Overview: Despite having some of their worst offensive and defensive quarters of basketball of the season, the Cavs were able to pull off a fourth-quarter comeback win over the Pacers behind a season-high 40 points from LeBron James.
Boy, that 38-38 first quarter sure was something, wasn’t it? Something completely different than we’re used to seeing from the Cavs on both ends of the floor. Let’s break down what happened:
On the Cavs side of the floor, it was all about LeBron. LeBron scored or assisted on 23 of the Cavs’ 38 points in the quarter, and didn’t miss a shot or turn the ball over while doing it. 5 of LeBron’s 7 field goals in the quarter came on jumpers off the bounce from the 17-22 foot range.
This year’s Chris Jent story was that him and LeBron worked a lot on getting comfortable deploying his shot from different spots on the floor and finding new ways to set it up, and it’s certainly shown early in the year. Not only is LeBron’s eFG% on jumpers up considerably so far this season, but he’s taken a far higher proportion of his jumpers off the bounce. Only 12% of his jumpers have come off of an assist according to the most recent round of 82games.com stats, and he seems really comfortable using that stutter-dribble around the top of the circle to pull up for a clean, balanced jumper. As we’ll see a little later, there are still some lingering issues with LeBron’s shooting game, but this has been a huge semi-new weapon early in the year.
So on LeBron possessions, the Cavs scored 23 points on 11 possessions. (And and-1 and a three offset LeBron’s one missed free throw to make the Cavs 1 point better than “perfect.”
3 more of the Cavs’ points in the period came on technical free throws. So that’s 12 points still unaccounted for. 3 more points came off of JJ Hickson put-backs. (He got one clean tip-in and drew a shooting foul immediately after an offensive rebound.)
So in terms of non-LeBron baskets that weren’t technical free throws or tip-ins, the Cavs offense generated 9 points in the period, and needed 14 possessions to do it. (Caveat: a lot of those misses were clanged big Z jumpers on LeBron assists, so not every LeBron possession was perfect.)
Still, rather than hail the first quarter as a breakthrough of some sort of offensive utopia, let’s realize what’s going on here: LeBron James makes this offense run to a ridiculous degree, and the results can be absolutely astounding.
On the other side of the ball, the Cavalier defense got absolutely abused in a way we’re just not used to seeing happen during Mike Brown’s entire tenure. The culprit here is JJ Hickson’s continuing trial by fire on the defensive end.
The Pacers started the game with the fairly ingenious strategy of “going small” against Hickson, starting Ford/Rush/Granger/D. Jones/Hibbert, which left Hickson matched up against Jones. Jones absolutely abused Hickson in the first quarter-he was able to back him up to get an easy little free-throw line jumper time after time, and even blew by him to keep him honest. Jones got 12 points on 7 possessions in the first quarter, which is a big deal. And since the Cavs aren’t comfortable posting Hickson (his post game isn’t there yet, and the Cavs were having a ton of offensive success) and Hickson isn’t a punishing rebounder, the mismatch came out clearly in Indiana’s favor.
Thankfully, big man coaching philosophies lag behind the reality of play in the NBA, or this is something the Cavs could see a lot more of as the season goes on.
Ford also did some damage in the first quarter, and I’ll talk about what made him effective in the first half in a little bit, but Jones was what turned Indiana’s good offensive quarter into a great one.
But the Cavs defense did settle down over the rest of the game. Hickson got exposed making some poor rotations on T.J. Ford pick-and-rolls, and Mo had a lot of trouble keeping Ford in front of him, but in the second half, and especially the fourth quarter, a lightbulb seemed to go off for Hickson and the defensive intensity picked way up, and the Cavs won by holding the Pacers to 13 in the fourth quarter.
In terms of defensive intensity, the team misses Delonte on that end. A lot. Anthony Parker is a very solid NBA defender, but on defense Delonte his hell in sneakers.
Big Z follows up his best game with his worst one. Eating 11 possessions is not going to work.
Mo has a bad game, BUT THE CAVS WIN! THE CURSE HATH BEEN BROKEN!
LeBron scored or assisted on the Cavs’ final 12 points before Mo’s clinching free-throws. And that three he hit to clinch the game? That’s absurd. He was going for the win right there, it was a crazy shot, it’s one you have to make, and he made it. Amazing. It looked like he had a cheat code turned on.
Alright, see you guys in a few hours.