Basketball’s a game of spurts that often break into five or six-minute half-quarters. All you have to do is destroy somebody in one of these half quarters to win the game. The Cavaliers are so explosive offensively that nearly every game they’re capable of the type of 18-2 runs that turned their matchup with the Washington Wizards into a 113-87 blowout.
The Wizards hung around 10-15 points down until the opening of the fourth quarter, when instead of giving LeBron a break as he typically would, Coach David Blatt left LeBron James in to finish the Wizards off. It worked. They opened the quarter on a 10-4 run pushing the lead to 20, giving the starters the last eight minutes off.
But back to the beginning for a second.
Last night you would have been advised to tune in at the 5:35 mark of the first quarter for 252 seconds of the kind of wanton destruction and waste you’d expect from a Michael Bay movie or Nicholas Cage’s career. It was 12-10 Cavs at this point and there was a jump ball between Kevin Love and Marcin Gortat after Love dove to the floor for a loose ball.
During this four-plus minute stretch they forced five turnovers – including two steals by LeBron and one by Dion Waiters – and grabbed three defensive boards which they turned into 8 transition/fastbreak points, almost half the points they scored during the run.
While the team’s speed and the ability of LeBron and Love to launch full-court passes worthy of Peyton Manning generally makes these transition outbursts possible, the real key for everything continues to be defense. Five days after the Wizards beat the Cavs 91-78, the rotations looked crisper and the all-important third defensive man in the pick & roll was making good reads all night.
“As time goes on, communication and coordination between the parts grows. If you learn and if you pay attention, what makes teams really good is that ability to understand the situation and react to it as a unit, not just one guy,” Blatt said after the game. “Everybody talks about the reactions to a move or a play, but when you’re really good those moving parts are tied together and are able to symbiotically coordinate their movements.”
It would be negligent not to note the LeBron keyed the run with two steals, four points and three assists. Waiters was also big coming up with the other steal during the run, two nice finishes, and a nice jumper when LeBron found him on the other side of the court.
Later in the second quarter, LeBron gave long-time rival Paul Pierce a shoulder-shimmying shake and back, leaving Pierce behind in the dust.
It’s still a work-in-progress, as is everything on this team, but special note needs be called to LeBron James’ play as primary ball handler/initiator of the offense. While the ball has always flowed through him in the past, never has he had so much responsibility for the offense on such a continual basis. That, as much as his sometimes careless passes, is the reason he’s making so many turnovers. Watching him out there, it’s hard not to see a little of Magic Johnson – just with a much, much more developed offensive arsenal.
It’s also worth noting that during Miami’s early season struggles the first year of the Big Three, when they opened 9-8, they had a stretch of wins after early struggles then lost three straight and four out of five. Those humbling outcomes made them tighter and more focused. We’ve now seen the second straight game of 48-minute effort out of this team. When Miami got focused after that stretch of losses, they ran off consecutive nine and twelve game win streaks separated by a single loss. You know what they say – it’s not success that teaches you, but failure. Hopefully this game’s a sign that this lesson’s over.