Recap: Cavs 91, Indiana 98 (this cloud has a silver lining)

December 30th, 2011 by Kevin Hetrick

Tough loss for the Cavs tonight. This was the Cavs’ first game against a good team and after a great win against a bad Pistons team, it would have been outstanding to get another road victory. The Pacers made the playoffs last year and have a solid young nucleus that added some quality new parts in David West and George Hill.

The Cavs lead 47-45 at the half, fueled by 12 points and 2 assists from Kyrie Irving and 8 points and 5 rebounds from Anderson Varejao. The third quarter went horribly awry though, as the Cavs were only able to muster 14 points while the Pacers put 25 on the scoreboard. This quarter exposed a few things about the Cavs that we already knew; Irving and Sessions are the only two players that can reliably create offense, Irving is a rookie, and Sessions isn’t very good sometimes. Against good defensive teams, there are definitely going to be times where the Cavs have a hard time generating offense. The fourth quarter was pretty sloppy, but the Cavs nearly got themselves a very exciting come-from-behind win when Anthony Parker hit a three to make it 84-82 with 15 seconds to go. Unfortunately David West scored with 5 seconds left, Kyrie Irving missed a layup at the buzzer, and the Cavs couldn’t get it done in overtime, losing by a score of 98 – 91.

The Cavs weren’t able to pull out a really nice road victory against a likely playoff team. The game at least bodes well for the Cavs’ ability to stay competitive against non-cellar dwellers. Onto some notes:

• I’m looking for what the youngsters bring to the table this year, and I really like what Kyrie Irving is showing. The box score numbers (20 points on 19 shots with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers) don’t do the performance justice. In the final 2:30 of the game, Irving took the ball to the basket on five of six possessions. Really the results weren’t great; he made a layup, got tied up once (the Cavs lost the jump ball), he got fouled and missed one of two, he missed a tough pull-up from 5 feet, then he missed a layup for the win at the buzzer. But the results weren’t the point; Irving is 19 years old, in his third NBA game (after only 12 NCAA games). In the fourth quarter of a close game against a good defensive team, he wanted the ball in his hands every possession. And he got to the basket for good looks on four of five possessions. Someday soon; Irving is going to make both free throws, make that 5 ft pull up, or make that layup…and the Cavs win the game.

• I’m giving Irving two bullets on this game. The four assists aren’t a fair summation for him. He had at least three really nice passes to players at the basket that resulted in the player getting fouled, including an awesome over the shoulder pass to Varejao. He attempted an alley-oop to Jamison, but obviously Jamison can’t jump; so he caught the ball, came down, and eventually turned the ball over…but it was a nice look from Irving. There were a few kick-outs for corner threes that were missed. Honestly, Irving’s ceiling went up for me with this game.

• One other fun note on Irving; really early in the first quarter Darren Collison was dribbling up court, Irving was in a lazy stance, and Collison turned on the after burners and left Irving in the dust for a layup. It’s like Irving had never seen anyone move that fast with the basketball before. Late in the second quarter, Collison tried a similar move except Irving stayed right on his hip and blocked the shot. It appeared as if Irving had learned something from the first quarter to the second quarter.

• Varejao was his usual self, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds. He added three offensive rebounds, to bring his total to 14 in the first three games.

• Other than those two, only Alonzo Gee had a decent game. He can get sloppy with his ball-handling and isn’t an outside shooting threat, but he’s playing really aggressively and so far this season, there are more good things happening because of Alonzo Gee than bad things. He finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal and a block, and finished regulation and played overtime with the first string.

• Tristan Thompson is as advertised; he’s very athletic and he plays hard & smart on defense. On offense, he can put the ball on the floor with a quick first step from the high post. I was someone who underestimated how well those abilities would translate to the NBA, particularly against lower caliber teams. He was very effective against the Raptors and Pistons. Against the Pacers quality NBA defense however, his limitations were more apparent. Other than a couple of blocks in his first two minutes, he was pretty invisible, finishing with 2 points and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes. To Thompson’s credit, there are worse things you can be as a 20 year old rookie than very effective against bad teams.

• Ramon Sessions was very bad this game. He missed some floaters, he missed some jump shots, he played some lazy defense, he turned the ball over…not his best effort (did you know that after two games, Sessions had the 6th best PER in the NBA? I really thought that was going to last.)

• Omri Casspi also had a forgettable performance. He took a couple bad shots and missed a very makeable fast break finish. The low point was probably when he had Darren Collison posted up…and travelled. As noted above, he was benched for Gee down the stretch.

• Antawn Jamison was 4 of 14 in 36 minutes. Instead of focusing on this, I’m going to take this opportunity to discuss the finishing ability of the Cavs’ big men. As I discussed previously, Irving got his big men quite a few decent looks at the basket. Unfortunately, the Cavs are bereft of high quality finishers. None of Jamison, Samuels, or Varejao finishes well with authority, especially through contact. Tristan Thompson is the one player that may have this explosiveness, but he saw zero minutes on the court with Irving tonight. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering these are the team’s two main building blocks. I’d really like to see Tristan Thompson get a chance to turn a few of the looks that Irving generates into and-ones.

• The Cavs defense was pretty good tonight. 98 points in an overtime game (84 in regulation) is nothing to be ashamed of. One issue appeared to be that the Cavs’ big men aren’t particularly great at man-to-man post defense and the Pacers frequently posted Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, and David West. It was a Pacers strong point against a Cavs weak point that the Pacers were able to expose. The other big issue for the Cavs were the Pacers 17 offensive rebounds.