Coming off one of their worst performances of the season, the Cavaliers were in need of someone to step up and make their presence felt against the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the premier teams in the NBA. And as it just so happened, the two players who carried the Wine & Gold to a 88-82 victory were Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving, the two players who struggled the most in the blowout loss to Atlanta. They both co-lead the Cavaliers with 20 points each, and most importantly, outplayed against two of the league’s elite players at their respective positions.
Jamal Crawford lead the Clippers with 19 points off the bench and Chris Paul added 13 on 4-16 shooting, as well as 15 assists. Blake Griffin finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but appeared frustrated at various points of the game, as Thompson and the rest of the Cavaliers roster consistently hounded him on the block.
In total, neither team really looked good offensively. There were a high number of unforced turnovers on both sides and there were a lot of points left on the board when the final horn sounded. For the game the Clippers shot 32.2 percent fro the field and 20 percent from behind the arc, while their 82 points were 23.7 below their season average. As for the Cavaliers, they were a little bit less awful, shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from behind the arc.
But that difference in shooting percentage and field goals made (the Cavalier made 31, the Clippers 28) was the ultimate difference. A few misses here or there from the Cavaliers could have resulted in a Clippers win on a night – maybe the only night – Cleveland was the better overall team.
At the end, Irving and Thompson (both members of the 2011 NBA Draft Class) carried the day. While Irving still wasn’t totally back in form, he was aggressive on offense and played commendable on defense. He also got in the groove at the free throw line, capping off his night with two free throws that sealed the deal. As for Thompson, he did a fantastic job bodying up Griffin, frustrating the former Oklahoma Sooner on both ends of the floor. Both men, without question, were the two players who set the tone for this Cavaliers win.
The play became chippy in the fourth quarter, as after Anderson Varejao’s arm hit Griffin in the face, Griffin threw Varejao down the ground. After being separated by Jack and a referee, Griffin was issued a technical. And while there were other moments of frustration on the Clippers’ part during the game, this one was the boiling point that showed, at their best, how pesky this Cavaliers team can be. If they can get more games like this (both home and away) this team may be closer to functional NBA basketball than we thought.
PG Kyrie Irving – 40 minutes, 20 points, 6-15 shooting, 1-2 from three, 7-8 from the line, six assists, seven turnovers
Irving , while the stats may not back it up, passed the eye test tonight. He was more aggressive, pulled off brilliant spin move around Willie Green with next to no space to operate and overall played a good game. He finished with a +/- of +4, which was tied for the lowest pour of the starting five. It wasn’t a vintage (am I allowed to say this considering that he’s 21 years old?) Irving performance, but he was aggressive, scored and was actually pretty solid on defense. Baby steps!
SG C.J. Miles – 19 minutes, 1-7 from the field, five points
Oddly enough, Miles’ best moment came on defense, when he chased down Green and (despite the foul call) played the situation perfectly. On offense, though, it appears as if he is still finding his way back both as a starter and after missing a few games.
SF Alonzo Gee – 16 minutes, 0-4 shooting, zero three-point attempts, four rebounds
Fear The Sword’s David Zavac sums up my feelings perfectly. #TeamEarlClark
I’m not really an Alonzo Gee guy
— David Zavac (@DavidZavac) December 8, 2013
PF Tristan Thompson – 40 minutes, 20 points, 7-15 shooting, 6-11 from the line, 13 rebounds (eight on defense, five on offense), +/- of +10
Thompson redeemed himself tonight after a horrible showing against Atlanta and Paul Millsap, driving Blake Griffin mad and doing a great job of defending Griffin down low. In fact, he was the only Cavalier able to stop Griffin from getting into his normal groove and finishing at the rim. He set the overall tone for this Cavaliers team on defense and also preformed well on offense, as he hit shots when he needed to. Overall, this is the kind of game you want to see out of Thompson. Good rebounding, great defense (one-on-one and in the pick & roll) and was great when playing buddy ball with Irving.
C Andrew Bynum – 24 minutes 8-13 shooting, 18 points, six rebounds
Not a bad game from Bynum, as it was clear early that LA would be unable to stop Bynum without double-teams. He still passes out of the post too infrequently for my taste, but again, he can have such an impact on both ends for a team. I do worry that he has a negative effect on Irving at times (as, when he’s on the floor, the offense almost always runs through him) but, all in all, Bynum continues to make a positive impact on this team.
BENCH STAR: Dion Waiters – 1-10 shooting, there points, two assists
Here me out on this one. I know he shot 1-10 from the field and finished with only three points after this 30 point outburst against the Hawks. But when Waiters, after he missed a free throw near the end of regulation in a three-point game, grabbed a rebound off his own miss, he all but sealed the Cavaliers victory.
Also worthy of praise: Anderson Varejao (17 rebounds and a great reaction to Blake Griffin throwing him to the ground), Earl Clark (for a few buckets and being a functional small forward) and Jarrett Jack (who, despite being a little erratic, had some good moments). All in all, it was a good night for the Cavaliers bench, despite the fact that they were a combined 9-29 from the field.
Mike Brown did a good job against the Clippers tonight, plain and simple. He managed his lineups well and, seeing that the three guard look of Irving-Waiters-Jack was giving LA some problems, he wisely stuck with it. He also did a great job orchestrating the defense, as when Thompson wasn’t it, he had a man in help ready to pounce when Griffin made his move to the hoop. The offense still had it’s issues, but on first look at game speed, I think it was more about missing open looks than other issues (such as spacing) that have plagued the Cavaliers so far this season. At this best, this is the type of game Brown is capable of coaching.