Overview: The Cavaliers were able to pull out a win on the road against a young and athletic 76ers team, who repeatedly tested the Cavaliers’ transition defense. LeBron James had a game-high 36 points, including two momentum-changing three-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Another first-quarter explosion for the Cavaliers, with the Cavs scoring 32 out of the gate, but this time the offense looked random and discombobulated to start the game, rather than showing fabulous ball movement, spacing, and ability to get LeBron working off the ball early and then completely abandoning that more and more as the game went on.
Shaq had his second big first quarter in a row, getting deep position, making one of those running righty hooks across the lane that I hate, converting a dunk off some nice interior passing, and getting to the line and actually making his free throws.
But overall, the offense was not flowing quite right on sets that began off the dribble, even in the first half, and it was apparent. LeBron James should not be taking clock-saving one-footed threes when the Cavs are trying to establish their offense. (That statement was in no way meant to take away from the awesomeness of said one-footed three.)
A big reason for that ineffectiveness wasn’t anything the Cavs were doing wrong, but what Jrue Holliday was doing right. Holliday is big, has a huge wingspan, is athletic, and can flat-out play man defense. He absolutely gave Mo Williams the howling fantods all game long, and Mo had a lot of trouble getting his shots or initiating the offense because of it. And when Delonte was running the point against Holliday in the fourth, Jrue shut him down as well.
I don’t know what it is about UCLA, but Holliday and Mbah a Moute are definitely two of the absolute standout perimeter defenders I’ve seen play so far this season. Could be Howland’s coaching philosophy. Could be evil dark magic obtained by the selling of one’s soul. I’m going to go with evil magic, personally.
Mo was able to get free off some 3-1 PnR sets in the fourth quarter to hit some big shots, but how much he struggled to get free from Holliday is a concern, especially if the Cavs end up seeing Rondo and the Celtics in the playoffs.
For some possible news on the future playoff matchups front, a big reason the 76ers were able to stay in the game was that they outscored the Cavaliers 30-14 on the fast break, and none of the current Eastern contenders play at or above a league-average pace. So that particular weakness probably won’t kill the Cavs.
A related note on that front: A rare sight in this game, as Iguodala got the ball off a turnover and started towards the basket with LeBron about two or three steps behind him. LeBron started to rev up for the chase-down opportunity, then quickly realized that Iggy was too fast and finished too strong for him to have a chance at the block, and gave up. You don’t see a lot of guys who occupy the same athletic stratosphere as LBJ, but Iguodala is one of them.
As for LeBron’s game, he was definitely bailing out the team again on Wednesday night, and while it wasn’t his most textbook game, he got the job done. As was mentioned, he wasn’t moving off the ball in the first half the way we’ve become useful, and he did stall the offense a few times throughout the gate.
Also, his perimeter game looks like it’s regressed a bit in terms of form. He’s not setting up that 18-20 foot jumper with a hesitation dribble and then rising straight up on it like he was earlier in the year, and he’s leaning on a lot of shots inside the arc. That said, he hit some big shots when they needed to be hit, and ended up with 15 points on only 13 shots outside the paint. The Cavs needed LeBron to hit tough shots to win the game tonight, and hit them he did. The other notable things about LeBron tonight were that he was only 4-10 on shots at the rim, which is well off his 73% mark on “inside” shots, and only recorded three turnovers.
Really good stuff from JJ in relatively limited minutes tonight, as he played within himself really well and finished 4-5 from the field, showing good patience around the rim and even some interior passing.
Getting 27 points on 15 three-point attempts helped out a great, great deal.
Speaking of that, Boobie went 3-3 from deep, making the most of the looks he got from some good ball movement around the perimeter and rewarding pretty basketball. Really, this shirt is not only for him, but for the second unit’s fine play in the second quarter and the small-ball unit of West/Gibson/Moon/James/Varejao that played a limited stretch in the fourth.
Bullets of Randomness:
For the second night in a row, a young big man on the other team looks like the best player on the planet in the first half and completely disappears in the second. I have no idea whether Thad Young and Brook Lopez are The Future or two guys who will get massive extensions based on their reputation and cripple the team’s cap. I want to name this type of player after LaMarcus Aldridge somehow, but the best I can currently come up with is “LaUntouchables.” Help me out here.
I have a very hard time thinking of Roy Halladay as an American, I’ve realized.
Poor Ryan Howard. He’s lost like 30 pounds over the past two years, and the 76er sideline reporter asks him where the best cheesesteaks in the city are. That’s just tempting the man.
Kapono: DNP-CD. It’s taken a while, but I am no longer mad about the Cavs losing him in the expansion draft. Remember when nobody on the team could make an open three and Kapono was shooting 50% from beyond the arc with the Heat? Fun times. Until later, everyone.