Overview: The Cavaliers were able to overcome Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki’s combined 52 points thanks to a lights-out shooting night from Mo Williams and a combined 22 assists from LeBron James and Delonte West.
Belated Charlotte Mini-Recap:
Sorry guys, I had Thanksgiving weekend stuff with my family that prevented me from recapping that game in a timely fashion. Here’s the thing about that game. It wasn’t about the Cavs not having energy, or getting in a trap game, or a Thanksgiving hangover, or anything like that. That stuff may have played a factor, but the bottom line is that Charlotte is a great defensive team. In fact, they’ve been the best defensive team in the league thus far.
There are two ways to overcome a defense that good. You can confuse them by having multiple points of attack and initiating offense from a wide variety of players and sets, or one of your best guys can go into SuperBeast mode. As for the former option, the Cavs have four players on their roster who can create offense for themselves and others. Four. One of those players had an off night, and one played for two minutes. So that pretty much ruled out plan #1. As for Plan #2, LeBron and Mo took half of the team’s shots, but ran into a defensive wall, and LeBron wasn’t able to get to the line or really impose his will. So the Cavs got stuffed on offense. After that, a great night from Gerald Wallace and a good night from Stephen Jackson was all the Bobcats needed to take the game. Also a factor is that previous Cavalier teams have thrived in these type of defensive struggles, but this year’s squad doesn’t seem to have the same type of defensive mentality.
Cavs-Related Bullets About The Dallas Game:
Full disclosure: I had to watch this game on tape-delay, because I was at the UCLA-USC game all day Saturday. When I looked over the box score before watching the replay, my thought process could be summed up as follows:
“Okay, LeBron had a solid night from the floor and logged 12 assists. Man, Mo was lights-out, that’s a big deal. Moon and Varejao had great nights off the bench, and Shaq…OMG DELONTE WEST PLAYED 28 MINUTES AND HAD 10 ASSISTS YES YES YES.”
-First bullet, thus, goes to Delonte. The Cavaliers saw two players this weekend who would solve their needs perfectly. Both are physical guards who are phenomenal passers in the half-court. Both love to create plays by backing down smaller guards and punishing them in the post. Both love to drive to their left and are good finishers at the basket. Neither is a pure shooter, but both are more than capable of knocking down open shots and have three-point range. Both love to play defense, and can match up with a variety of different players on the defensive end.
The first one of those guys is Stephen Jackson. Assuming the Bobcats would be willing to trade him, the Cavs would have to give up their starting center from last season to get him, would have zero cap flexibility for the next several years, and take huge chemistry risks both in adding Jackson and subtracting Big Z, making Shaq the only option at starting center.
The second one of those guys is Delonte West, who’s been sitting on the Cavs’ bench all along.
Now, I recognize that there are circumstances regarding Delonte that are beyond my comprehension, and I recognize that his playing time has to fluctuate for reasons that can only be understood by people in the Cavalier locker room. But when the buzzer starts and everybody is on the floor, the benefits of Delonte West are obvious and immense. I don’t know if Delonte took a significant step forward mentally between Friday and Saturday night, or even if something happened during halftime of Friday’s game that justified benching him for the vast majority of the third quarter. But from a basketball standpoint, it’s clear that if Delonte is in uniform and ready to play, he should be getting significant minutes.
Everything just looked so much better with Delonte on the floor. He’s in superhuman condition and brings an amazing energy level on both ends whenever he touches the floor, but even more than that, it’s his versatility and energy level that makes him a special player in this lineup. He was punishing the undersized Dallas guards in the post and opening up the floor that way. He was making lightning-fast decisions passing the ball, identifying the open man and correct play before he touched the ball and opening up the offense that way. When he didn’t have the ball, he was flying to the open spot on the floor and cutting furiously to make an aggressive drive, and opening up the floor that way. And this is all without his outside shot being back yet, which is yet another way Delonte West opens up the floor. Offensively, Anthony Parker and Boobie Gibson do not approach the level of impact Delonte West makes.
And while Delonte’s defense didn’t make a huge impact tonight (Terry was ON), his activity, hunger for every loose ball, and desire to push the ball at every opportunity certainly did. He was creating extra plays all over the place, and it’s no coincidence that the energy level of the entire team looked as high as it’s looked all season this game. Mike Brown says playing Delonte (and DNP-CDing Z) was a reaction to Dallas going small. Let’s hope that Mike Brown knows a serendipity when he has one. And from the “little moments I love file,” how about Marion trying to punish Delonte in the post, only to have Delonte not give him a single inch?
