So what have we got here? Am I right Cavaliers fans? Indicative of the speeding space-ball that wiped out the dinosaurs, the home squad left a smoking crater where the Celtics once stood, making them look like the high school teams St. Vincent-St. Mary routinely demolished during King James’ reign. The 110-79 score only hints at the devastation visited upon them.
If you tuned in any time after the first eight-minutes, you probably wouldn’t believe the Cavs were down 11-9 with seven minutes left before embarking on a quarter closing 20-5 run. It began with a beautiful corner 3 by Kyrie Irving off a killer ball fake. Irving missed the Cavs’ losses over the weekend (sparking a Lake Effect flurry of commentary about Matthew Dellavedova) with a shoulder injury.
Irving had missed on his drive (his second miss at the rim in 3 minutes) then floated up the baseline as hulking big man Timofey Mozgov grabbed then offensive board and found Kyrie on in the corner for 3. (We’re reminded here of how fundamentally strong Mozgov is, and that he’s of course European, where players are schooled in the fundamentals as opposed to most American AAU basketball, per Kobe Bryant’s comments earlier this year.)
LeBron James found Irving again next time down (one of three early assists). Though the Cavs would jump out to a 29-16 lead, the offense wasn’t yet clicking. They shot 10-24 (42%) and were heavily aided by the six free throws and their 3 of 8 mark beyond the arc. In the second quarter it was as if we suddenly switched over to NBA Jam 2010, and suddenly LeBron James and JR Smith were literally and figuratively on fire, scoring 17 of the team’s 32 points in the quarter.
They opened the second with a small lineup playing James at the (point) power forward with James Jones, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova. Delly’s a pretty good ballhandler (3 to 1 assist/turnover) and let James play off the ball. Delly scooped up a loose ball off a bad Marcus Smart pass (still not a point guard) and found LeBron James up the court in one of the game’s semi-comic episodes. Watching 5’7(?) Isaiah Thomas try to foul/stop a speeding James is like watching a bug stop your car on the freeway.
Delly made another nice play a few minutes later feeding Mozgov for this oop, their third alley-oop of the quarter.
Asked about stopping the Cavs big men from rolling and diving to the rim, Coach Brad Stevens sort of raised his hands, like any forty-something without children presented with Ariana Grande.
“They’re really good but we could stop them from rolling to the rim if we wanted to, but the problem is then you leave all the shooters open or you let LeBron lay it in,” said Stevens in his pre-game presser. “You can’t do one thing, you have to do everything. And the reason they have had such success going to the rim is (a) they’re good players, but (b) it’s who they’re surrounded by. If you have LeBron James in a pick and roll and you have JR Smith, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love standing around it, who are you leaving?”
The most encouraging thing outside the utter emasculation of LeBron’s greatest rival (judging from his personal-best 30.4 points/gm average against them) was their continued evidence of killer instinct. Earlier this season the team had a tendency to let teams back into game, and not put-the-foot-on-their-throat in coach-speak (which to these ears is just as bad as flogging a dead horse, I mean, it’s dead, right?).
In any case, the Cavs squished the Celtics windpipe in that third quarter like it were rotten fruit. Every starter and Tristan Thompson had at least two baskets in the third as the team outscored the Celts 34-17. They shot 60% and didn’t let the fact they were winning by 30+ for 75% of the period slow them down.
You could almost feel sorry for them if it weren’t for the fact that opponents have been treating the Cavaliers like this that last four years. Indeed, at times it seems the challenge this season is to accept and embrace our good luck rather than looking around trying to discern from which direction the inevitable asteroid that destroys Cleveland will be coming.
Good news seems like a trick. The guys who keep their head down and grind knowing better than to hope for sunny days need to lift their heads and behold the blues skies. We’re not exempt. We laid into James Jones and puckishly wished him gone. We’d still rather have Shawn Marion manning the backup PF/stretch 4, but no sooner than had we pushed James Jones to the curb than he did succeeded in two categories we labeled him challenged – rebounding and steals.
