Good offense beat bad defense last night, as the Cavs squeaked by the crappy Knicks (4-16) on the strength of Kyrie Irving’s offense, which compensated for the problems caused by the Cavs' leaky defense. The Knicks simply had no answer for Kyrie Irving, who scored 37 points on 12-18 shooting. (He scored 35 of those points before getting his first two assists of the game passing to LeBron James.)
Irving’s performance papered over an otherwise lackluster road performance by the Cavs. They did a good job on Carmelo Anthony, who shot 4-19, but the rest of his team shot 33-69 and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds. They outscored the Cavs on second-chance points 20-3, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the Cavs’ effort last night. The Knicks regularly beat them to loose balls and played with better intensity, though the Cavs’ Kevin Love did dive onto the floor to secure a crucial loose ball late in the game
Meanwhile the transformation of Irving into an off-guard continues apace as Irving completed a 5-game stretch where he’s shot 58% from the field and 46% from 3, scoring 23.8 points/game and notching 1.8 steals and .8 blocks per game. (During the same period LeBron James has averaged 9.6 assists and 24.4 points of his own.) Not that he always plays off-guard.
When LeBron goes to the bench – notably for the early 2nd and 4th quarters, Irving is given the job of running the offense, which at this point generally amounts to Irving driving to the basket or jumpers by designated chucker Dion Waiters. Yep, it’s throwback Thursday and we’re talking Cavaliers 2013 offense.
During the first five minutes of the second (until James’ return), Irving passed the ball four times, twice on one possession, as the pair of them took four shots, committed four turnovers and the Knicks went on a 15-6 run to take an eight-point lead.
This bears watching, as do the continued turnover and transition D troubles (17 turnovers leading to 23 points), and the poor rotations.
It was incredibly unsightly at times, against arguably the worst team in the league next to the Lakers, Sixers and Timberwolves. This bad to non-existent rotation leaves Dalembert open for a dunk and a 10-point lead midway through the second.
Moments later, the Knicks threw it the length of the court after a made basket for a transition score that has to be giving Coach David Blatt heartburn.
Now, they played better in the third quarter, and the second half defensive intensity was greater, but this level of defense isn’t going to get it done against playoff caliber teams. It could be just the Cavs’ well-documented tendency so far this season to play to the level of the competition, which is great when you’re taking it to the Spurs and less satisfying when you can’t stop a Knicks team enjoying their worst start in franchise history.
It’s hardly news, but LeBron continues to display trouble finishing at the rim. There seems to be enough evidence to wonder how bad his back really is. It’s obviously not bad enough to impact his entire game, but the fall-off is troubling. Last year LeBron hit 78% of his shots within 5 feet of the basket, was blocked 31 times on 600 shots, and took 45% of his shots from that distance. This year he’s shooting 65%, has been blocked 7 times in 120 shots, and only 39% of his shots are from that range.
Time will tell if this is significant or not, but this video makes you wonder. When was the last time (before this year) you saw James finish this poorly close to the basket? Why didn’t he just slam the put back? Can he not get up there anymore?
You can see he’s frustrated, but don’t expect him to make any excuses, which means we probably won’t know unless his condition – if there is one – worsens. (But I’m betting something is wrong; the best player in the world doesn’t have his shot % drop by a fifth for no reason.)
But for the time being, we’ll find comfort in the fact that there may not be a better driving-scoring guard in the NBA than Kyrie Irving. Numb your concerns about the Cavs bench, transition D, defensive intensity and rotations by watching Irving shred the Knicks repeatedly.
Things get worse with another road game tonight against the Toronto Ratpors (15-4), who beat Cleveland 110-97 two weeks ago on Saturday. Toronto had yesterday off, so it’s an especially steep uphill climb they face tonight.