minutes that kind of reminded me of those 2007 Cavs teams that never scored in the final 2 minutes of a close game but somehow consistently won because they seemed to will the opponent into mistakes and missed shots. The Eric Snow teams. Well, that happened tonight, and it set the stage for Mo’s finale.
More on energy, and just flat out competing harder then the opposition… I don’t know if it’s even physically or psychologically possible to play with that type of intensity for 82 consecutive games, but that’s basically what the Cavaliers will have to do if they want to win half of them. Much easier to type than to do, I’m absolutely certain, but that relentless energy has to be the Cavs’ skill. That literally has to be their talent…the ability to play really freakin’ hard. There is a reason every middle of the pack team doesn’t win 41 games, and this is it…it’s really hard to play harder then the other guy every game of the season. But this is what Byron Scott has been preaching from day one, that he believes the Cavs have the ability to do that. So far, mixed results.
J.J. Hickson - I always have a J.J. Hickson bullet, even when he goes 1-4 for 2 points. I probably always give him a bullet because, in a lot of ways, he is the most important player on this team. Or at least the biggest X-factor. J.J. is falling into a little bit of a funk, and it was particularly evident tonight. This is his sixth consecutive low-impact performance, and if you watched the game, you saw J.J. struggling to find any comfort level on the court, and then compounding that by looking pretty frustrated, and almost sulky, about those struggles. He played 19 minutes tonight and Byron Scott obviously has him on a bit of a quick hook right now. It was inevitable that J.J. was going to hit peaks and valleys in his first season of extended responsibility, but I’m feeling kind of bummed about this. Byron Scott doesn’t really have a reputation as a nurturer of young players, and I wonder if he’s wearing on J.J. at all. That said, J.J. needs to take it upon himself to find ways to contribute until he gets himself back into the offensive flow. He needs to earn his 30 minutes on the floor, because he’s not getting them otherwise. Here might be a place to start… The combination of he and Andy should be a terror on the offensive glass. Tonight, the Cavs, against a Bogut-less Bucks team, had 4 offensive rebounds off of a pretty hefty supply of missed shots (44 misses). The Cavs are missing an impact player in that starting unit, and really, it’s got to be J.J. Hickson.
And now, let us wind this recap down with an…
Epilogue Bullet – It’s hard to know exactly how good this team can be. And sadly, I don’t mean that in a ‘we’re growing stronger by the second!’ kind of way, but rather a ‘is that the ceiling resting on my head?’ type. Regardless of that premature, unnecessary worry, it’s great to get off the schnide before what will probably be a schnide-inducing next few games. (Orlando, Memphis, Boston…Miami.) As for tonight… a feel good moment, a really timely win, and an absolute blueprint for how the Cavs should be trying to come out energy-wise moving forward.
Random closing tidbit # 1 – I think I saw John mention this in an earlier recap, and I’d like to formally submit my sentiments into the fray as well: I’m, at the very least, curious to see what a Mo/Sessions or Mo/Boobie backcourt would look like starting.
Random closing tidbit # 2 – Happy Thanksgiving :)