You’d have to go back three years to April 24, 2012 for the last time James Jones had six rebounds. One of them was even an offensive rebound – only his fortieth over the last six years and nearly 3600 minutes. He also had a steal, made a three off-the-dribble (he’s 40% this season on catch & shoot threes, 15% on 3s requiring a dribble, this being his first all year that utilized TWO dribbles), and was fouled taking it to the rack. We’d love to take the credit, but we’ll just afford ourselves a mea culpa.
Guys who hit 3s are rare enough and what James provides will be especially useful in the playoffs. Guys off the bench who receive inconsistent minutes have a harder time putting together a solid performance, something we presume Mike Miller is suffering through after averaging more than 20 minutes a game shooting 51% from 2 and 46% from 3 (with almost 3 attempts/gm) last season with the playoff-bound Memphis Grizzlies.
It may not be that Miller lost it in one year – he’s 29% and 32% respectively this season – but like Jones has had trouble putting it together in sporadic minutes. Miller got in for a few minutes and airballed a long three wide right, echoing the troubles he’s had all season finding the range. Perhaps by the end of the season he can scrape enough minutes together to turn around his season the way James Jones has the last couple weeks.
As for Delly, I stand by my comments. Delly does some things well, but his shooting is a big big issue. One of the biggest issues for the Miami Heat last year against the San Antonio Spurs was the lack of anyone to help. Typically teams want to send a helper to pick up the roll man in the pick & roll or perhaps double in the post. When everyone can shoot – as Celtics Coach Stevens alluded in the earlier quote – it makes it impossible to help and greatly complicates defending.
The Cavaliers are a very good defensive team but it’s their offensive prowess that causes teams the real headaches. In small doses Delly’s not a big impediment, and his hustle can ignite a team’s spirit. But people are covering him like he’s Rajon Rondo on the pick and roll, laying back daring him to shoot it and hewing close to the roll man. He’s terrible finishing at the basket (can Kyrie school him?), lacks a mid-range pull-up and his little floater off the dribble is more miss than hit.
It’s not hate – I really dig him as a guy (he complimented my mustache!), and love his heart, but there’s a reason why Sixers Coach Brett Brown cut him twice from the Australian National Team (calling it the toughest cut he’s had to make). The guy’s shooting 33% inside 10 ft and 29% on pull-up jumpers inside the arc. Like Jones, he’s a killer catch & shoot guy (40%), but he simply can’t create much for himself off the dribble and that inhibits his ability to create for others.
Way too much analysis on the 8th & 9th guys in the rotation? Maybe. But that’s only because the starters look so good. Kevin Love’s scoring has finally faded into the background as a story. (He only scored 12 points and no sportswriter questioned it!)
Of course when you shoot 45% from three in the month, average nearly a steal a game, and two and a half assists, people don’t notice that February was your lowest scoring month to date and featured almost two less free throws per game than any other month this year.
The team can win very nicely without Love’s score, thank you, and he seems to have accepted his role. Indeed, for all the prognostication about his future, he’s been nothing but a stand-up class act almost all season with little bellyaching given he’s had the largest adjustment to make. He’s been shooting more threes of late than at any time this year, and the challenge for Love will be to get to used to the arc and to continue to drive on defenders attempting to close him out.
As for LeBron – watching him play since the all-star break, he seems to have found another level. While at times the ball-pounding act gets tiresome and seems to stall the offense (see, Houston, second half), he has been pretty unstoppable going to the hole lately, and he’s kept it to doses by and large.
His ability to vacillate between taking the game over and letting others shine is going to be key come playoffs. So far, he’s doing a great job, and has to take some of the credit for the team’s better killer instinct since his return. James seems more intent on finishing teams out in the third period and earning him and the other Big Two the whole fourth to rest.
That could play a factor tonight. Lebron scored his 27 points in 26 minutes while Love (who had some gastro-intestinal issues before the game) and Kyrie only played 50 minutes between them as well. They’ll be traveling to Toronto to face a Raptors team that had last night off. A Cavs win would put them in a three-way tie for second in the Eastern Conference with the Raptors and the Bulls.
I’ll be covering the game live and tweeting video on Twitter. You can follow @CRS_1ne. Then read my analysis tomorrow in the Scene Blog. You can find all my writing at chrisparker.contently.com.