The Cavaliers jumped out to a 21-0 lead last night thanks to the Hornets' horrid shooting. The last time you saw this many misses in a row, Bert Parks was singing, “There she is, Miss America.” Charlotte missed ten shots before Al Jefferson would put one in. It got as bad as 28-6 before they showed any fight.
It's a wonder that Al Jefferson (14 points, 8 rebounds) is able to score at all given the severe lack of jump shooting on the Hornets, a shock on on par with Chelsea Handler’s “career.” At some point Kemba Walker realized that if he relied on Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Lance Stephenson’s ability to drain mid-range jumpers, Sheldon Cooper might score first.
So Walker did what any NBA guard eventually does – began abusing the Cleveland defense. Walker went 5 for 7 in the quarter and scored nine of his 11 in the final 110 seconds. Here Matthew Dellavedova’s intensity gets the best of him as tries to knock away a pass to Gary Neal some 25 feet from the basket. Neal’s smart enough to reverse it right back to Walker, who screens the recovering Delly on Bismack Biyombo for a midrange jumper.
There are only a couple players on the Hornets who can hit the 3 consistently and Marvin Williams is one of them. Delly is probably a little slow leaving Thompson’s man, but maybe can’t see that the ball has swung to the corner from behind Jefferson.
Charlotte would cut the lead to 3 with three and a half minutes left in the second quarter. After Stephenson missed two free throws that could’ve cut the lead to one, the Cavs got a couple steals and a rebound that turned into two fastbreak layups and a corner three by Waiters to push the lead back out the twelve. A Gary Neal triple would provide the nine-point halftime margin.
“Ironically sometimes the toughest thing that can happen is for you to run out to such a big league early,” said Coach Blatt after the game. “It brings with it a little bit of a psychological let down and it gives the other team the feeling that it can’t get worse, so they just relax and play.”
The fact is that while they got out to a big lead against Toronto and lost (24-6 with 4:20 remaining) and against Indiana (27-8) only to surrender the lead back, this time they didn’t let them get the lead back. You’d rather they just kept on cruising like they did against Denver (38-20 after one) and Atlanta (41-25 after one), but they kept it together, which counts as progress.
On offense the advances continue as well, though since the unit already runs so smoothly, that progress is a little less noticeable. When the initial LeBron/Love pick-and-roll proves unsatisfactory, they run Kyrie Irving over from the other side to run it with Love, and this time Zeller gets caught, leaving Love space for a step back baseline jumper.
That patience has rewarded the Cavs with far fewer turnovers the past four or five games, and only ten last night. It’s also helped to balance out the scoring. After Kyrie’s epic 37-point performance against the Knicks, he’s been getting as many or fewer attempts as Love on an ongoing basis – except the game LeBron missed and the following loss against the Pelicans.
If you recall a few weeks back, Blatt is alleged to have said something like, “LeBron and Love eat first.” Perhaps the semi-fluent multilinguist Coach Blatt can give us the Russian for that. Whatever the translation, Kyrie seems to understand.
While he probably misses going at the opponent time and time again, it has the added bonus that it doesn’t unbalance the transition defense (since Irving typically goes to the floor and often is the last guy back on his drives). The lack of turnovers serves the same function, and not giving teams easy fastbreak baskets let’s the defense really dig in, in a series of sympathetic, self-reinforcing behaviors.
The Hornets had a little 6-0 run toward the beginning of the third when Stephenson hit a couple floating jumpers (producing four of his eight points). The Cavs answered with a nice pick and roll between Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson for a Thompson dunk. It was the first two of his eight points in the quarter (10 pts, 5 rebounds, 25 minutes).
We are so often talking about the Cavs not playing defense, it's only fair we show a little bit of what their good defense would look like. Love hedges hard leaving Walker by the baseline with no place to go. When Irving gets over the pick, Love races to Thompson’s man – Al Jefferson, the guy waving frantically for Stephenson to pass him the ball, to no avail. Alas, the second Charlotte pick and roll doesn’t fare any better, resulting in a fastbreak hoop the other way ala “good defense creates offense.”
But even that seems unfair, because it singles out one play when during the entire third and fourth quarter the team played very energetic, solid fundamental help defense. They had their hands out looking to make plays, and dove to the floor on those effort plays.
By the end of the quarter, the Cavs had pushed the lead back out to double digits and that’s where it would remain for the rest of the game. LeBron finished with a very efficient 27 pts, 7 boards and 13 rebounds, as well as 3 blocks. Kevin Love had 18 rebounds and 22 points, while Irving had 16 points and 5 rebounds.
All three played 39-40 minutes. This is going to be a problem if Coach Blatt doesn’t find someone he can trust so he can reduce their minutes. I’d be willing to chip in for therapy if it would help.
Perhaps we need to ply him with alcohol and compliments until he loosens up and lets Harris and Amundson get a little more burn. Those pecks on the cheek in December are going to be important when one of them is called on during the playoffs to show off their manhood.
Wednesday night the Cavs host the Atlanta Hawks, who Cleveland thoroughly spanked 127-94 back on November 15. Since then they’ve gotten SF DeMarre Carroll back from injury and won 12 of their last 15 games to rank third in the Eastern Confernece. They’ll be looking for revenge and they have a rare combination of size (Milsap, Horford) and speed (Teague, Schröder), as well as some good defensive players. This should be a good test for the Cavs, last month’s blowout notwithstanding.
I will be live tweeting Wednesday’s game from the Q @CRS_1ne