If I must make an obligatory nod to Miller brewing company and “Miller Time,” (as every Northeast Ohio sportswriter is tempted to do, tonight) let me just remind everyone that High Life is the champagne of beers. Now that we have that out of the way, the Cavs beat the Nets in an ugly one that saw Kevin Love go 1-10 and still have one of his best games as a Cavalier. David Blatt successfully pushed the right coaching buttons by starting Mike Miller and moving Shawn Marion to the bench. Miller scored 21 on 7-8 from three point land, while Marion added a much needed eight points off the pine. Cleveland outrebounded the Nets 44-37 and went 24-29 from the free throw line. Cleveland overcame Joe Johnson’s 26 points and 69% True Shooting and a 47% to 40% field goal percentage differential. LeBron added some clutch fourth quarter play, and the Cavs overcame some bad crunch time offense to outlast the Nets to notch a much needed home win.
First Quarter: Cleveland gave up 31 to the Nets and reallfy played some lackluster defense. It seemed like surprise starter, Sergey Karasev was going to be the scrub-fuego player of the night, when he scored seven in the first four minutes. Cleveland continued its defensive trend of collapsing everyone to the paint and watching the ball zip around to the weak side for easy baskets. Fortunately, Mike Miller was throwing pennies in the ocean, as LeBron set him up with open looks and Miller hit nothing but net for nine points on three shots. Deron Williams limped to the locker room at 2:38 and never returned. The Nets missed him. Cleveland beat a path to the line, and slopped their way to just a 33-26 deficit after trailing by as many as 11.
Second Quarter: Mike Miller finally missed, then buried the offensive board reload to start the period. Mason Plumlee had been hurting the Cavs with his athleticism and energy around the basket, on both sides of the ball. Fortunately, Tristan’s offensive rebounding activity caused Mason to pick up a third foul early and sent Mason to the bench for the rest of the half. The Cavs bench defended really well by pushing everything to the baseline, sending double teams to both baseline posts, and using the the baseline as a third defender. It was a really effective tactic and limited the Nets to a 16 point quarter. It became the defensive template for the rest of the game. Cleveland had a hard time converting around the bucket thanks to Jerome Jordan’s rim protection (and uncalled goaltending), but the Cavs kept getting to the stripe and converting (11 made free throws in the quarter). Between this, some more Mike Miller string music, and good passing by LeBron, by quarter’s end they were up 54-49.
Third Quarter: Cleveland settled for jumpers early, and started to get frustrated when their shots weren’t falling. But two more Miller threes kept Cleveland in it as the Nets kept finding the open man and converting. Brandon Davies, Jarrett Jack, Joe Johnson, Mason Plumlee, Sly the Silver Fox, and BrooklyKnight all scored for Brooklyn while Kyrie and LeBron starting heating up and the Cavs kept marching to the line. Kevin Love was ice cold on offense, but played some of his best defense of the season this quarter as he notched two blocks, and generally contended shots around the rim and then rebounded well. A screaming Tristan putback dunk of a LeBron miss capped the quarter for the Cavs who led 74-71 going into the final frame.
Fourth Quarter: This one started out strangely as Dion was conspicuously absent, and Blatt sent out the “uh oh” lineup of Kyrie, Delly, James Johnson, Marion, and TT. “Oh Crap,” I said, as a terrible closeout by James Johnson led to two Joe Johnson (no relation) free throws. Fortunately Brooklyn’s “who?” lineup of Darius Morris, Mizra Teletovic, Brandon Davies, Alan Anderson, and Joe Johnson was even less inspiring, and the Cavs corrected their defensive lapses. Marion floated in a couple of sorely needed baskets, and looked much better in limited minutes off the bench than he did as a starter. The Bench gave LeBron four minutes of rest, and the TT pick and roll netted him more free throws. LeBron hit a “Tiger Woods from the bunker” turnaround 16-footer (highlight below) as the shot clock expired and I declared, “the Cavs aren’t losing this game.”
Then LeBron turned it over on the next trip, and Allen Anderson forced a jump ball on the subsequent possession. The King won a jump ball easily, but Jarrett Jack stole the tip and beat Kyrie to the other end for a layup to cut the Cavs lead to three with five minutes left. “Crap.”
Crunch Time: LeBron was steamed about the jump ball. To answer, he walked into a wide open three and gave Kyrie an easy dime, and then LeBron weaved through four Nets to give Kevin Love a dime (and again, I must agree with Tom Pestak. Some of the assists the scorekeepers are awarding this year are ridiculous. To give KLove an assist for a pass he made 65 feet from the basket that had nothing to do with the bucket is just dumb). J-Jack put Kyrie in the blender again and got another layup to cut the lead to four and Tristan followed up an Irving miss to stretch the lead to eight. Then the game got ugly.
