Recap: Cavs 117, Kings 104 (Or, The Old Man and The Threes)

December 24th, 2009 by John Krolik

Overview: After the Cavaliers and Kings battled each other to a stalemate in regulation with LeBron James and Tyreke Evans combining for 60 points, the Cavs shut out the Kings in overtime, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas hitting three shots from beyond the arc in the extra period en route to a season-high 25 points.

Cavs-Related Bullets:

-Let’s start with LeBron, who did just about everything on Wednesday night. he finished with a 34/16/10 triple-double, but even his stat sheet doesn’t show just how many ways LeBron impacted the game.

-First of all, LeBron’s jumper was absolutely on tonight, especially in the first half. LeBron ended up getting 19 points on 18 shots from outside the paint, going 8-12 from outside the paint in the first half.

There was one first-half stretch in particular when LeBron showed how he can take control of a game at any given time, especially if his jumper is on. After the second unit leaked seven points over the first five minutes of the second quarter, LeBron re-entered the game with the score 38-42 in favor of Sacramento. LeBron quickly drained three straight jumpers and a technical to put the Cavs up 45-42, and went on to score or assist on every Cavalier basket for the rest of the quarter, accounting for 19 points in just under seven minutes and sending the Cavs into halftime leading 57-53. And that wasn’t even the best thing LeBron did on Wednesday night.

The law of averages caught up with LeBron in the second half, and he only accumulated six points in the third and fourth quarters, going 1-5 from outside the paint.

-This is where I’d like to interject a brief bit of LeBron theory. It’s weird that LeBron can absolutely immolate from the floor in the first half and only contribute six points in the second half, but it does make a kind of sense if you consider how he plays the game. LeBron mainly gets his points on deep jumpers off the dribble, which are easy to get but have a high degree of difficulty, or shots at the basket, which are difficult to get but have a low degree of difficulty. Again, this is where the post game would be invaluable to LeBron, in that it would provide a sort of happy medium for LeBron between the deep off-the-bounce jumper or the dunk/layup. Also, running some sets to get LeBron a catch-and-shoot opportunity from 15-18 off a curl or a pick-and-pop might not be the worst idea in the world either.

-But like I said, even with all those first-half jumpers, LeBron’s scoring wasn’t nearly the best part of his game tonight, and his true shooting of 52% for the game is actually well below his season average.

-Sixteen rebounds is also very good, although I should probably mention that all four of LeBron’s offensive rebounds were from grabbing his own misses, which is a little easier to do. But 12 defensive rebounds is a good thing, especially with eight of them coming in the second half.

-And then, the passing. 10 is a nice, round number and gave LeBron his triple-double (and since LBJ’s 10th assist came on a third consecutive Zydrunas three with the Cavs up 10 and 14 seconds to go, I’d say LBJ owes Z a beer for this triple-double,) but it was more the¬†philosophy¬†that excited me, especially down the stretch. For the second consecutive game, Mike Brown and LeBron went away from LeBron simply pounding the ball at the top of the key and ran some of the plays they run during the opening part of the game.

LeBron had two bad possessions where he held the ball and forced a top-of-the key jumper, but the rest of the possessions down the stretch actually involved floor spacing and the ball moving from side to side, with Shaq and Z converting nice passes inside from LeBron and Andy, respectively. Just like they did against Phoenix, the Cavs ran their corner dive play, where Mo sets up in the corner with a back-screen. It caught the defense off-guard twice while they were focused on LeBron in the middle of the floor, and while Mo didn’t convert either the open three or the open 19-foot look the set got him, it’s something that shows Mike Brown is trying to emphasize the Cavs doing something other than watching LeBron and maybe shooting a spot-up jumper during crunch time.

And even with the Cavs going (relatively) “LeBron-light” in crunch time, LeBron still scored or assisted on 10 of the Cavs’ final 15 points of the game.

-But I still haven’t gotten to my favorite thing that LeBron did on Wednesday night, which was completely shut down Tyreke Evans down the stretch. Before LeBron switched onto Tyreke, the rookie was 10-16 from the floor and absolutely punishing every defender the Cavs threw at him. After LeBron took the assignment, Evans went 1-9 from the floor down the stretch, and the Kings scored seven points in the 12:43 period from when LeBron entered the game in the fourth until the end of overtime.

From where I see it, there are three main reasons why LeBron was able to shut down Tyreke over the stretch run:

-Physical Matchup: I’ve said Tyreke reminds me of a younger, slightly smaller LeBron, and I mean it. He goes to the hole with authority, and he’s either faster or stronger than anybody he drives against, and often both. But that advantage is against people not named LeBron. If your plan is to overpower LeBron James with speed or strength, you need a new plan. And just like LeBron when he was younger, Tyreke didn’t have a very good plan B when his immense physical gifts weren’t enough to get him the shots he wanted.

-The Kings are Young: The Kings are an extremely young team, and some of their inexperience showed down the stretch on Wednesday night. The team got a little caught up in watching Tyreke try to do his thing, and didn’t really try initiating the play themselves to take some pressure off him or even try to get Tyreke the ball of some sort of a picket-fence that could get him free of a one-on-one matchup with LeBron. Tyreke’s going to be enough of a stud that just putting the ball in his hands and praying is going to be a winning strategy much of the time, but the Kings needed to give their young savoir a little more help than they did.

