The Cleveland Cavs played one of their best games since this newly assembled cast of characters arrived in Cleveland. Lebron James insisted that last night’s game was not going to be considered a measuring stick for his team. However, it does provide some sort of gauge of their progress, considering the playoff-like effort displayed by the defending champs, in order to eke out a victory over the Cavs, 92-90. The Cavs looked efficient offensively as their sets and good ball movement got them good looks against the superb defense of the Spurs. They also rose to the occasion defensively, holding the Spurs to 92 points, and showed growth on help side rotations. The 2014 Cavs have been very fickle to this point, and last night’s game precipitated some thoughts worth mulling over:
- Kyrie Irving is playing the best basketball of his career. He seems to have acclimated to his new teammates and coaches with more ease than anyone else. He has found a way to remain effective while on the floor with Lebron and to choose his moments to be aggressive offensively. He has the ability to score within the offense and also to take over the game in the blink of an eye. He has found a way to be efficient and dominant at the same time, all while not impeding Lebron’s game. In fact, there are times, like last night, when Lebron is not on his game, that I would like to see the King defer to Kyrie down the stretch.
- While the Cavs are still learning to play with each other, Coach Blatt is still afflicted with his own growing pains. On multiple possessions in the final two minutes the Cavs failed to get a good shot. Three situations stand out. The Cavs’ out of bounds play that went into Anderson Varejao, who then lobbed the ball on a back door to Lebron James. The play was covered and the Cavs didn’t even get a shot. Then on the last possession of the game, the Cavs were out of timeouts, which is the first mistake, and would have eliminated the final play when LeBron lost his dribble and failed to get a shot,again. Even though it was LeBron who recklessly dribbled the ball up the floor with his head down after grabbing the missed Ginobli free throw, the coach needs to have made it clear that an outlet pass is necessary and that a guard will be there to pass it to. James never even looked.
- The Cavs came out at the start of the third quarter and ran their first 5 sets through Kevin Love on the low to extended low block. He scored a quick 8 points and changed the way that the Spurs were defending the Cavs. The Cavs should take this approach a great deal more frequently than they currently do. At times this season, Love has been reduced to a spot up three point shooter. Blatt needs make a deliberate effort to make sure Love gets touches on the block each and every quarter.
- Kyrie Irving’s offensive game is not the only part of his game that is coming along beautifully. He played a superb defensive game last night. He was aggressive in defending Tony Parker and subdued him for most of the night. He had active hands in the passing lanes and more than anything it was clear that he exerted maximum effort. Varejao, who was magnificent offensively, was maybe even better navigating the San Antonio pick and roll defensively. He showed the aspects of his game that exemplify why the Cavs signed him over Thompson at this point. Led by Irving and Varejao’s defense, the Cavs played one of their best team defense games thus far.
- Joe Harris was the first guard off the bench in the 3rd quarter again instead of Dion Waiters. Blatt elected to spell Irving with Waiters at the point for a while in the 3rd quarter but it was Harris who played almost the entire 4th quarter and was on the floor in the crucial minutes of the game. This isn’t the first time this has happened. The more that Blatt goes with Harris over Waiters, the more one has to wonder what the future holds for Waiters in Cleveland. It is possible that he could be traded for a better fit on this team as he seems out of place at times and is struggling to sustain a high level of play.
The Cavs will be tested again tonight against a very good Washington Wizards team. It will be interesting to see if the Cavs can play team defense as well as they did last night. Look for Blatt to be more conservative with his timeouts in the second half and to run the half court plays through Love more than he has. Kyrie Irving is proving to be a mature player with the ability to explode offensively at any moment. Let’s hope that Lebron will cultivate that play rather than temper it.
By: Brad Ward
Follow @CST_BradWard on Twitter