In a heist they’ll be studying a decade from now, Cavaliers GM David Griffin exchanged Dion Waiters and a first round Memphis draft pick (no one’s likely to see for two years) for the three missing pieces of the puzzle.
It’s as though Dorothy secured heart, brain and nerve for the stick of spearmint gum and Cracker Jack iron-on she had on her pocket.
Watching J.R. Smith flame-on during the second quarter like the Human Torch, it’s hard to suppress exclamations of joy. (Keep them out of the press row, we were told by my passionless peers.) When a player hits a shot like this, there’s a strong desire to praise your personal deity, which generally includes rising to your feet.
Since arriving, Smith has bumped Love from option 3 to option 3a. Smith’s averaging one shot less than Love since LeBron’s return, most of that occurring on the road where Kevin Love shoots worse (42/34 vs. 43/42) and takes 1½ more shots. Last night we saw how easily Smith can change a game. When he’s on there’s no shot he can’t make, as the above play demonstrates.
Smith hit four-out-of-five threes in the second period. He and Irving went a combined 13-20, including 9-11 from distance for 35 of the team’s 54 first half points. Their play was able to carry Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert who joined the bricklayer's local with a combined 1-11 performance.
Though the Bulls closed that halftime lead significantly during the fourth period, that second quarter outburst sent the Bulls reeling in a manner from which they couldn’t recover. Part of it was by design. Though Blatt wouldn’t say as much at halftime, the Bulls approach to the pick and roll was to sag back.
Kyrie made them pay showing off his midrange game, though truth be told, the margin of the game was in these two ridiculous shots by Irving that makes you wonder what a post-practice H-O-R-S-E game between Smith and him might look like.
The problem defending the Cavaliers has been you can’t stop them at the point of attack – LeBron and Kyrie can get wherever they want on the floor. The Bulls bigs are good at rotating, but like with football, that quickness can be neutralized by going straight at them. The Cavs were able to penetrate and that gave them the keys to the kingdom.
LeBron was able to drive into the lane and find whoever’s queued up weakside whether that’s Kevin Love drilling the open one on a poor night.
Afraid to let Kyrie drive, Brooks danced on either side of Mozgov until Kyrie had a 3 perfectly lined up.
While this is a tall lineup for the Bulls, with Nikola Mirotic playing the 3 alongside Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, you’ll notice four Bulls in the lane against the penetration. They’ll give up the short jumper but not the penetration or the lob.
As a result Kyrie had his pick of midrange jumpers and by penetrating pulled defenders too far off JR Smith to recover effectively. Of course, when Smith gets hot you can be in his jersey and he still can’t be stopped, as that half-ending buzz-beater demonstrates.
In the second half they stopped sloughing at all off J.R. Smith (3-10 second half). They did a better job challenging Kyrie’s shot the second half, holding him to 1-7 from the field, but in doing so surrendered eight free throws.
Of course, shutting down 2 and 3b still leaves 1 and 3a. In a great bit of coaching gamesmanship, when the Bulls started doing a better job on Smith and Irving, James got going and found Love for three second half triples.
Love also looked to pass before always hoisting a three, even when it looked like he had enough room it’s nice to see him pass it, even if it would probably be even better to see him put it on the deck and challenge the close-out, but we’re quibbling in a game that the Cavs shot 43% from distance. The team can’t always settle for 3s – certainly everyone OTHER than JR Smith.
James also went down in the post again, providing further evidence that Blatt has been trying out a variety of packages as it fits the team’s he’s playing. Against the perimeter teams we’ve seen James Jones who didn’t even make it off the bench after starting for Kevin Love two games ago.
James had a triple-double and got eight of his assists in the second half. He took over the offense to close things out. He assisted on four of the team’s seven baskets and made two himself, including this one, off a double high pick where he ended up switched on to Nikola Mirotic.
The Cavaliers are really firing on multiple cylinders with each other picking up where the last one left off, and sharing the opportunities pretty well. While even Blatt will tell you they took too many threes last night, they were open and a lot of it was created off penetration action. He would probably they try to finish a few more of those, but it’s hard to argue about the results.
Interesting to note that the bench didn’t go very deep, with Thompson and Shumpert each playing a half and Dellavedova a quarter. They produced all of 6 points total as Shumpert showed his stroke remains a work in progress. Thompson missed four second half free throws, another rather troubling trend. Yet it didn’t matter because they played very well offensively and well enough defensively.
The Cavaliers look varied enough offensively and (mostly) defensively to hardly anything they might face in the playoffs, from 3-point to fastbreak to post-up teams, and they’ll pose a major headache for anyone trying to stop them. Take away one Cavalier toy, you just expose another.
The Cavaliers have plenty to get excited about provided watching the Cavaliers isn’t your job (apparently). The next game up is in Milwaukee. The Bucks are pretty secure in the sixth position and don’t necessarily have a lot to play for, though it’s followed by a home-and-away with the Boston Celtics who are fighting for one of the last two playoff berths in the east and play a very scrappy upbeat game.
As always, we’ll be tweeting and posting live video from Bucks game. You can follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne. You can find my columns more-or-less every weekday (and weekends after games). You can find all my writing at chrisparker.contently.com.