The Cavs are like a gifted child in regular speed classes. Much of the time they’re gazing out the window or noodling in their notebook. Yet when they apply themselves – as they did in Saturday night’s 127-94 victory over the Atlanta Hawks – they leave their peers in the dust as befuddled as Wily Coyote chasing the Roadrunner.
After eight games, the offense is humming at frightening efficiency. Not only did they put 120 points on the board for the second night in a row (against a 2014 playoff team, no less), but set an NBA record by hitting all nine three pointers in the first quarter enroute to a 41 point first-quarter, capped by a buzzer-beating three-pointer from surprise factor, Joe Harris. (More on him later.) They hit two more threes to open the second quarter for eleven in a row before missing, and finished 19 of 31 from the three-point line.
LeBron was typically ridiculous, going 13 for 20 while dishing out 7 assists. Over the last two games, he’s a staggering 29 for 47, or 62 percent, including 7 for 15 from three. He was a force during every quarter (until the garbage time fourth), and not only tended to initiate the offense quickly, but showed great discretion when to pass it and when to shoot. And, of course, he was devastating in transition moving as if competing in the Alpine Super-G.
The ball moved all game long. Kyrie was an incredibly efficient 6 for 9 and 4 for 7 from three for 20 points to go with five assists. Irving hasn’t made a turnover the last two games. Six players made it into double figures (including Harris!), and six guys had at least four assists. Extended garbage time meant three Cavs scored their first points for the team – Lou Amundson, Brendan Haywood and James Jones. Poor Rookie Alex Kirk missed out – he was sent down to Canton’s D-League team earlier in the day. “He didn’t even play,” chuckled Coach Blatt after the game. “He got sick.”
The biggest ball-stop on the team, Dion Waiters, led the team in assists with eight, something Coach Blatt made a point of noting in his postgame presser. Indeed, Blatt has made a point of commenting positively on Waiters defense or playmaking (as opposed to scoring) the last three times he’s played. (Waiters missed the Pelicans game with a bad back.) It was Waiters who broke a tight game open. It was 21-19 when he subbed for Irving with 5:27 left in the first. At the time the Hawks were nearly as hot shooting as the Cavaliers, trailing only 64 to 67 in field goal percentage. But the defensive intensity picked up when Waiters entered. The team went on a 20-6 run led by Waiters, who had 7 points, a steal, and assists on consecutive threes that started the run.
Second round draft choice Joe Harris continues his sudden emergence as a key cog in Coach Blatt’s eight-man rotation. After playing seven minutes the first five games, he’s put in sixty the last three, just a few minutes less than Waiters is averaging. The former Mr. Basketball in the state of Washington, Harris played for his dad at Chelan High School and, as a coach’s kid, is a strong fundamental player. He understands his role and knows where he’s supposed to be. Like Newman in Seinfeld, he mostly does one thing, but does it very well.
Most importantly for the Cavs – and unlike Waiters — he doesn’t need the ball to be effective. While he doesn’t have great foot speed – Waiters is clearly the more physically gifted player – he plays solid defense and always has good energy. There are recent rumors that the Cavs intend to move Harris into the starting lineup sometime next month. It will be interesting to see how Waiters handles this should it occur; clearly, Blatt is working overtime trying to make Waiters comfortable in his role. How that’s progressed will likely be reevaluated around the trade deadline.
It would kind of be a shame if Harris starts, if only because Shawn Marion is finally getting comfortable in the starting five. He’s a wonderfully complementary player who like Harris doesn’t need the ball or offensive sets. Nonetheless he found a couple plays called for him, and even successfully posted up his counterpart Sheldon Mack. Marion, who has played small forward and power forward in the past, should be able to regularly post up his shooting guard counterparts in the new lineup.
Marion, once known as the Matrix for his incredible physical gifts, is not the same player at 36 that he was in his younger days, but his savvy is off-the-charts and he brings a sure hand and discipline to both ends of the floor. (Then again, the team is +47 the last two games with Harris on the floor, and only +13 for Marion.) He kept Hawks three-point threat Kyle Korver from even launching one triple during his time on the floor.
“That was all the focus – make sure I’m locked in on [Korver] and he don’t get nothing,” said Marion. “I’m starting to feel more comfortable [in the offense]. It’s just a flow thing. We’re just trying to build and get familiarized with each other still.”
It seems like this version of The King and I is moving beyond the “Getting To Know You” phase.