Recap: Cavs 109, Suns 91 (Or, Reverse Everything! Resume Loving!)

December 21st, 2009 by John Krolik

Overview: The Cavaliers bounced back from a loss to the Mavericks by being the first team to beat the Suns in the US Airways Center since last March, holding the Suns to less than 100 points and getting 53 combined points from LeBron James and Mo Williams.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-Well, that was a bit better.

-In the first quarter, LeBron James came out on an absolute MISSION on both ends of the floor. LBJ had twelve points, an assist, and a steal in the first quarter, and was absolutely everywhere on the floor, jumping into passing lanes, filling the lane on the break, and going at absolute maximum speed for the full twelve minutes.

-The Suns were able to keep it even in the first quarter by exploiting the Amare-Shaq matchup for 10 points in the first six minutes of the game, but once Shaq went to the bench with foul trouble, Amare was never able to get back into that early offensive groove, and was in foul trouble himself almost the entire game, with three of his five fouls being offensive.

-When LeBron went to the bench, Delonte provided a massive spark off the bench, and was a big reason the Cavs were able to overwhelm the Suns off their big start rather than fizzle out. Despite not making a shot from deeper than 10 feet all game long, Delonte was a huge difference-maker.

He scored or assisted on baskets that amounted to 12 points in the second quarter, which ended up being the Cavs’ highest-scoring quarter of the game. Defensively, Delonte was an absolute monster, getting in passing lanes and getting three steals, pressuring his man and rotating back to provide help. And to top everything off, Delonte led the Cavs with six assists.  I’ve been skeptical of MB’s plan to start Anthony Parker and bring West off the bench, but tonight we saw what he wants to happen by staggering his talent like he does. With Delonte coming off the bench, the Cavs never let up on the Suns, and by the fourth quarter their constant energy and pressure had clearly broken the Suns down a little bit, and that was what allowed the Cavs to break the Suns’ home winning streak.

-LeBron cooled down a little bit after his hot first quarter, and got baited into taking some bad jumpers, but he still ended up deciding the game down the stretch.

After LeBron got called for traveling and Jared Dudley got a layup on the other end, the Cavalier lead was six points with 6:39 to play. Then, Mike Brown took a timeout.

***(ATTENTION: MIKE BROWN COACHING SUCCESS COMING UP)***

Out of the timeout, instead of letting LeBron pound the ball around the perimeter, the Cavs got LeBron the ball in the middle of the floor and ran their corner dive play, setting Mo Williams up with a three behind a Varejao back-screen, which he knocked down. On the next possession down, the Cavs set up like they were going to run the same set, but Varejao slipped the screen and cut backdoor, and LeBron was able to feed him with a beautiful dime for a layup.

After Amare Stoudemire missed two shots directly at the rim and got a frustration tech, LeBron hit a tough fadeaway out of the post from the baseline and a “no…no…no…no…YES!” three for the dagger, with a layup the next time down for the icing on the cake before LeBron went to the bench. Six possessions used, 12 Cavalier points from a LeBron basket or assist, lead pushed from 6 to 19, game over.

-Miscellaneous LBJ notes:

LeBron really looks like he’s being more aggressive in going to the post and made some nice plays from down there, but it’s clear that his footwork hasn’t caught up to his pure power and speed down there, and that’s limiting his impact. He settled for a few too many high degree-of-difficulty fadeaways instead of just shooting over his man, committed an offensive foul by just barreling over Jared Dudley, and looks like he’s rushing everything a bit too much.

The PHX broadcasters called some slight BS on the “LeBron would dominate in the post if he just decided he wanted to go there” meme, saying that you’d much rather have LeBron posting than driving, and they’re right. If LeBron wants to be anywhere near the same kind of force on the block like he is off the drive, he’s going to have to put the same kind of work into his footwork down there as he has on his shot with Chris Jent over the years.

LeBron had 12 points on 14 shots outside the paint tonight, missing all five of his shots from 10-15 feet (easily his worst area on the court over his career), and hitting 4 of his 7 shots from 16-23 feet, where he’s far more comfortable from.

-Also: Small-Ball. The Cavs closed out the game with LeBron at the four and Varejao at the center spot, and it worked beautifully. The Mo-LBJ pick-and-roll is a simple but devastatingly effective play that can be run at the end of games, and tonight it got the Cavs an open Mo Williams look from three after some beautiful ball movement around the perimeter, among other good looks. More small-ball at the end of games, please, especially after Jamario recovers from his injury.

-I’m 900 words deep already, and I haven’t even mentioned the defense yet. It was superb. The Cavs did a fabulous job pressuring the Suns on their signature high pick-and-roll sets, always a staple of Mike Brown’s Cav teams, and did a phenomenal job chasing the Suns off their threes. The Suns came into the game making 9 threes a game at the league’s highest percentage, but the Cavs held them to a 4-19 shooting night from behind the arc, which took a lot of the teeth out of their vaunted attack.

Particularly promising was the Cavs’ ability to limit the production of born-again stretch four Channing Frye, who never got many good looks from behind the line and only went 1-4 from beyond the arc. That’s a good omen for when the Cavs see that pesky Rashard Lewis fella again.

-Not only did the Cavs finally win the turnover battle, scoring 26 points off Suns turnovers to 15 Suns points off Cavs turnovers, but they actually outscored the Suns 17-4 in the fast break.

-AV just doing his thing, peeving opposing broadcasters, cutting to the basket and getting four of his five field goals off of assists, getting up in Amare’s kitchen and shutting down his production, crowding Nash when his man sets the screen, getting himself a bird and an and-1 off that up-fake that somehow still manages to fool people, and finishing with a +21.

Bullets of Randomness:

-Jared Dudley is now a bona fide three-and-D guy. What is it about the Suns that makes everyone healthy and good at draining open threes? Is there a spring they’re taking these guys to?

-Didn’t Steve Nash feel pretty shut down in this game? He finished with 18 points and 10 assists on good percentages. Although his botched break on an attempted behind-the-back handoff that led to a Cavs fast-break and two Mo Williams FTs ended up being a mini-turning point with the Suns down two midway through the third quarter; the Suns never regained the lead after that.

-Let’s play “Adventures in lip-reading.” Steve Nash to a ref after a no-call on his drive: “(Freaking) call something!” The Suns let the refs get them off their game a little bit in this one.

-For a more fun adventure in lip reading: Delonte gets a steal in the fourth, runs the break, converts the and-1, crashes to the floor, and then says “I love this game” to the camera. I mean, you gotta love it. Until tomorrow, everyone.

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