When big news breaks in the NBA, the Right Down Euclid staff is here to provide expert analysis on storylines that are debate-filled. In this edition of “Countertop Conversation,” RDE co-editors got the chance to attend the Cavaliers-Nets season opener on Wednesday night. These are their reactions to the Oct. 30 matchup, which the Cavaliers won, 98-94.
Zak Kolesar: Overall, I don’t think there was a player wearing Wine and Gold Wednesday night that played horrible for long stretches. Guys were recognizing where they needed to be on the floor, both on offense and defense, and this helped lead the Cavs to a balanced victory over the Nets. There were two very specific things that I loved about how Mike Brown handled his roster: 1. I thought Brown did a great job at keeping Kyrie on the bench when he got in foul trouble and keeping Jarrett Jack in for most of the first half (he tallied 12 points in that time) and 2. Dion Waiters’ raised awareness. Jack was hot and Kyrie finished the game shooting 25 percent from the field. We’re going to love having a guy like Jack on this team. I don’t know if you thought the same, Chris, but I also picked up on Dion’s stance on defense and his positioning on the floor.
Chris Manning: I agree that I liked Waiters knowing where he was on the floor, but he still shot 41.7 percent from the field on 5-of-12 shooting. And when you watched him shoot, he still was complacent to take off-balance jumpers, fading away even when it looked like he had enough room to pull up over his defender. When you look at his shot cart, Waiters didn’t hit a single shot near the rim, missing all three. Every shot he made was away from the rim – a trend I do not want to see continue as the season progresses. As for his defense, his quotes and body language indicate to me that he is willing to buckle down on that end of the floor. Just look at how he defended Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson at the end of the game. He was up in his grill, gave him no space and forced a pass. That’s exactly what you want. However, my biggest takeaway regards a player you didn’t mention: Tristan Thompson. He shot 61.5 percent from the field against a strong Brooklyn front line (scoring 18 points) and also pulled down nine rebounds. He may not do that every night – as he’ll certainty struggle offensively from time-to-time – but I think his opening night performance was an indication of what lies ahead for Thompson.
ZK: I brought up Tristan twice in this week’s Weekly Roundtable. I was extremely impressed with the game’s MVP, as he was the driving force behind a third quarter surge by the Cavaliers. Tristan played smart basketball, and he was much more active around the rim than he was last year. With a deep frontcourt on the Cavs roster, it will be interesting to see if Thompson continues to see 30+ minutes of action consistently. I also think the reason why the team was so successful against one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference was because of poor roster decisions that were made by interim head coach Joe Prunty and each player on the Cavaliers knowing their role. Thompson, Earl Clark and Anderson Varejao combined for 25 rebounds. Even in eight minutes Bynum made an impact, coming up with a huge block that energized the crowd. If he can come in and make plays like that for now, I can’t wait to see what he can do in December.
CM: Two things about Bynum: He got a huge pop from the crowd when he entered the game – far louder than I imagined he would get. Secondly, I’m not really concerned about what he can do in December. Are those games more meaningful than now? Sure, especially if the Cavaliers can win consistently. The only time I am concerned about Bynum playing is when a) he is starter or part of the rotation and b) able to play pretty much every night. Playing eight minutes – where he shot 20 percent, going 1-of-5 from the field, mind you – doesn’t mean anything. It was unquestionably a nice moment, a moment fans will remember with excitement, but it will be nothing but a footnote of the Cavaliers season unless Bynum contributes consistently. The players that made plays against the Nets – Thompson, Jack, C.J. Miles and others – are who Cleveland should be most excited about if only because it’s known that they will be on the court. One player, who also stood out, but for reasons you wouldn’t expect, was Kyrie Irving. He didn’t shoot up to his high standards and got in early foul trouble, but he distributed the ball extraordinarily well and came close to finishing with a triple-double. He also only committed two turnovers in his 31 minutes of action. And considering it’s a given he’ll rebound and go back to leading the Cavaliers in scoring, things are looking up.
Now, I have a question for you Zak: On a scale of 1-10, how surprised were you that the Cavs were able to hang with that Nets team, even one with limited minutes from Deron Williams and no Andrei Kirilenko?
ZK: 5. I’m lukewarm to it, but what was most impressive about Kyrie’s stat line were the seven rebounds he corralled. Usually when Kyrie has an off night (shot 25 percent from the field), this team falls apart, but with defined role players (Jack, Varejao, etc.) putting together overall complete games for the Cavs this season, we will surely contend for the playoffs. And before I go on about my 5 rating, I want to add something that you left out about Bynum. It’s probably best if Bynum is playing 20+ minutes closer to playoff time anyways. Now, I actually had a gut feeling that we were going to win this game. I don’t know why Deron’s and Lopez’s minutes were handled the way they were, but the aggression on defense down the stretch led to the starting lineup not falling apart after being up by nine and going into the final 12 minutes and staying cool even when calls weren’t going their way. How about you, Chris?
CM: First off, Jack was the player who saved the Cavaliers from falling behind and not being able to come back. His first half scoring binge was key, especially considering he was the lone player in that stretch to find his shot. To be honest, I went into the game expecting either a game similar to Bulls versus Heat (where the Cavaliers get blown out) or the Cavaliers winning or losing a close game. But as the game wore on, I became more confident in the Cavaliers’ chances. I was worried when Irving failed to get in any sort of groove. I had the same thoughts when Jack wasn’t in the game-ending lineup and Waiters was. (I’ll be curious to see who plays in that lineup going forward). I really was not sure that the Cavaliers would win the game until Paul Pierce missed a shot with 16 seconds to play. The Nets – with two clutch performers – had the ability to close out that game, even if the Cavaliers continued to play well. Their ability to not crack under pressure and win that game were ultra impressive. If they are going to win this year, their ability to keep that up is largely important.
ZK: And I thought the third quarter was especially important for the Cavaliers not cracking under pressure. That was their worst frame last season, and Thompson came out right away to put the Cavs in position to take the lead. There were really no defensive meltdowns for the Wine and Gold down the stretch in the second half, and that was a defining quality of most of their losses last season. But enough about the good, Chris, let’s end this post with something that you wanted improvement from with the Cavaliers (besides from the long Q Arena ticket line).
CM: Which was embarrassing, by way. As for improvements, I was most concerned with the games of two young Cavaliers: Waiters and top pick Anthony Bennett. For the former, I want to see some offensive improvements – better posture in this shooting, more willingness to attack the rim, etc. If he can do that and keep up his effort on defense, I love where he is headed in his rookie year. As for the latter, the rookie debut was underwhelming. He didn’t play a ton, but I didn’t like what I saw. He has a lot of work to do on defense, but he missed all three of his field goals, which is what will keep him off the floor. He did grab five rebounds, but for him to make an impact as a rookie, he needs to score. But in all seriousness, sans Irving’s performance, that’s as perfect a performance as you’ll get out of this team. Everything came together almost perfectly. I’m sure we’ll see some kinks in the Wine and Gold’s armor in the next few weeks, but for that one game on opening night on the shores of Lake Erie, the Cavaliers were near perfect.