Overview: The Cavaliers beat the Hawks 106-101 on Wednesday night, with a Cavalier stop aided by an artificially short shot clock and the first three of Anderson Varejao’s career down the stretch helping to clinch the victory for the Cavaliers. LeBron James had a 48-point game on his 25th birthday.
Well, other than the Cavs winning, pretty much everything went differently on Wednesday night than it did Tuesday night. Let’s get into it.
-Well, LeBron went ahead and followed up his worst scoring game of the year with his best scoring game of the year. 48 points on 80% true shooting (if you don’t count the technical and his and-1 free throw as an extra “attempt”), and LeBron was doing it from everywhere.
16 points on 10 shots outside of the paint, including 4 of 6 from downtown. 3 of the four threes were even assisted, with back-to-back threes from the top of the key off of Mo Williams feeds to cap off a stretch where LeBron scored 16 points in 7 minutes at the end of the first half to keep the sluggish Cavs in the game.
More than anything, LeBron’s jumper just looked better than it has in at least a week or two; he was balanced on all his shots, going straight up, holding his follow-through, and really stepping into all of his shots and just railing them in. He wasn’t letting himself lean and trying to flick the shot in, which does work sometimes but is a bad habit that caught up to him on Tuesday night. I don’t know if Tuesday prompted him to put in extra shooting work, concentrate a little more on his form during the game, or if it was just coincidence, but for whatever reason LeBron had a ton of success getting back to basics from the perimeter in this one.
The other best part about LeBron’s jumper in this game is that he didn’t take very many of them. He actually used his J to open up his driving lanes, and the result was LeBron going 8-10 at the rim (with 5 of those baskets being assisted) and getting 16 free throws, of which he made 14. LeBron also threw some post-up possessions against Marvin Williams early, and was able to exploit a Jamaal Crawford mismatch for a post-up and free throws late. LeBron was doing it from everywhere, and the result was a hyper-efficient 48 points on a night where the Cavs needed every one.
-Meanwhile, the night after the Cavs picked up LeBron in a major way and every Cav outside of LeBron and Jamario shot better than 50%, only LeBron and Andy shot better than 50% on Wednesday night, and non-LeBron Cavs went 21-53 from the field, or just under 40%. And outside of LeBron’s four threes, the Cavs only went 2-12 from deep, with one of those two threes coming from Anderson Varejao. Not what you want for a team that relies on drive-and-kick baskets off of LeBron’s penetration.
-On both ends of the floor, the Cavs just did not have the same energy that they did on Tuesday, especially on defense. There are a numbers of possible explanations for this, not the least of which is that the Hawks are the #2 team in the league and started to play like it in this game, with Bibby knocking down shots from the outside, Joe Johnson going off, and the Hawks only turning the ball over 11 times all game.
There’s a boring theory for why this happened, which is that the Hawks got fired up to avenge a tough loss, Cavs figured they’d easily beat a team they just beat on the road at home, and the motivation gap showed.
The other, more fun theory is that LeBron’s birthday and the upcoming party distracted the team, which makes very little sense, as the party was after the game, but one I decided to look into anyways for kicks.
-This is the fourth time the Cavs have played on LeBron’s birthday, but the first time they’ve ever won on LeBron’s birthday. They played on the 30th LeBron’s rookie year and lost 89-92 to the Pacers, lost 96-103 to the Bulls in 2006, and lost 95-104 to the Heat last season. So the Cavs’ current roster does not seem to bring their normal defensive intensity on LeBron’s birthday.
Not only have the Cavs never won on LeBron’s birthday before, but in the years they didn’t play on LeBron’s birthday, the Cavs never won the game before LeBron’s birthday. They lost 76-86 to the Hornets on the 29th in 2007, 91-96 to the Nets on the 27th in 2005, and 87-98 to the Rockets on the 29th in 2004.
Is there a logical reason why LeBron’s upcoming birthday party would cause the Cavs to play badly? Unless the team is part of the party planning committee and the stress of organizing the whole thing stresses them out, probably not. Is this a weird thing I felt was worth blogging about, and a made-up curse that the Cavs have now broken? Indeed it is. Good omen going into the new year.