-Speaking of energy, Anderson Varejao was just rolling tonight. His +18 in 32 minutes was tied for the best mark in the game, he was perfect from the floor in scoring 15 points, and his energy level was just insane, with 5 offensive boards, a steal, and a number of loose-ball fouls drawn. The energy stuff is just an upgraded version of par for the course from Andy, but there’s something else, too. I’ve been noticing this all season, but on Saturday night I’m starting to believe that it’s legitimate: Anderson Varejao has become a legitimately skilled basketball player.
Now, Andy’s always had a lot more skill than he gets credit for. He’s a very smart player at both ends of the court, is a great rebounder, and finishes in traffic beautifully. But whenever he tries to do something traditionally associated with “skill,” like make a post move, put the ball on the floor, or take an outside shot, my response has generally been to scream loudly, and shrug my shoulders and chuckle if he actually did make it. He tried to do a lot of this stuff in his post-holdout season (something I dubbed “FeganBall” at the time), and it contributed to easily the worst year of his career. Last year, he went back to basics, and the results were positive.
But this season, Andy’s gone back to incorporating some diversity into his game, and it’s actually been working. He still can’t shoot from the outside, and is far from a reliable post threat, but he’s got some moves. He’ll surprise his man with a pump fake or an up-and-under move, he’s been able to finish after facing up and taking one or two dribbles, and he’s finishing after his spin moves. I don’t want to jinx this, but Andy does actually appear to be cultivating a bag of tricks.
-Also deserving of praise is Jamario Moon, an Andy clone with a little less intelligence, more hops, and the ability to make spot-up jumpers. That’s a very good thing. 9 boards and a +18 in 31 minutes tonight, and he quietly seems to be proving himself as an impact player off the bench. Although he did do that thing again tonight where he has a three, pump-fakes, takes one dribble to 20 feet, and bricks the jumper. Never mind that Jamario is a terrible shooter off the bounce. I hate that shot so much. That is Larry Hughes’ shot. It never goes in. If I had Synergy Sports and pulled up the data for that shot, I think the computer might start to weep before blowing up its monitor in an attempt to free me from watching a montage of those shots through the sweet release of death. Okay, this isn’t really a legitimate critique of Jamario tonight. I just really hate that shot.
-Shaq looks a little lost trying to return. He’s rushing in the post, and trying to power through double-teams instead of passing out of them. He looks slow defensively, and shoving Jason Terry when he gave a Hack-a-Shaq foul was a clear sign that Shaq is a little frustrated trying to work himself back into the team’s flow. But he did end up helping the team in the end, using his size to punish Dallas with the 2nd unit in the fourth quarter, not only allowing the Cavs to survive LeBron sitting but getting Cleveland in the penalty early.
To block-quote this very excellent new Cavs blog:
“So far in the season, I’ve liked Shaquille O’Neal best when he’s serving as the means to a very specific end. Such as physically engaging Dwight Howard, or physically dominating teams with that play undersized 5’s and making them adjust, or in tonight’s case…making a concerted effort to make use of his size advantage by drawing fouls.”
Yes. Precisely. When the Cavs know what they’re doing with Shaq, he provides a huge advantage. When they just roll the ball out there and say “well, Shaq and LeBron are both really good, they’ll tear it up,” the team ends up suffering. As the season goes on, hopefully MB will start using Shaq with a specific purpose in mind rather than just hope talent carries the day.
-Wow, this far down and I haven’t even gotten to the Cavs’ two leading scorers. Honestly, what is there to say? Not missing is a good game plan, and Mo was on that tonight. Going 7-7 from beyond the arc is going to swing the game in a major way. If Mo goes a very good 3-7 from deep, he finishes with 13 and the final score goes to 95-99.
-As for LeBron, I may have jinxed his jumper. 0-8 from outside the paint for LeBron tonight. And he finished with a line of 25/5/12 on 54% TS with only 1 turnover. LeBron James is quite good at basketball and basketball-related endeavors.
-JJ only played 14 minutes tonight, but with Moon and Andy playing so well and Dirk being an absolute nightmare matchup for JJ defensively, that’s understandable. Hopefully MB can continue to manage the rotation and use appropriate lineups like this throughout the year.
-Alright, that’s all I have tonight. Let’s everyone get ready for another fun week of Cavalier basketball.