If you come to La La Land… you expect to see stars. After all, it’s a city that’s full of them. It’s even one of the few stops in the NBA where the names you see in the stands are as big as those playing the games on the court. Look around and you’ll find them… Denzel, Jack, even Tristan’s girlfriend Khloe. They were all there last night at the Staples Center to see LeBron and his co-stars (well, ostensibly the Lakers too, though their stars are still in the auditioning phase). Unlike the previous night in the exact same venue against the Clippers, the Cavs did not disappoint… putting their three All-Stars on full display. And, fortunately all of them shone brightly, as the wine & gold found themselves in an offensive extravaganza, highlighted by a dizzying dance between two creative and talented young guards. The entertaining performance was one befitting the star-studded occasion… though it placed a spotlight on what was missing just the night before.
City of stars
Are you shining just for me?
The three Cavalier stars (LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin) who sat out the front end of the tinseltown back to back for various reasons, were well rested and ready to shine from the jump. In fact, outside of a lone put-back by Tristan Thompson, they were the only Cavs who scored in the first quarter. The dynamic trio were responsible for 29 of the 31 points in the period. Kyrie led the way with 11 on 5-7 shooting, while LBJ and KLove chipped in nine a piece. While the Cavs went to town in the paint for more than half of their points (16), the Lakers bombed away from the outside, led by rising star D’Angelo Russell, who was a perfect 4-4 from three on his way to 18 first quarter points. LeBron did also have this PhantomCam worthy dunk…
— NBA (@NBA) March 20, 2017
With Kyrie and Kevin on the bench to start the second, LeBron didn’t get much from the rest of his supporting cast after he hit a three and set Channing Frye up for another to put the Cavs up seven. The Lakers went on an 18-3 run, fueled by Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr. and relative unknown David Nwaba to completely reverse the advantage. Then Love and Irving returned to help restore order. Kevin scored six and grabbed six boards, while Kyrie continued his dance with Russell, notching 10 in the quarter (21 in the half).
The up and coming Laker stars were at it again, making a name for themselves in the third quarter in their extended auditions for Coach Luke Walton. Russell exploded for another 15 points in the period, while Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Ivica Zubac all showed flashes of promise with their shooting and post moves. They pushed the lead out to 10 before LeBron and Kyrie reeled it back in with 10 points each themselves. Uncle Drew dueled D’Angelo, trying to out-jazz him with difficult shots… but Russell had the scoring edge, 37-32 going into the final frame.
The start of the fourth saw the Cavs facing their largest deficit of 11 following a Nwaba dunk, but just then, Richard Jefferson stole the spotlight. R.J. scored all seven of his points on the night in a row, as the “baseline bandit” threw down three straight buckets on baseline cuts. He also had a steal and an assist on an LBJ driving layup. Then, Kevin scored six on a banana-in-the-tailpipe move as well as a traditional triple, and Kyrie knocked in a three to cut the Laker lead to two. A steal and terrific assist on the break by J.R. Smith to LeBron tied it up, and sent the Cavs on a 13-2 run that just about sealed the victory. Cleveland went up by nine, and L.A. never got closer than the final five point margin again.
The three stars for the Cavs accounted for 101 of their 125 points. They combined to shoot 34-58 (59%) from the field and 12-25 (48%) from deep. They were also 21-25 (84%) from the line, and accounted for over half of the team’s rebounds and assists. LeBron had 34 points, seven assists and six boards, and Kevin amassed 21 points and 15 rebounds in just 26 minutes. Meanwhile, Kyrie scored 46 on his own (14 in the 43 point fourth quarter) and matched D’Angelo nearly shot for shot in a combo guard showdown. Their dance nearly put Gosling and Stone to shame…
— NBA (@NBA) March 20, 2017
City of stars
There’s so much that I can’t see
For all of the star power present, there wasn’t much support behind the big three for the Cavs, at least until the fourth quarter. Granted, the rest of the team didn’t get the benefit of having the night off on Saturday against the Clippers, so they were most likely not nearly as fresh. Still, even under those circumstances, you’d expect a bit more out of the shooting guard position than what the Cavs got from Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. Neither had a particularly good outing the night before, and that trend continued for most of this contest. In the first half, the two were a combined 0-7 (0-5 from beyond the arc), and most were on wide open shots. Shump also had one particularly maddening possession where he dribbled for 23 seconds before hoisting an ill-fated layup attempt (www.pleasestopdribblingShump.com crashed due to increased traffic levels). Shump did have a decent third quarter stretch where he went 3-4 for all six of his points, but J.R. remained cold (1-7, 0-5 total). Neither defended particularly well for the first three quarters as well, giving entirely too much cushion to Laker shooters. J.R. did have one terrific sequence, however, in the fourth that helped turn the momentum with a steal and subsequent save of a ball in transition which led to an LBJ layup…
All tied up. pic.twitter.com/qbopfXwWZA
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) March 20, 2017
Two of the other supporting cast had varying degrees of success before they both met with unfortunate injuries that cut short their time on the court. Tristan actually had a fairly effective night on the glass (10 boards, six offensive) in his 26 minutes before receiving an elbow sandwich from Julius Randle in the third quarter. TT went straight to the locker room, as Randle was assessed a technical foul for the “unnatural movement” on his follow through. Tristan revealed after the game that both of his front teeth were knocked loose, but that the Lakers’ team doctor was able to “pop them back in” and hold them together with a brace. Sounds like veneers might be in TT’s future… especially if he wants to keep up with the Kardashians. At least his mouthguard helped…
Deron Williams also experienced a minor issue when he jammed his thumb into Jordan Clarkson’s shoulder. DWill did return to the game, but didn’t seem eager to shoot much afterwards. He finished just 1-3 for two points with two assists in 17 minutes.