-Tyreke Is Young: Right when LeBron took the Tyreke matchup, you could see LBJ was in Tyreke’s head a little bit. The first time Tyreke saw LeBron guarding him, he launched into some elaborate shake-and-bake moves on the perimeter to try and show LeBron that he belonged on his level, but ended up getting forced into a fallaway 20-footer for his efforts. Later, when Tyreke actually did ditch LeBron with a beautiful (and much simpler) pivot move in the lane, he rushed the shot so much that he ended up missing the resulting open four-footer pretty badly.

And finally, when LeBron missed a jumper with fourteen seconds left and Tyreke got the rebound, Evans dribbled into a trap and forced up a hopeless shot instead of calling a timeout when he recognized he had nowhere to go. And while Tyreke’s teammates could’ve tried to help him a little more, Tyreke seemed to have few misgivings about challenging LeBron over and over again down the stretch, even as the results got increasingly worse. Overall, the effect this game will have on Evans’ maturity level will probably pay huge long-term dividends for the Kings, but it’s a lesson that cost the Kings on Wednesday night.

-Another reason for the Kings’ offense sputtering down the stretch: After making 7 of their first 14 three-point tries, the Kings cooled down from beyond the arc and missed their last 7 threes. The law of averages, she is a fickle mistress.

-HOW HAVE I NOT GOTTEN TO Z YET?

I try not to pimp my twitter in the blog proper, but my twitter from the game reveals some fairly unfiltered emotion when big Z started nailing those threes. And even before overtime, Z was having a nice game scoring the ball. He was able to get some shots in the paint, and went 4 of 6 from inside the lane. Even better, Z was stretching the floor in regulation, hitting 3 of his 5 shots outside the paint and coming up huge by hitting a 22-footer for the Cavs’ last basket of regulation.

And then, the threes. Coming into Wednesday’s game, Z had made all of one three on the season. Then he makes three in the span of 117 seconds to decide the game. I mean, what do you say? LeBron thought the lane was a bit stuffed, he lasered a pass to Z in the short corner, and without hesitating Z just drained it. If he misses it, I probably start pulling my hair out and Z’s confidence takes yet another blow. But he put it dead-center. And the next one. And one more for the icing on the cake. If Zydrunas can carry this confidence over and get his shot back, the Cavs become a different team.

(For those of you keeping score at home, we now have three “The Cavs become a different team when he plays well” guys: Mo Williams, Delonte, and Big Z. It keeps you on your toes when watching the Cavs, if nothing else.)

-Mo did a great job picking up where LeBron left off in the second half, getting 17 points on 12 jumpers in the second half, with a good amount of those Js coming off the dribble. I remember thinking in the fourth that I couldn’t remember the Cavs losing when both LeBron and Mo were on their offensive games like they were, and that ended up being true.

-Shaq made some nice plays in the first, getting good deep position off a re-post and laying it in, then finding JJ Hickson cutting underneath for a dunk as Shaq went across the lane like he was going up for his hook. Overall, a nice line for Shaq, with 8/8/2 in 22 minutes. He had a bad night defensively, but so did everyone on the Cavs’ frontcourt. The Kings have a ton of size, quickness, and energy inside, and that will give teams problems inside.

Shaq got exposed a few times on pick-and-rolls and Spencer Hawes was able to shoot over him, but Z wasn’t much better defensively and, and as Windhorst noted, JJ Hickson got pulled early in the second half with Mike Brown literally describing to him the basics of defense.

-With that being said, Jamario should probably have gotten more than five minutes to try his luck against the Kings’ young giants, particularly since Jason Thompson is a bit more comfortable facing up than he is on the blocks.

-Anthony Parker with a fabulous “no…no…YES!” 20-foot fadeaway for the first basket of overtime. I’m getting more comfortable with him being allowed inside the three-point arc by the game.

Bullets of Randomness:

-Not only does Omri Casspi do the little things, but his release is so quick I literally couldn’t tell if his shot is weird-looking or not. (I’m pretty sure it is, but I honestly couldn’t see where he was releasing the ball from on my LP broadband feed.)

-Jason Thompson has all the skill in the world, but all three of his turnovers were of the “gee, that was an amazingly stupid and unnecessary play” variety, the worst being trying a home-run pass that had a 15% of setting John Brockman up with a look at a contested 40-footer with just over a second left. The ball went out of bounds, and Andy Varejao drained a 20-footer from the baseline as the buzzer sounded, off a pass that apparently went out of bounds. That’s just the basketball gods punishing stupidity right there.

-Subject of twitter discussion between myself, Kevin Pelton, and Ridiculous Upside tonight: Is John Brockman the white Chuck Hayes or the white Reggie Evans?

-Sergio should’ve gotten more minutes; I’ve been waiting for him to blossom into a change-of-pace guard off the bench for years now.

-Donte’ Greene should take his free throws from the three-point line.

-I could write more about Tyreke, but there’s going to be a lot more written about that kid in both the near and distant future. He’s a monster.

-Alright campers, there’s 2,000 words of happiness for you. Let’s see if the Cavs can carry this into Christmas.

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