-OH MY GOD DID ANDY SERIOUSLY HIT THAT THREE. That was absolutely insane. LeBron misses a free throw to put the Cavs up two instead of three, Joe Johnson answers with a layup, LeBron gets stuffed trying to look for a lane, Mo has absolutely nowhere to go and loses the ball, Andy picks it up, Crawford leaves Andy alone to prevent Mo from getting it back. Andy is left at the three-point arc with the shot clock winding down.
I thought Andy had put his foot on the line to get as close as possible, because even he knew he had no chance from out there, and was just hoping for the ball to hit off the rim hard enough to give the Cavs a chance at the board. Andy wanted none of that noise. Andy wanted all three. Andy measured the shot, leaned in, stuck that elbow straight out, and with the confidence, inspiration, and pure insanity of a man determined to take the ATM machine with him to Mexico, calmly drained the first three of his NBA career. Are you freaking kidding me.
For those of you keeping score at home, this is now the third time that the dagger in a down-to-the wire game has been a three-pointer by Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Anderson Varejao, who have made a combined total of 26 threes in 18 NBA seasons. So the Cavs have that going for them.
-Shaq started off nicely, hitting LeBron for a dunk on a nice cut-through, drawing some early fouls, and bullying Horford a bit, but gassed pretty early in the second game of a back-to-back, and had the low point of the season when Jason Collins absolutely shut him down on consecutive possessions. Collins can defend and all, but ouch. Shaq did not help matters by celebrating a 50-50 block call by dropping the ball and getting a technical for it, then only hitting one of the two free throws resulting for the block. Not a high point for Shaq, but he really shouldn’t be playing on the back end of back-to-backs.
-With Shaq and Z (2 points, 4 fouls, and a -13 in 14 minutes) both ineffective, Mike Brown was presented with two fail-safe options. The first was to extend JJ Hickson’s minutes, which he did in the third quarter. Hickson looked completely out of place, blew multiple rotations, and had no idea where to be offensively, although he did have one nice driving dunk. Now that I’m comfortable with the sight of Shaq on the floor, Hickson’s the one who makes me nervous every time he gets into a defensive crouch or tries to get a hold of a pass or rebound. I know I’m like two months late on this, but man are Hickson’s hands awful.
-Mike Brown’s second option, which he went with for the entire fourth quarter, was to go small with LeBron at the four, Andy playing center, and Moon/Parker/West/Mo/Boobie filling out the 1-3 spots, and the Cavs ended up outscoring the Hawks 29-16 in the fourth quarter, erasing a seven-point lead to start the fourth.
The only issue with the small lineup was that AP and Moon had a much harder time containing Joe Johnson than LeBron did, and Johnson had 11 of Atlanta’s 16 fourth-quarter points. However, with James on Josh Smith, Smith went 0-2 with a turnover in the final 7 minutes of the game (the turnover being controversial) after going 7-10 at the rim on Tuesday.
-In Boobie’s by-default return to the rotation, he made a huge 23-footer (possibly a three, but ruled a two) in the fourth, played great defense and forced two crucial turnovers, and had a game-high +12, because he only played in the fourth quarter. The box score won’t show the impact of Boobie’s return, but this shirt shall immortalize his contributions on Wednesday.
-Anthony Parker has now gone four games without a three, but continues to be effective inside the arc, making a nice finger-roll type shot off a LeBron feed and a crucial layup in the fourth.
-Mo went ice-cold from the field for much of this one, but he did contribute 10 assists (although three of them did come on three rudimentary feeds to Lebron for three-pointers and one of his assists came on Andy’s three, which makes it the luckiest assist in the history of mankind), and drained an ice-cold pull-up with the Cavs down one with four minutes to play. You know what, pretty much all the baskets in the fourth were important.
Alright, no bullets of randomness tonight. What a night. I am exhausted, see you guys tomorrow and enjoy the Cavs going into the new year as the unofficial top dogs of the NBA.