Channing Frye didn’t see much action even with the Cavs missing chunks of time from TT (after the injury) and Kevin (minutes restriction). The big man only saw 13 minutes on the floor, as Ty Lue elected to go small for much of the second half. He shot just 1-3 with a three and collected one rebound. At least he saw the floor though, unlike Derrick Williams, who sat this one out. DWill was not on the injury report, and appeared to be a healthy DNP-CD (although he did have a quad contusion that kept him out of the Utah game).
The one guy who did stay healthy, and made an impact (especially later in the game) was Richard Jefferson. He changed the tone of the game with his baseline banditry and aggression in the fourth quarter with seven straight points to propel the Cavs back into the game and cut their 11 point deficit in half. Though his 36 year old bones might have been weary on the second night of a back to back (for some people), he fought through it…
Never change, Richard Jefferson. 😂
— NBA SKITS (@NBA_Skits) March 20, 2017
Is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Offensively, the Cavs were fairly unstoppable against the Lakers. Yes, the Lakeshow currently occupies the basement of the Western Conference, but they also defend decently under Luke Walton and have a lot of youthful energy. The Cavs’ stars were out in force though, and clearly benefitted from having the previous night off to rest and prepare for the lesser L.A. team. Even with the absence of Kyle Korver, poor shooting nights from their other guards, and new injuries to Tristan and DWill, they still managed to put up 125 points. Each one of the big three played like the All-Stars that they are, and put on a show for those in attendance. Sadly, the display should only serve to further fuel the annoyance of Clippers fans (and L.A. based Cavs fans) who missed out the night before. The victory did allow the Cavs to officially clinch a playoff spot, a positive if not inevitable development.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) March 20, 2017
Or one more dream that I cannot make true?
As dominant as the scoring was from the big three, the defense was back to rusty sieve-like levels for much of the game. There was about a five minute stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter where the Cavs buckled down and got serious about defending the Lakers, and that allowed them to get enough stops to slingshot past the youngsters. Yes, most of the team was still feeling the effects of the back to back, and yes, J.R. hasn’t quite regained his old defensive prowess. However, Kyrie was about as bad trying to guard D’Angelo Russell (career high 40 points on 14-22 shooting, 7-12 from three), as he was good in torching Russell on the other end. He stuck to most screens, and rarely hustled to recover. LeBron also was guilty of refusing to help on weakside rotations, and wound up as mostly a spectator on a couple of Zubac and Randle dunks. Not saying these guys need to be playing playoff-level defense, but just a little more effort early on could have helped put the Lakers away much sooner. There’s no reason to surrender 120 points to the worst team in the West and allow them to shoot 52%… especially after the positive progress of the last few games.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Cavs can hit that other gear defensively. They’ve already shown the star power they possess on the offensive side of the ball, and the ability to bring the wattage when the spotlight is brightest. But, the propensity to become a lock-down defensive juggernaut come the post-season may not be as ingrained in their collective DNA as it has been the past two years. Only time will tell if their dreams of a repeat championship will be realized, or if their inability to get stops will plague them. At least they’re done with the City of Stars for another season and can get back to focusing on the task ahead…