After a Kevin Love “great hands” steal, Cleveland turned it over on three straight possessions: LeBron set a moving screen, Miller pushed a guy, Tristan threw the ball out of bounds, and then LeBron threw up a 26 point heave. Four awful possessions thankfully only led to one KG jumper and a Joe Johnson 20-footer to keep the Cavs lead at four. Kyrie drove and scored a beautiful layup over Mason Plumlee to push it to 94-88 with 48 seconds left. Joe Johnson answered with a “there’s a reason I’m making $23 million dollars this year” three. At 94-91, Kyrie tried to repeat his previous magic and drove into four nets defenders for a turnover with 19 seconds left, while missing a wide-freaking-open Kevin Love. It’s plays like these that make people question KI’s decision making. Out of the high p/r, the entire Nets defense was tilted to the left side. All Kyrie had to do was drive to the free-throw-line and pass it to Love. He’s lucky it didn’t cost Cleveland any points.
Lionel Hollins elected not to call a timeout, and Cleveland aggressively denied the Nets any three point looks, until a KG heave with two seconds left gave LeBron the final rebound. After a Nets foul, LeBron iced the game by hitting his second free throw. Cavs Win!
Kevin Love: Here’s your obligatory three block highlight reel! It wasn’t always effective, but he gave more consistent defensive effort than I’ve seen all season. He hustled, played smart, and played hard. This Offensive rebound where he basically stole the ball was emblematic of his night. Kevin isn’t going to beat anyone with superior leaping or lateral quickness. But he has great hands. If he can use is strength and his strong arms, he can get a lot of balls. He kept his hands up on defense and was able to slap down on the ball Karl Malone style. He added a touchdown pass to LeBron and he rebounded while still challenging shots. Though he finished 1-10 he, added 14 rebounds and three blocks. Despite the poor shooting, this is the Kevin Love I remember from his best Minnesota days.
LeBron James looked sharper in transition tonight. He had a nasty left handed flush after burning through four Nets (1:40 above, or here). He had 22 points on 7-18 shooting and nine pretty dimes as he mostly directed the offense. Yes, the ball stuck too much. Yes, he held the ball and burned through the whole shot clock on multiple possessions, and no, he didn’t finish well in the half-court offense. Fortunately, he had his safety valve, Mike Miller, was 6-8 from the stripe, and was able to turn up the D on Joe Johnson late, and helped ice the game.
Kyrie Irving is still struggling with his shot, and was 0-3 from three and 6-12 everywhere else. Sometimes he was good on defense, but Jarrett Jack often got the best of him, finishing with 13 on 6-11 shooting. Kyrie seems to get let his head get out of the game when his shot’s not falling, and his late turnover was an inexcusably bad decision. Fortunately his 16-4-4 line was good enough.
Tristan Thompson outplayed Anderson Varejao and got 27 minutes of burn to Andy’s 17. TT was a menace on the O-Boards, and finished with four of them and six defensive boards. I’m going to start calling TT’s scoring total “poutine points,” because they’re all gravy. Despite getting stuffed a couple times, Tristan finished with 9 garbage gravy points, tonight. Andy, on the other hand has got to stop finessing so much around the basket. He had multiple opportunities when he could, have drawn fouls and went up all goofy. He still finished 5-6 from the line.
Dion Waiters didn’t play in the second half. It may have had something to do with this “WTF is Dion doing?” play, where Dion trailed a pick and roll defense mindlessly. Who knows. He seemed ok in the first half (going 1-4 with two trips to the line), but Delly and James Johnson got his minutes in the second. Can’t argue with the results.
Matthew Dellavedova and the Matrix anchored the bench with TT tonight, and added two and eight points respectively. Matrix led the team in plus/minus at 15, and looked much more effective with reduced minutes. I’ll take this opportunity to say that, even though Delly didn’t score a lot, he was +9 in the game, defended KG on the block once, and is the most fundamentally sound rebounding guard I’ve ever seen. He also looks recovered from the flu. I wish I could say the same. This plague just won’t quit me.
The Cavs were lucky Mason Plumlee got himself in foul trouble. Cleveland had no answer for his length and hops around the bucket. The FIBA gold medalist had 14 points, 9 rebounds, three blocks, two assists, and no turnovers in 29 minutes. He was +16 for the game, and his replacement, Mizra Teletovic was -16. The Cavs need big man that can counter guys like Mason.
Mike Miller was the story of this game. He was the perfect outlet for LeBron. He’s not going to go 7-8 from three every game, but teams have to respect the Cavs shooting when he plays. With this roster. Starting Miller, and bringing Marion off the bench makes the most sense. But Miller’s not going to get 10 days rest before every start. Let’s hope he can keep this up as the games come closer together and that he can keep living the High Life… (I hear your groans).