Overview: The Cavs were able to hold off the Blazers thanks to a huge third quarter from LeBron James and a huge fourth quarter from Anderson Varejao, who finished with 22 points off the bench.
If there was any doubt coming into this game that Anderson Varejao is the Cavs’ best big man by a fairly wide margin, it should be erased after this game.
The Cavs allowed the Blazers to stay in the game in the first quarter by turning the ball over a few too many times, and in the second quarter got burned by the unlikely duo of Juwan Howard and Andre Miller, who accounted for 25 of the Blazers’ 31 points in the second quarter. Some of the Miller points were thanks to Miller performing his signature weaving drives into the lane and finishing from weird angles, but the 3 jumpers, including two threes, are definitely something you live with.
And as for Howard turning back the clock and scoring 11 straight Blazer points to start the second quarter, I mean, what is there to say? Tip your hat to the guy.
In the third, LeBron knew it was his time to try and keep the game from getting out of hand, and he responded, coming out firing jumpers and making almost everything he looked at. He scored the first 9 points of the quarter for the Cavs, assisted on the next basket, and finished with 14 for the quarter to get the game tied again.
A lot of the time this season, this would be about where the game breaks down for the Cavaliers, as the team gets caught up into watching LeBron do his thing, loses their energy and offensive flow, and lets the game get away from them as soon as LeBron stops doing his Deus ex Machina thing. But on Friday night, the Cavs were actually able to take LeBron’s mini-takeover as a shot in the arm and responded as a team.
9 of the Cavs’ 11 field goals in the fourth quarter were assisted, and 6 of those 9 were baskets by Anderson Varejao, a guy who never stops moving and looking for seams when the ball is in somebody else’s hands. Varejao’s off-ball movement the whole game was beautiful, but in the fourth quarter Varejao was just putting on a clinic, cutting backdoor, rolling after screening, looking to cut through and then stopping at the front of the rim when his man cheated, going up the sidelines and down the middle, and generally showing up to convert a layup wherever the defense didn’t think he’d be. In general, the most promising story from this game was the Cavs looking at a LeBron takeover as an opportunity to become more effective instead of an excuse to get away with being less effective.
Good stuff from Shaq tonight-even though Shaq continues to struggle when he’s left to post up on an island and started the game having a rough night from the field, Shaq got involved off the ball, boarded well, played some good defense, made all four of his free throws, and finished with an uncharacteristically high +12 mark for the game. One thing I particularly liked seeing is Shaq getting the ball in deep post position off of actual ball movement late in a possession and converting the easy hook. Shaq’s still effective in the post, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that you can’t just dump it into him 10-12 feet out and expect him to convert 60% of those opportunities anymore, because his lack of footwork is not helping him age gracefully in the post. And he’s not the off-the-ball dynamo that Andy is by any stretch of the imagination. But if the Cavs meet him halfway and work a little bit to give him a catch where all he has to do is make a quick, decisive move and score, he can still be very effective.
And it’s not fun to find it out this way, but the silver lining to Shaq’s eye injury is that it made it pretty clear that Shaq shouldn’t be on the floor in the fourth quarter over Andy in almost any situation, unless he’s playing the first few minutes while LeBron’s sitting and trying to get the other team in the bonus. The fourth is when LeBron is going to have the ball in his hands and be initiating the play almost every time, and that’s when Shaq’s effectiveness drops off pretty severely, especially in comparison to Andy. One last note on the injury: that it happened almost immediately after Dan and Hubie started discussing the fake “Shaq retires” rumors was definitely creepy.
It’s great to see Mo playing like he was tonight. His shot wasn’t falling (0-5 from beyond the arc), but he really made an extra effort to be a passer to compensate, and finished with a team-high 10 assists and +13 for the night.
LeBron was definitely comfortable with his jumper tonight, getting 15 points on 16 shots from outside the paint. His jumpers weren’t as cleanly set up with his dribble as they were earlier in the year, and his balance on a lot of his jumpers was less than ideal, but Friday was one of those nights where LeBron is just so good that he can go off the textbook and still have success, and it was what the Cavs ended up needing to take the game. For LeBron post watch, LeBron took advantage of a mismatch on Andre Miller a few times in the second quarter and was able to get a finish with his left from the left block, but missed his two prettiest post opportunities, a jump hook with good deep position and a lovely up-and-under move from the right block to set up a left-handed finish.
Delonte was merely solid tonight, with five points and three assists in 27 minutes, and his effectiveness is starting to get seriously hampered by the loss of his outside touch. Meanwhile, Anthony Parker managed to only take three shots in 37 minutes, but didn’t make mistakes while he was in there and managed to hold Brandon Roy to a 9-25 night from the floor. By the way, who punched out AP?
The Cavs scoring 104 points while only hitting three shots from deep is a promising sign.
The bottom line with this Blazers team is that they don’t get a lot of easy points. Only 35 points for the Blazers from the paint or on the fast-break, compared to 70 such points for the Cavaliers. It’s really hard for a team to be consistent offensively when they rely on jumpers so much, and the Oden loss absolutely kills them in that department.
Bullets of Randomness:
LaMarcus Aldridge had a great scoring game tonight, hitting just about everything he looked at. He’s always been a Cav-killer, and when his offensive game is on he’s pretty to watch. But here’s my thing with Aldridge: you watch him play tonight and think he’s a Destroyer Of Worlds, but in reality a lot of those pretty shots miss more often than they go in (his 53.0% TS puts him 39th among power forwards.) But even tonight, when his scoring was humming, Aldridge finished with 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and a game-low -11. Compare that to what a guy like Andy does on a nightly basis without ever really making a one-on-one scoring move. Have a nice weekend, all.